--BY SHANT SHARMA
The fight against corruption is getting tougher in Nepal. Several cases of corruption have been exposed by the media this year so far but three 'high-profile' cases stand out. The first one, the one which has been hogging headlines these days, is the case of Gopal Khadka, who was sacked by the government from the post of managing director of Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) recently. The second case is the case of Chudamani Sharma, the suspended director general of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD). The third case involves Dolindra Sharma, the chairman and general manager of Sajha Prakashan, the state-owned publishing house.
Let's begin with the case of Khadka. After much pressure from various quarters, especially the media, the government dismissed Khadka from the post of MD of NOC on September 18 over accusations of embezzlement in land purchases for building oil storage facilities in various parts of the country. The Nepali media exposed Khadka's involvement in the embezzlement more than two months ago. News reports exposed that the NOC, the state-owned oil monopoly, had paid up to four times the market price to buy land plots in various Tarai districts. Parliamentary committees which probed into the case found Khadka guilty and recommended to the government to sack him. But the government took its time and acted only when the pressure became 'unbearable', in other words, when there was no other option.
However, the cabinet did not even discuss any further action against Khadka and the NOC management over the alleged misappropriation of about Rs 1.67 billion in the land purchase. And though Khadka has been sacked, people are already talking about the court restoring him to the post because the government has dismissed him without seeking a clarification first. There are past precedents where the court has restored officials dismissed in a similar fashion to their posts, ruling that they were not given the opportunity to clarify. People are also saying that the cabinet deliberately left this legal loophole while sacking Khadka. That is where a real danger lies.
The case of suspended IRD chief Sharma is no less interesting. The Commission for the Investigation of abuse of Authority (CIAA), which arrested Sharma on June 2, filed a corruption case at the Special Court against Sharma as well as LD Mahat and Umesh Dhakal, the latter two being the chairman and member of the Tax settlement Commission (TSC), on July 19. Sharma, the former member secretary of the TSC, and Mahat and Dhakal have been accused of embezzling Rs 10.2 billion while granting tax exemptions to various private firms. While Sharma has been suspended, Mahat and Dhakal are still at large. The CIAA had sought a bail amount of Rs 3.02 billion to release Sharma.
According to the CIAA officials, in terms of the amount involved, this is the biggest case of corruption in the country so far. However, responding to a habeas corpus writ petition filed by Sharma's wife, the Supreme Court on August 12 ordered the police administration to release Sharma, saying there was no sufficient ground to keep him in custody. Many say the SC intervened in the work of the CIAA as well as the lower court - the Special Court - formed especially to deal with corruption cases, when it ruled that the bail amount was 'preposterous and based on imaginary calculations.' That is where another major danger lies.
The third case, the case of Sjha Prakashan chief Dolindra Prashad Sharma, has become an example of political protection to corruption and irregularities. For more than the past two months, the media has reported a series of irregularities allegedly committed by Sajha chief Sharma. A committee formed by the Ministry of Education (MoE) on July 27 has already recommended the sacking of the Sajha Prakashan Board and take action against the guilty. But Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Gopal Man Shrestha has shown no interest in taking action against corruption-accused Sharma. Minister Shrestha is even reported to have turned down the resignation letter submitted to him by Sharma.
These cases clearly show the lack of administrative and political will to fight corruption. That is where the biggest danger lies.
An Unwarranted Distraction
Two years after the promulgation of the new constitution which has adopted the prime ministerial system, some parties have started lobbying for the presidential system of governance in the country. In the forefront of this campaign are the ruling CPN (Maoist Centre) and Naya Shakti Nepal. The latter has even been organising rallies to press ahead with its demand for a directly elected executive president in the country.
Similarly, a gathering of the Maoist Center recently decided to make the presidential system a major agenda of the party for the upcoming parliamentary and provincial elections, stating that the prime ministerial system where the prime minister is elected by parliament has resulted in political instability. It is worth noting here that the CPN (Maoist Center) had agreed with two major political parties to have a constitutional president and an executive prime minister - both elected through majority voting in parliament in the new constitution promulgated in September 2015. The country has witnessed the third prime minister in the country in the aftermath of the commencement of the new constitution so far.
“We had compromised on our agenda of directly elected executive system to ease the constitution promulgation. But now we have realized that the system has resulted in political instability in the country,” said Maoist Centre's senior leader Lekhraj Bhatta. According to sources in the party, senior Maoist Center leaders including Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Mani Thapa are now demanding to reinstate the agenda of directly elected executive presidential system.
The change in the parties' stance is strange. The constitution which was endorsed by more than 90 percent of the members of the second Constituent Assembly, has already adopted the prime ministerial system. And it has been just two years of the promulgation of the new constitution. It is true that Sher Bahadur Deuba is the fourth prime minister since the commencement of the new constitution, but more than the system of governance, the politicians' greed for power is to be blamed for the political instability. Blaming the system is nothing more than buck passing. The demand for a directly elected president is an unwarranted distraction. The need of the hour, for everyone, is to implement the new constitution.