Nepal | October 23, 2019

EDITORIAL: Small fish

The Himalayan Times

The scam on which Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority has now proceeded is only the tip of the iceberg

At last something has happened. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on Sunday booked several government employees for alleged involvement in irregularities in the management of relief materials meant for distribution among the earthquake victims. It booked the secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development, Arjun Kumar Karki, for ‘improper conduct’ in the purchase of tarpaulins. But it filed corruption cases at the Special Court against eight other people– three ministry employees, four traders, and a director of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). They face charges of buying inferior tarpaulins but producing bills showing much better quality, higher prices, and larger quantities of the product, thus pocketing the difference.  Those recommended departmental action for ‘improper conduct’ in the case are the secretary, a joint secretary, a former director general, two procurement officials, all relating to the urban development ministry. Among the eight against whom corruption cases have been filed are two under-secretaries in the ministry. The total sum involved has been mentioned as Rs. 9.47 crore.

It may sound a bit surprising to many that while the big figures of the ministry have gone virtually unpunished – just ‘departmental action’— the lower-level employees have been dragged to the court.

However, CIAA investigation officer Madhav Khatri has said CIAA did not find any evidence of corruption against the minister, and those recommended departmental action had not played any role in the corruption but they were guilty of ‘improper conduct’. However, he said, the charge-sheeted employees had used middlemen to purchase the tarpaulin sheets. CIAA is reported to be looking into the case from other angles too. According to CIAA, the tarpaulins worth Rs.11 crore supplied to the urban development ministry had been found to be of low quality, prompting the anti-graft body to write to the ministry about this. Indeed they should be given the benefit of the doubt. But questions may still arise as to whether the purchase of materials involving crores of rupees did not involve higher officials. The court is naturally expected to go, during its hearings, deeply into all aspects of the scam.

It is common knowledge that media reports had cited a number of irregularities in the management of relief materials – from procurement to distribution, not just in one place. The CIAA action in this one case is in itself is welcome, as something is better than nothing. But if all reports had been followed up with proper investigation, much more filth could have been shown, and many more offenders could have been drawn into the net. CIAA during the tenure of its present office-bearers has faced allegations, including those from members of Legislature-Parliament, that it has been unable to catch big fish and that it shows its activism only in catching small fish. For whatever reasons, the accusations are not entirely without merit. The scam on which CIAA has now proceeded is only the tip of the iceberg. If it can uncover larger areas, it would send its reputation soaring, in the process helping clean up the body politic.

Serious case

The Judicial Council has formed a panel to investigate an alleged nexus between the judges and medical mafia after the publication of a transcript of conversation between a reporter of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and Dhruba Poudel, chief administrator of the Bhairahawa-based Universal Medical College. A reporter of the Centre for Investigative Journalism had carried out a sting operation during which Poudel claims to have paid Rs 20 million to the then “bearded” chief justice to win a case filed against his college. Poudel has also claimed that two sitting apex court judges, the registrar and a judge of the Patan Appellate court were also influenced to win the case in his favour.

Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha has said that he would leave no stone unturned to punish those found guilty in the scam. The Judicial Council has formed a two-member team to study the case and submit a report to the council within 21 days. If the study team also proves that the then sitting chief justice had received kickbacks from the defendant it will have serious consequences.

A version of this article appears in print on September 08, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.

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