With much hue and cry being made over the constitution of the probe panel by the government, its very credibility is at stake
The government’s decision to form a high-level commission to investigate alleged irregularities in the purchase of two wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines Corporation has hit rough weather with constitutional and administrative experts crying foul over its constitution. Since the investigating body has been formed after a parliamentary sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) leaked its report that indicted the incumbent Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, among others, they say it undermines the supremacy of the parliament as the probe panel is nothing but an interference by the executive in the working of the parliamentary body. The government formed the three-member probe committee, headed by former chief judge Govinda Parajuli, on January 3, a day after the sub-committee of the PAC, formed to investigate financial irregularities in the aircraft purchase deal, concluded that Rs 4.34 billion was misappropriated during the procurement. The report has indicted not only the incumbent minister for tourism and civil aviation but also his two predecessors. The probe panel has been given 45 days to submit its report.
A question that has arisen is, can the government form a commission to look into corruption when there already is such a constitutional body to deal with it? Why was it necessary to undermine the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)? Could this be a repeat of a similar incident, when a body was formed under Bhakta Bahadur Koirala during the reign of king Gyanendra Shah in 2005 by circumventing the CIAA? It was later dismissed by the Supreme Court. In cases involving corruption, probe by the parliamentary State Affairs Committee into the scandal involving substandard armoured personnel carriers (APC) for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan, in 2009 serves as a good example. Following its investigation, the then State Affairs Committee had asked the CIAA to look into the findings and file cases in the court.
The government would do well to roll back its decision and allow the constitutional body, CIAA, to probe into the alleged charges of corruption in the aircraft purchase deal. Failure to do so would set
a bad precedent, with future governments setting up committees at the drop of a hat to bypass the CIAA. With much hue and cry being made over the constitution of the probe panel by the government, its very credibility is at stake with rumours already making the rounds that it has been formed to dilute, if not nullify, the findings of the PAC sub-committee. The PAC, on its part, should make a full study on the report of its sub-committee and make recommendations to the CIAA to take up the matter. A lot of money in the form of kickbacks and the image of many – ministers and officials – from the main political parties are at stake. Hence, what the people want is a thorough investigation that will reveal what actually happened during the purchase of the two aircraft. And to allow the investigation to be carried out in all fairness, it would be prudent for Minister Adhikari to step down. This would boost the image of the minister and heighten the reliability of the findings.
It has been almost six years since the Bagmati Clean-up Campaign, first initiated by former Chief Secretary Leelamani Poudyal, was launched with a view to cleaning up the holy river, which upholds the religion, culture and civilisation of the Kathmandu Valley. Most parts of the river have now been cleared of debris and garbage, thanks to the overwhelming participation of the people from different walks of life. It has now become almost ritual for the people to gather at a place and start removing the filth from the river on Saturdays. Those who have taken part in the campaign deserve appreciation for their selfless efforts.
Other tributaries of the Bagmati River also need to be cleaned up. But the weekly clean-up campaign is not a lasting solution. The concerned municipalities must come up with a solid action plan equipped with legal instruments to make the rivers clean and free them from garbage and pollution. Polluting the water bodies is a serious crime. Such acts should be punishable by law with provision of a fine or even a jail sentence in the case of serious offences. The rivers should also be granted the same legal rights as a human being.
A version of this article appears in print on January 07, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.