28 Oct - 3 Nov 2016 #831

Commission for the Abuse of Authority

It may be better to scrap the CIAA since it is prone to being hijacked by politicians for vendetta

If you asked anyone in Kathmandu a week or so ago what the chances were of Parliament starting an impeachment process against Lokman Singh Karki, you would have been laughed out of the room. The political parties were too divided, and Karki’s reign of terror had silenced top leaders, MPs, the bureaucracy, police and most of civil society and media. 

Yet, the impossible does happen in Nepali politics from time to time. And so it was that a motion for the impeachment of the dreaded head of the Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) was hurriedly registered in Parliament which started debating on it Tuesday before adjourning for a two-week recess. 

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum walking up to the lectern to lash out at Karki was a sight to behold. TV stations beamed the speeches live and national dailies the next day carried them prominently on page 1 — all in sharp contrast to the climate of fear and culture of silence that had descended over the country these past months. 

That one person could wield so much power in a democracy, with all its checks and balance,s holds an important lesson for the future, and is a critical test for the new constitution. Nepal’s mainstream press and online portals which had been silenced by Karki in the past months are now publishing exposé after exposé of the man’s shenanigans. It is as if a lid has been lifted to allow an eruption of revelations of his sordid past.

After entering the bureaucracy through the backdoor of a royal appointment, Karki exhibited very early on hints of the traits that would one day make him notorious. After the 1990 People’s Movement, he cosied up to the Nepali Congress and used choice positions in the bureaucracy to extort, embezzle and blackmail. When King Gyanendra tried to take the country back to the days of absolute monarchy, Karki returned as Chief Secretary and was later singled out by the Rayamajhi Commission for corruption and crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in 2006. He was even being investigated by the very agency he was later appointed to head, the CIAA.

Some of the recent investigative reports in the Nepali press about his appointment in 2013 raise strong questions about the collusion of top political leaders. Mystery shrouds the dramatic overnight turnaround by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and President Ram Baran Yadav, which NC minister Gagan Thapa mentioned in his speech to Parliament on Tuesday (see translated excerpt on page 13). Other MPs unleashed a litany of woes: how Karki ran a parallel government, and commandeered all agencies of the state to target institutions and individuals for revenge or extortion.

Indeed, Karki’s modus operandi was to blackmail corrupt politicians and officials for payoffs, if he couldn’t find dirt on people he wanted to target he got government departments to manufacture dirt on them, and he also directly approached businesses and threatened them with investigation unless they paid up. As journalists in the mainstream Nepali language press have reported this past week, the CIAA also interfered with the medical education sector, even scrapping entrance examinations and conducting its own.

One intriguing question is why the top political leaders who all had a hand in his appointment suddenly turned against him last week. There appears to have been a tacit understanding between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Karki which would let Dahal off the hook on embezzlement of allowances meant for his guerrillas in return for Dahal convincing Chief Justice Sushila Karki to drop the Supreme Court’s investigation of his appointment. But both suspected the other of dishonesty, leading Dahal to support UML leader K P Oli’s move for impeachment. Sher Bahadur Deuba of the NC has no love lost for Lokman Singh Karki, and has given tacit approval for the impeachment. But there are mid-level leaders in his party who are beholden to Karki or are hand-in-glove with him.

So, in summary, this is turning out to be a battle between crooks and a Super Crook. These are the same political parties that didn’t lift a finger when Govinda KC was risking his life calling for Karki’s impeachment because of the CIAA’s corrupt meddling in medical education. They quashed the first attempt by Gagan Thapa to get the parliament to investigate Karki. They wouldn’t even allow three MPs to sign a motion of urgent public importance in September. But last week, suddenly and without much of a fuss, there were 157 signatures of UML and Maoist Centre MPs demanding impeachment. 

What changed? Gagan Thapa said in parliament on Tuesday that there is something fishy. But there is something even fishier in the way Karki was appointed, and has been allowed to grow into a monster no one can control. Thapa aptly compared Karki to the way J Edgar Hoover used the FBI to hound political opponents. 

Lokman Singh Karki is under suspension, and the politicains are once more huddling in backroom deals to find a 'package' agreement. The more important question is what to do with the CIAA whose original purpose was to add oversight to control corruption. An agency designed to curb graft has been used by successive governments for political vendetta. Karki is just the latest and most ruthless example. It may be better to scrap the CIAA since it is so prone to abuse for political vendetta.  

Read Also:

Suspended animation, Kunda Dixit

The lonely struggle against tyranny, Bidushi Dhungel

Who is afraid of the CIAA?, From the Nepali Press

Not silenced, Editorial