23-29 September 2016 #827

Muckraking among bottomfeeders

Nepal is an interesting case study for the 350 investigative journalists in Kathmandu this weekend for an international conference
Bidushi Dhungel
Diwakar Chettri

Last week, I missed a documentary showing in Kathmandu on the transition of the Maldives into a mafia state. To make up for the loss, I found the video on YouTube – an Al-Jazeera investigative series -- and watched it from the comfort of my own couch at home. 

The hour-long video follows a massive leak of information from three iPhones which belonged to the former Vice President of the Maldives, Ahmed Adeeb, a self-professed ‘boss of all gangs’ in the archipelago and the various illegal antics he was spearheading, including money laundering, illegal business deals, abductions and  bribes in the executive, parliament and judiciary.

The documentary tells the story of how with the coup that overthrew President Nasheed’s government, a parallel state that thrives on crony capitalism has been established by the country’s power and political elite. The revelations are not only scandalous, but show a sense of helplessness and haplessness of a country and its citizens.

By the time the documentary comes to a close, aside from leaving the audience with a grim outlook for the Maldives, a Nepali viewer cannot help but begin to draw parallels with Nepal. Thankfully, some hope still lingers in Nepal: Truth will triumph and democracy will prevail. Perhaps nothing has instilled that hope in us more than the dealings of the Supreme Court and its Chief Justice Sushila Karki in the past few months and weeks in particular.

Among the executive, legislature and judiciary, the latter it seems, may be the last stand against the complete failure of the state to safeguard its citizens and the democratic spirit. There is little hope that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal can address this crisis of democracy. He even had the audacity to publicly declare that an ‘agreement’ had been reached with both himself and the judiciary and with the head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) which would absolve him and his party of plundering billions in compensation from the state to his ex-guerrillas.  

Thus far, one can only hope the ‘agreement’ with the judiciary is propaganda and posturing. Since little can be expected of the executive, we have no choice but to root for further strength in the judiciary and actively work to embolden it. The few members of parliament who have shown the guts and sense of responsibility to address the CIAA’s overeach and its impact on the functioning of our fledgling parliamentary democracy will also require more support.

The activities of the CIAA necessitate little elucidation now, for even what is yet to be proven is obvious to anyone who dares to look. In the Maldives documentary there are striking similarities – both physical and behavioural between the former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and Nepal’s CIAA chief. If it took an international team of investigative reporters and journalists, with plenty of resources to uncover and unpack the irregularities of the Maldivian state, here in Nepal, local journalists and activists with little to no resources have done a commendable job in exposing the nexus between the CIAA and the political and bureaucratic class.

Even in an atmosphere of hostility, fear, blackmail and intermittent silence, much has surfaced in the past months that show Nepal is headed in the exact direction of the Maldives unless immediate action is taken. Little could be more worrisome than the mysterious lack of interest on the part of the international community which used to once be fixated upon corruption and governance.  

Even with much to lose and at risk, some journalists despite threats of injury and death and despite the lack of support and resources, have been digging for information. And there is a lot of dirt to uncover in the agency that is itself supposed to expose abuse of power.

From direct intervention in government to shady business deals, gold smuggling and blackmail, it all reads like a crime-suspense political thriller with the CIAA at the epicentre. This could be an interesting case study for the 350 investigative journalists from 51 countries who are in Kathmandu this weekend for the Uncovering Asia conference organised by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).  

Read also

Fear and loathing, Bidushi Dhungel

Asia uncovered, Guna Raj Luitel

Clampdown on dissent, Tapan Bose

A parallel government

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