29 Aug - 5 Sept 2014 #722

Watching the watchdog

Despite the CIAA’s recent sting operations, the agency is charged with going after small fry or waging political witch-hunts
Binita Dahal
In recent months, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has started taking its transparency watchdog role seriously, and gone on a detention spree.

Operatives have carried out sting operations and caught officials in flagrante as they accepted bribes. Among those caught red-handed recently have been the Joint Secretary of the Higher Secondary Education Board, officials of National Investigation Authority, the vice chancellor of Mid-Western University and 14 other officials who are now in custody while investigations are underway.

With the campaign of arrests, suspensions and filing corruption charges in the Special Court, CIAA has not been this active since the appointment of Chief Commissioner Lok Man Singh Karki last year. When he was recommended for CIAA chief, many legal eagles and civil society activists had criticised the decision of the Chief Justice-led Interim Election Government to appoint him.

They compared the appointment to getting a fox to guard the chicken coop because of Karki’s alleged involvement in graft for which he was investigated by the very agency he was nominated to head. He was also faulted for his role in the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in April 2006 under the Gyanendra regime. Despite the opposition, Karki’s appointment was endorsed last year by President Ram Baran Yadav for a tenure of sixa years.

Karki hit the ground running, investigating corruption and directing government agencies to expedite pending appointments. However, the CIAA’s actions have also been criticised for being arbitrary, ad hoc, restricted to catching only the small fish, or reeking of political vendetta.

The high profile arrests have also spooked civil servants, who are now reluctant to take major decisions for fear of being scapegoated. The tendency to detain alleged culprits under the full glare of the media, and the presumption of guilt until proven innocent has negatively impacted governance and service delivery by government agencies.

The legal procedures being followed are also questionable: when the CIAA files a case against anyone in the Special Court, the accused are immediately suspended from their jobs. This results in defamation of officials, some of whom may have been arrested without evidence, who are innocent, or who are ultimately acquitted by the court. In most cases, the damage is already done, because of the trial by media.

The CIAA has repeatedly admitted that it lacks the personnel to investigate all petitions that are filed. Many who are arrested haven’t yet had a case filed against them. Such delays are inexcusable, especially if the accused may actually be innocent or framed. The CIAA must either file cases and begin prosecution in the courts, or it shouldn’t arrest people: after all, justice delayed is justice denied.

Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog, says political parties top the list of the corrupt among a dozen institutions in Nepal. The bureaucracy, police, legislature/parliament, the judiciary, the private sector, military, educational institutions, non-governmental organisations, medical and health services are all below politicians on the corruption hall of fame.

An even more serious charge against the CIAA is that it is only going after selected small fry, while the big fish in the Transparency International list seem immune to prosecution. None of the top political leaders are being investigated, and the former politicians who have been arrested and sentenced tend to be from the NC or Madhesi parties. This has made the CIAA open to charges of waging a political witch-hunt.

As long as top political leaders, senior bureaucrats, Nepal Police, judiciary and Nepal Army personnel are out of bounds, the CIAA’s attempts to clean up Nepal’s governance system will lack credibility.

@binitadahal

Read also:

Distant normalisation, Editorial

Afraid of catching big fish, Muma Ram Khanal

In contempt of the republic, Anurag Acharya

CIAA under threat, Nagarik

CIAA refutes charges of giving a clean chit to politicians

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