In recent years, Nepal has lost the glory it once enjoyed in the international arena for its endemic corruption and impunity. While the world is marking International Anti-Corruption Day, rising incidences of corruption raise fears that the country will become a failed state.

International graft watchdog Transparency International (TI) has indicated that both the government and the political parties have paid no heed to digging out the causes behind the growing corruption. TI ranked Nepal 146th out of 178 countries, three notches down from last year, in terms of transparency. Just two years ago, Nepal had ranked 121st on the anti-corruption scale. That’s enough to understand how corruption is thriving in Nepal.

Many blame political instability for the abuse of state funds, which is partly true; but there are other structural and cultural reasons. The major reasons behind the growing corruption are the government’s delay in appointing commissioners at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and in electing people’s representatives at the local bodies. The CIAA’s ability has been affected by the fact that, for more than a year, the agency has been without a chief commissioner and other commissioners.

The sole reason behind the government’s delay in appointing the commissioners is to enjoy easy access to the state coffers, thereby weakening the anti-graft body. Taking advantage of a weak anti-graft body, the prime minister, ministers and powerful political leaders have been misusing the state treasury to gratify their desires. When CIAA bureaucrats raise their eyebrows at the increasing corruption, the prime minister calls them to his office and tells them to keep quiet.

What a shame! Perhaps this is the first time ever in Nepal’s history that the head of government and ministers have grilled the acting chief of the constitutional anti-graft body for investigating corruption cases. Ministers are also following in his footsteps. They have been directing the CIAA secretary “not to investigate the cases filed against them, but to set them free to do whatever they like”.

The above mentioned picture is enough to understand increasing corruption. The absence of CIAA’s board has not only minimised its performance in curbing rampant corruption and irregularities but also rendered it weak and thus susceptible to threats from corrupt ministers.

These are not false accusations against the prime minister, ministers and leaders of political parties, but real experiences the officials have shared with this scribe during informal talks. The CIAA’s delay in reaching a decision on the controversial Airbus purchase deal clearly shows the failure of the anti-graft body and interference by the government. Despite the CIAA’s clear conclusion that irregularities have taken place in the aircraft purchase deal and that a case should be filed in court, it has been withholding its decision for the last five months for no apparent reason.

News reports have suggested that the CIAA could not reach a decision following pressure from caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal. The prime minister reportedly summoned secretary of the anti-graft body Bhagwati Kafle to his office and threatened him “not to make any decision against the deal”. Since Kafle received threats from the head of government, he now prefers to go on foreign junkets to attend international programmes to escape from the pressure.

Given the instances of threats in the absence of office chiefs, the CIAA has not made any decision on any of the high-profile corruption cases involving ministers, politicians and powerful officials. The CIAA has received lots of cases against ministers; but as of now, none of them have been prioritised for investigation. The media has reported that corruption cases have been filed against Women, Children and Social Welfare Minister Sarba Dev Ojha, Labour and Transport Management Minister Alam, Forest Minister Deepak Bohara, Energy Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, Local Development Minister Purna Kumar Sharma and Health Minister Umakanta Chaudhary. Unfortunately, all these cases have been put on the backburner for over a year.

It’s not only the CIAA. The Office of the Auditor General (OGA), the regulatory body assigned to maintain financial discipline, is also facing a similar problem. The office has been running without an auditor general since the beginning of 2007. The absence of an auditor general has clearly freed rule breakers to act with impunity. The much-talked-about three-year Strategic Plan (2010-12) formulated for a better audit system and capacity building has come a cropper. We have seen that lots of statutory bodies are operating without a chief encouraging corruption to spread. The country’s growing corruption index may drop only when the anti-graft bodies get capable office bearers.

The second important task to stem the tide of corruption is electing people’s representatives to the local bodies. In the past fiscal year, the media confidently reported that a development budget of about Rs 6 billion allocated for the local bodies was misused just before the fiscal year ended (within a month). Later, the Ministry of Finance also confirmed that there had been corruption, but all the local bodies charged with misappropriation were allowed to go free. There is no mechanism to take action against guilty local leaders.

For the past few years, the government has been significantly increasing the budget for local bodies. In line with this trend, the government has allocated about Rs. 42 billion for local bodies. There is no doubt that this amount will also be misused in a similar way unless people’s representatives are elected to the local bodies. The country can still regain its clean image in the international arena. For this to happen, the government should end financial anarchy by appointing commissioners at the anti-graft body and elect people’s representatives at the earliest.

(Sharma is a reporter with the Post and reports on corruption related issues)

Source: The Kathmandu Post – 08.12.2010