Nepali Times
State Of The State
The buck stops at Baluwatar


Let's start with a mea culpa. We in the media don't put much effort in digging for the roots of what makes news. We like to report things as they appear rather than as they are. This saves time, effort, and money. Whether it informs or enlightens our audience is a different matter.

A senior journalist is fond of saying that real money in the Nepali media can only be made by suppressing news. Cynical the old warhorse may be, but there is no denying that the Nepali media's only saving grace has been its successful struggle for freedom in the past five years.

Take the flashflood of recent coverage of sandalwood smuggling from India, via Nepal to China. The journey between Sunauli and Kodari may take 15 hours, but it is the most minutely policed bit of highway in the country. OK, the sandalwood has to pass through several Indian states before it gets here from Karnataka, and what happens to corrupt cops in India is their business. But it looks like kickbacks from transiting sandalwood is a huge business here, too, lining pockets of cops all along the line. One can bet that as the flash-in-the-pan coverage wanes sandalwood trafficking will resume, greasing our law enforcement machinery.

The latest Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International shows Nepal's judges have an even worse reputation than cops. That is surely an exaggeration. TI also didn't ask people to tick boxes for wilful defaulters masquerading as industrialists. But it does say something about our judicial system where government attorneys of two adjoining districts offer different legal opinions on issues of identical nature.

Closely related to the culture of impunity is the tradition of hunting, deeply engrained in the psyche of the high and mighty in the land. Wildlife smuggling in Nepal is what blood diamonds are to Sierra Leone, or the Ivory Coast. They are factors that fuel corruption and fund conflict. Hunting lore about preferences of Arab sheikhs, Chinese tycoons, and American arrivistes are legion among the innkeepers of various conservation areas, gaming reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, and national parks in the region.

An addiction to guns and hunting could be part of the explanation for the Narayanhiti massacre seven years ago today. King Dipendra was in the habit of blazing away at cats and bats in the royal compound whenever he felt a little edgy. The connection is rather peripheral, but a person who shoots animals for fun can shoot at anything.

Getting back to sandalwood, the entire episode seems to be tangled in the lack of faith between the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues. It is pretty widely known that Girija Prasad Koirala sharply reprimanded Forest Minister Matrika Yadav when concerns about the culpability of security forces in the illegal wildlife trade was raised by the Maoists in public.

That is something widely perceived to be true: supplying rare sukuti to the royal palace and the villas of various jarsaps is still one of the primary duties of forest guards from Shivapuri to Bardiya. If Koirala has succeeded in changing that reality, it's his responsibility to work for a change in public perception.

When IK Gujral was the Indian prime minister, Chaturanan Mishra once shot back upon being censured, "I am your colleague, not your employee." In deference to Koirala's seniority, or senility, Yadav reportedly held back and walked out in silence. It has been over a month since that altercation and the cabinet has scarcely met after that.

The onus of backing up his position falls upon Koirala: he should either prove that Yadav was wrong or direct his home minister to prosecute the guilty. In the parliamentary principle of First Among Equals, the buck can't be passed up or down. It stops at Baluwatar.

CK lal in

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)