Spin the bottle

For the first time, a public office holder officially charged with corruption has accused, at a specially held press meet, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) of acting with mala fide intentions. Bijaya Nath Bhattarai, who was automatically suspended as governor of the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) on Friday when the CIAA registered a case against him, on Saturday called a press meet to claim that the charges against him were false. He went on to insinuate that the CIAA came under the influence of financial frauds because he tightened the central bank’s supervisory noose. Surendra Man Pradhan, an NRB executive director, who is a co-defendant in the same case, had challenged THT in a June 21 letter to the editor to “establish the allegations” in response to a news report based on the CIAA sources. The CIAA says in its charge-sheet that the NRB lost Rs 24.5 million when the two accused terminated the agreement signed with a foreign firm.

Now that the case has become sub judice, it will be inappropriate to comment on the innocence or guilt of the accused or even on the CIAA’s intentions. The law should be allowed to take its own course. However, of particular concern are the accusations made by Bhattarai at a gathering also attended by two deputy governors and some other NRB officials who were there to support their boss. The concern arises because such statements coming from a person appointed by the government as the head of the central bank are not good news for the rule of law. Some NRB employees gheraoed the CIAA office on Sunday in support of their boss. Finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat also expressed dissatisfaction with the CIAA action by saying that the action against him would affect the financial sector reform.

Bhattarai may win the case. But it does not behove the finance minister of the country to speak against a constitutional organ for filing a corruption case in a competent court of law. Such statements demonstrate disrespect for the very process of law set up by the state. However, it would only be fair to expect the court to reach a conclusion on the case as soon as possible. The CIAA may or may not have made out a legally strong case in question. That is a matter for debate. In the past, too, it came under criticism for ‘making out weak cases’, as it lost almost all the cases against influential defendants. But there is another side to the issue. Of late, the wisdom of the judiciary in clearing a number of officials or politicians of corruption charges has also come under public scrutiny. What the CIAA does or what the judiciary does has its importance and implications. But the reputation of vital institutions like these depends largely on public perception of them. Here, both need to do much to improve their image. But, Dr Mahat’s attempt to link this legal action with possible negative impact on financial sector reform is untenable. Democracy and good governance are based on process and norms, and not tied with whether any high official or politician should face corruption charges or not.