29 Apr - 5 May 2016 #806

Suspicious action

Editorial, Kantipur, 25 April

The arrest by the Commission on the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on Friday of Sajha Yatayat Chair and Himalmedia publisher Kanak Mani Dixit has raised questions about the anti-corruption watchdog’s jurisdiction. The point is not whether the Commission can or cannot investigate or detain Dixit, the more important concerns are about the kind of accusations against him and the manner in which he was detained. The CIAA has not furnished satisfactory explanations about them, putting its entire action into controversy and doubt.

To be sure, the CIAA is mandated by the constitution and the laws of the land to investigate public officials. We journalists, publishers or personalities that society regards as prominent should not expect to be treated differently than other citizens. But the CIAA also cannot overstep its mandate. 

The CIAA claims Dixit has been booked for ‘amassing disproportionate wealth’ not as Publisher of Himalmedia but as Chair of Sajha Yatayat. The CIAA is allowed to investigate Dixit’s dealings with Sajha, but not his personal assets that predate his appointment in the transportation cooperative, and they fall beyond the CIAA’s terms of reference. If there is even a bit of truth in these allegations, then it is for the Department of Money Laundering or other branches of government to investigate. 

Dixit is well known for his long-standing involvement in journalism, publishing, running NGOs and civil society activism. He was at the forefront of protests against the appointment of Lok Man Singh Karki to head the CIAA two years ago because of his role as Chief Secretary in the royal government. But to seek revenge against a citizen for using his constitutionally-guaranteed right of free expression smacks of dictatorship.

It is also not clear why the CIAA felt it necessary to put Dixit behind bars in order to investigate him. Did Karki take this decision on his own, or was this a collective one by the CIAA? What is the opinion of the other commissioners on this? 

It is by now a well known fact that the CIAA chief Karki has a habit of going after people who point fingers at him. Whether it is political leaders or legislators critical of him or others, he has been summoning more and more of them for interrogation at the CIAA. The Commission should only publicise the complaints about someone after it has gathered enough evidence to take them to a court of law. But what the CIAA has done here is to incorporate details of an ordinary complaint in its public notice, the sole intention of which can only be character assassination. Also, there are suspicions about the CIAA’s true intentions from the way it has not kept Dixit in CIAA custody, as is the usual practice, but to lock him up with other prisoners at the Gaushala Police Post. 

The Special Court on Sunday has remanded Dixit in custody for ten days pending investigations. And Dixit has also said he will contest the accusations against him in the courts. But if the courts cannot prove that the charges against him are true, who will compensate him? Is the CIAA free to destroy a person’s character? Surely not. If it is proven that the investigations against him are driven by a sense of revenge this will not just raise questions about the CIAA’s working methods, but also undermine its reputation.