Fight against corruption: Expectations and realities

A country which is blessed with matchless natural resources and industrious people has been lagging far behind other countries for no reason. Moreover, corruption has been such an obstacle to our economic development

For some years, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) faced bitter criticisms from all sections of society blaming it to be biased when it came to the ‘big-guns’ under the book. The strongest criticism towards CIAA emerged citing its inability to investigate and prosecute political figures and high ranking government officials while low-level government officials and employees were being prosecuted. This one-sided accusation went so much viral that it gave rise to a catch phrase ‘big-fish and small-fish’ every time corruption and governance issues were talked about.

However, this was never true. One has to understand very clearly that carrying out investigation against big corruption cases in a country like ours demands factual information and proactive response from the people, a long period of time, meticulous efforts and concrete evidence. In a big chunk of larger corruption cases, the most damaging corruption takes place during the policy or norm setting phase before project implementation, for instance, during the setting up of evaluation criteria, developing Terms of Reference (ToR) and so on. As these forms of corruption are neatly disguised in the form of formal norms or standards, noticing such corruption becomes very difficult. Therefore, investigations into such corrupt practices cannot be initiated unless factual information is provided and concrete evidences are found. In the absence of which, it is not only difficult to prove the accusation but also the credibility of the anti-corruption constitutional body is likely to fall in peril. Further, an anti-corruption body cannot and must not make a distinction between the big and small corruption offenses because it is the corrupt tendency rather than the magnitude of corruption which is a grave threat to good governance. It is no wonder if today’s small fishes become tomorrow’s whales and sharks should they be left free today in the sea. Nevertheless, in the last two and a half years, the Commission has intensified investigations in areas that have historically been entangled in both petty and organized corruption. Due to increased interception of bribery incidences in areas such as education, health, local bodies, district level offices and others, the confidence and desire for corruption on the part of the government servants has partly diminished; the consequence being somewhat better and effective service delivery to the people than in the past. Though, the persons arrested and prosecuted in many of these interceptions may not be the top-level bureaucrats or political leaders the impacts these actions had resulted in were not less important than the outcomes likely to be produced from actions against hundreds of big-fishes.

Our tireless efforts in all these important years have made CIAA - an office of ordinary people from the Himalayas to the Terai and from remote villages to metropolitan cities. Two and a half years back, the Commission which had only an office in Kathmandu and had a strength of around two hundred staff has now been expanded to all five development regions. But with the pleasant conclusion of the constitution building process and return to normalcy after the disaster, the Commission has spearheaded its actions against big corruption cases in all areas. In ordinary people’s language, some of the ‘big fishes’ have been rounded up in nets but this is just a beginning.

Using some media, some elites, privileged class and influential suspects have been trying relentlessly to defame and demoralize the CIAA; the underlying objective being to influence and impede the commission’s investigation works. They have gone to an extent that an apparent threat has been given to overthrow the Chief Commissioner and hence, an ‘impeachment motion’ against the Chief Commissioner has been much talked about these days. I wonder, do we have an element called “rule of law” in our culture? The present constitution - Constitution of Nepal 2015 - has removed one of its important functions i.e. investigation into the improper conducts of public officials. The Commission had been enjoying this responsibility until the Interim Constitution 2007 had been in operation. The Constitution has also brought the Commission under active monitoring of the parliamentary committees. The Constitution has made a provision for the Commission to be strictly guided and directed by the parliamentary committees.This provision will influence the Commission’s independent and fearless functioning and it is also likely to result in conflict of interests.

The root of most problems have economic causes, i.e. poverty, economic hardship, unemployment and regional imbalance. The principal reason for our economic hardship is the unreasonable focus on political issues by overlooking the economic agendas. A country which is blessed with matchless natural resources and industrious people has been lagging far behind other countries for no reason. Moreover, corruption has been such an obstacle to our economic development. In the last decade or so, there was hardly any development in the country. This means the present social and political problems of the country cannot be solved through socio-political interventions alone, the economic aspect must equally be focused by keeping corruption at very low levels.

Karki is CIAA chief.