Like a joke

Holders of government posts in the country have seemed to consider submission of their property details to be more important than action against corruption. And even such submissions have been an on-and-off affair, not a requirement inviting action in case of default. For any new government, wealth disclosure has been a voluntary act that they may perform for public consumption. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. Then the question arises, what purpose does any disclosure or non-disclosure serve? The present coalition had pledged to make public the property details of ministers, but the pledge is yet to be honoured. However, the judges of the three tiers of the judiciary are reported now to have furnished their property details according to a special directive of the Judicial Council (JC). This comes at a time when lawyers have been accusing the judges of indulging in corruption and irregularities, of which the recent Bar-Bench face-off is an eloquent manifestation.

The judges are required to furnish property details every two years. But the very fact that the JC had to issue a special directive says something about unwillingness even among the judges

to give wealth details. Even then, a debate is going on whether mere submission of the details

is enough or they should be made public. A section of the judges are arguing that as the JC regulations are silent on the point, public disclosure is not needed. However, NBA president Bishwo Kanta Mainali is of the opinion that as the judges hold public positions, public disclosure is required. Undoubtedly, the public has the right to information about how much wealth a holder of government position commands. In advanced democracies, there is transparency about this matter. This is true also of others like big businessmen. That is why citizens can frequently read about how much worth a businessman is.

Those who have earned their money honestly need not be afraid of public disclosure. But this kind of publicity can give unscrupulous people the jitters, as there is the likelihood that fingers of suspicion will be raised against them, the ways they have amassed wealth, whether they have paid the taxes, whether their legitimate business operations can justify their present size of wealth, etc. The lack of transparency can never lead to good governance. Therefore, all holders of government positions must be required to disclose their wealth. But this alone will not be enough to fulfil the objective of keeping the body politic clean. These details need to be followed

up regularly and closely, and renewals of such disclosures at reasonable time intervals are also necessary. Any mismatch between legitimate sources of income and the possession of wealth should automatically lead to thorough investigation into the matter and prosecution of those who cannot furnish reasonable grounds for what they own. Suspects should not be entrusted with greater responsibility or rewarded in any way, for example, with promotion.

If this is not done, mere property disclosure will be no more than a charade, as it has always been in Nepal. Then talking of cracking down on corruption would sound like a joke.