21-27 October 2016 #830

Who is afraid of Lokman?

Ameet Dhakal in setopati.com, writing before the impeachment motion was registered in Parliament on Wednesday.

Historically, whenever Nepal’s political class has failed to defend democracy, it has been the media that has had to come to the rescue. Today, both these pillars of democracy are being tested.

The head of the Commission on the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) Lokman Singh Karki has tried with all his might to silence the media. He has overstepped his jurisdiction, and mobilised other agencies of government to gag the press.

This time, his weapon has been the Internal Revenue Department which has been used to force a full audit on Republic Media, the publisher of Nagarik and Republica newspapers. He has forced a three-year full audit of Himalmedia. It has forced the Money-laundering Investigation Department to probe Kailash Sirohiya of Kantipur, Nepal’s top media house.

A friend who works in a private bank called me the other day and said he had got a letter from the Central Bank askinghim to furnish details of my account. I wouldn’t know if the Central Bank sent the letter on its own or at the behest of the CIAA. But I can confirm that the CIAA has been calling advertisers of Setopati where I am Chief Editor to stop advertising with us. It is clear that Karki’s strategy is to silence media critics by tangling them in financial investigations.

At Setopati, our accounts are above board. We have tried to set an example by being transparent about where we receive funds from, and have publicised them in the past even without being asked. Personally, I have paid 25% taxes on my salaries and all remunerations from international organisations. That means I have been contributing a quarter of all my work and time to the Nepali state. I am proud of the fact that the time I have not spent with my family and five-year-old daughter is devoted to the upkeep of the Nepali state. My taxes are deposited in the national treasury which pays Nepal’s politicians and Karki’s salary. Therefore as a responsible citizen I have earned the right to question politicians and also Lokman Singh Karki whom they appointed.

I never thought I’d ever have to do this: go public with my personal tax revelations. And the only reason I am doing it is that Karki is trying to trample on individuals and institutions by exploiting their weaknesses. The politicians were incapable of challenging him. Nepali society is doomed if Karki gets his way, and that is why it is important to stand up to him.

It is clear that the issue is not about whether media companies have paid their taxes or not. Karki has used a section of his lapdog media for propaganda, and launched an offensive on the papers that were opposed to his actions to exact revenge on them. But there is no reason for media companies to be afraid of Karki. The real question for journalists is whether they will stand up for the citizen’s right to information despite the campaign to isolate and frame charges against them.

Coincidentally, Karki’s targets this time are the same individuals who had stood up against the royal regime. At that time I was News Editor at The Kathmandu Post and still remember being censored by Army majors. The Chief Secretary of the royal regime then was none other than Karki himself, and he used to threaten us about our news content. But at a time when politicians were in jail and the Maoists were still in the jungle, the publishers and editors decided to stand up and take an initial leadership role as the ‘Eighth Party’ against the royal regime.

I do not believe that the media that once stood up so resolutely against the royal regime will today cave in to threats from an appendage of that establishment. I haven’t given up on the politicians either. It is still possible to reinvigorate them so that the political parties can build up the correct direction and momentum. A small group of conscientious youth are ready to rise up, and the Bibeksheel Nepali Party can in the future lead if the mainstream parties continue to wither. If Bibeksheel can’t do it, another party will come up. Nepalis will not tolerate forever the musical chair of these  discredited parties.

Article 119 (3) of the Constitution clearly spells out the criteria for the appointment of the head of the CIAA: the candidate needs at least 20 years experience in designated fields. I want to ask the politicians, does Karki have the requisite experience? Not only is Karki not qualified, he was also named as being unsuitable for government service for his role in the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in 2006. Yet, his appointment was pushed through with the connivance of the intelligence handlers of a neighbouring government. Lokman Singh Karki himself boasted to relatives and close friends about this.

It is now clear that Nepal’s politicians are not going to speak out against Karki’s appointment. The Supreme Court will not decide whether it was constitutional or not. However, politicians will have no choice but to react to Karki’s activities after he became head of the CIAA. The latest victim of his arbitrary action is the research thinktank, Social Science Baha. And the CIAA again overstepped its mandate by asking the Baha to furnish its internal documents and also distorted the truth to publicly defame the organisation.

The CIAA has repeatedly defied the Supreme Court’s order not to overstep its jurisdiction, first in the case of advocate Sambhu Thapa, after that in the decision on journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, then the doctors of Teaching Hospital. Karki has time and again thumbed his nose at the orders of the apex court.

On the day that the Supreme Court was starting its investigation on his appointment, the CIAA called a sudden press conference at an hour’s notice in which it said it had asked 30 Maoists leaders to appear and explain corruption in the internment camps for fighters. It has been 17 days and no such summons have gone out. It is clear this was just the CIAA trying to blackmail and scare Maoist leaders.

I want to ask the politicians: are you on Karki’s side against the media? Democracy does not guarantee development or prosperity. It doesn’t guarantee resolution of problems. Democracy only ensures that there will be free debate. But you don’t want to talk about Karki at all? Like ostriches you want to bury your heads in the sand? Why isn’t there a debate in Parliament about Karki’s anti-constitutional activities?

You have discredited the movement for democracy to such an extent that you can’t even gather three representatives in parliament to register an impeachment proceeding against Karki. And the reason is that they are afraid of being disciplined by their own party leadership.

Politicians, you now have just two options: either you revive democracy by asking three MPs from each party to register an impeachment motion against Karki. Or you do nothing, let things drift, and go home to binge on mutton curry. Youth politicians, are you silent because you have chosen the second option? If so, remember Nepal’s political map will change either though a rebellion or widespread hopelessness. Either way, it will sweep you away.

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