30 August-5 September #671

Afraid of catching big fish

Top politicians don’t seem to be the target of Lokman Singh Karki’s selective pursuit of the corrupt
Muma Ram Khanal
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has sprung into action in recent weeks with the zeal of a born-again convert. It has grabbed the public attention not only by lodging a number of corruption cases in the special court, but also arresting top officials of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) for graft.

CIAA’s controversial chief, Lokman Singh Karki, has lately become the talk of the town, and his very name instills fear on bureaucrats. A large section of civil society and Kathmandu intelligentsia had seriously objected to his appointment, citing his royal, anti-democratic, and opportunistic antecedents. After all, how could a one-time Chief Secretary who had himself abused his authority to crush the April 2006 pro-democracy movement, become the head of the body entrusted with checking the abuse of authority?

Stunningly, the head honchos of the major political parties who run the country’s political syndicate, appointed him with surprising unanimity earlier this year. The CIAA chief’s post had become an object of political bargaining among the parties and had remained vacant for four years.

The leaders would have preferred to appoint the type of person who would never investigate any abuse of authority. But after the formation of the non-political government under Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, the vacant constitutional positions were also completed with unprecedented efficiency.

Transparency International ranked Nepal 139 among 176 countries this year. TI reported that Nepal’s political leaders are the most corrupt on the rotten pile of putrid public servants. So, it was politicians who kept the CIAA headless for so long because they didn’t want themselves probed.

Karki has won public accolade in Nepali social networking sites for his crackdown on the NEA. But even he hasn’t yet mustered the courage to go after the politicos who installed him at the CIAA.

As reported in this paper last week, Maoist ex-combatants have alleged that over Rs 4 billion of allowances for phantom fighters were embezzled by their own party bosses. Krishna Bahadur Mahara was taped in flagrante asking a Chinese businessman to fork out Rs 500 million to buy members of the CA and the tape is in the public domain. There are reports of malfeasance piling up against Hisila Yami and other Maoist leaders. There is no word on the Rs 30 million scam over the purchase of APCs for Nepali peacekeepers in Sudan. Two ministers in the current council have blatantly itchy palms.

But these do not seem to be the target of Karki’s selective corruption hunt and if he doesn’t catch some big political fish soon he is going to be accused of playing to the gallery. If he catches the wrong ones, he will be accused of a witch-hunt. If he conducts a wishy-washy investigation that absolves senior comrades, it will be seen as a whitewash. Not easy being Karki these days. A glaring example of his overreach was the action taken against caterer BL Sharma for organising his 90th birthday party this week.

After democracy in 1990, corruption was also democratised. After 2006 corruption has been institutionlised and under the Maoist-Madhesi coalition led by Baburam Bhattarai, plunder became endemic and all-pervasive. It is now the modus operandi of the state and in this impunity-ridden dictatorship of the four parties, any purloining of state funds can be justified in the name of political accommodation or protecting the peace process.

The joke even within my erstwhile Maoist party is that we did not fight for ‘mukti’ (liberation) but for ‘Mukti Tower’ (the high rise allegedly belonging to senior comrades).

Muma Ram Khanal was a central leader of the CPN (Maoist) during the insurgency. His column, Inside Out, appears every fortnight in Nepali Times.

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