Politicians have learnt the hard way not to underestimate this soft-spoken chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Subash Chandra Nemwang, Nepal's foremost anti-corruption crusader, feels his job is to raise hell. And he is giving everyone who has something to hide a hard time, from the Prime Minister down. Nemwang is a member of the Central Committee of the Unified Marxist-Leninist party, but he seems to take his PAC job much more seriously. This is his third stint in parliament, his first eight years were spent in the Upper House. Since May 1999 he's been representing his Ilam constituency in the Lower House.
The 47 year-old Nemwang's trademark gentility belies no-nonsense investigative instincts honed over 22 years as an attorney specialising in constitutional law and criminal jurisprudence. It's the same potent combination of humility, politeness, wit and intensity that has disarmed the most reluctant of witnesses in courtrooms, that is now at work at hearings of PAC. Nemwang laughs off his reputation for politeness: "Last week some officials we were questioning were even more polite than me!", he says, referring to the hearings on bank reforms.
Nemwang's PAC has taken on ministries considered un-touchable. It killed a plan by the Royal Nepal Army to buy a British jet, and has looked into the shady dealings of Nepal Police, not to mention the jet-leasing deal of Royal Nepal Airlines where he had the prime minister on the stand. Says Nemwang: "Sometimes they accuse us of trying to run a parallel executive. That probably means we are doing our jobs right." Nemwang and his PAC of about two dozen MPs has latched onto almost every shady government decision and ripped it apart-in most cases rightfully.
At PAC hearings it is MPs who do most of the grilling. Nemwang listens quietly, and when he does speak it is always to have the last word. Not only has he chaired almost all committee meetings of the PAC, but he's has also managed to get the polarised parliament to vote unanimously on all PAC decisions. A donor-funded project aims to make parliament more accessible to the media. They needn't bother: Nemwang's PAC is already fully accessible to the press. Journalists are not just present at PAC hearings but there's a good chance of finding one in Nemwang's chambers as well, either chatting with MPs, making phone calls or sipping tea-courtesy PAC. "This is called transparency," quips Nemwang.
"I knew corruption was a major problem facing Nepal before I joined PAC, now I have seen for myself what a deep mess we are in," he says. PAC meets throughout the year, with a hearing almost every week. That means Nemwang has little time for his constituents in faraway Ilam. But he is not worried: "My voters told me to rock the boat, and that's what I am doing." And what a boat-rocker he's turned out to be.