SPEAKING FREELY Nepal charges towards total impunity
By Jiwan Kshetry
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Already traumatized by thriving corruption and lawlessness in a protracted transition, Nepalis have been this month shocked by the choice of a tainted and controversial person by politicians to lead the anti-graft body in the country, potentially paving the way for total impunity.
When the first ever Constituent Assembly (CA) in Nepal collapsed on May 27, 2012 without delivering the constitution, it was tempting to predict grim scenarios. But no one knew the
magnitude of the troubles coming for the beleaguered South Asian country.
A year since the end of the CA, and Nepal is nowhere closer to holding new elections. The unduly lengthened transition period has invited a host of complications, some of which may well cripple the country for decades to come.
Troubles in the transition period started with reluctance of the government led by the UCPN (Maoist) leader Baburam
Bhattarai, which was at the helm during the collapse of the CA, to relinquish power as demanded by the opposition.
This led to a sharp polarization between the ruling alliance - which also constituted the regional parties from the southern plains - and the opposition alliance formed by Nepali Congress, CPN (UML) and other fringe parties.
The stalemate only ended in February when the major political powers in the country agreed to a compromise solution in which the sitting head of the judiciary of the country would also head a new "election government".
Although many doubted the credentials of the new government to organize elections, the majority of Nepalis thought it was a lesser evil than continued chaos.
All along, however, the major preoccupation for Nepali people has been the failure of the state to deliver in terms of economic betterment. This has been compounded by the rampant corruption and lawlessness that serves the elite at
the expense of the majority.
Institutionalized corruption and brazen looting of state wealth has been the major trend for long in Nepal. Over time, while a tiny fraction of politicians and bureaucrats has been punished for corruption, the large majority has been able to exploit the loopholes in the legal system to remain unscathed.
Even more worrying trends have emerged in recent years in which the politicians have been using new and effective tools to amass wealth and power with absolutely no possibility of ever having to be held accountable for it. This includes the creation of proxies who work with near-total impunity under political patronage and reciprocate by giving a substantial amount of wealth to the politicians, in a win-win arrangement.
These musclemen affiliated to different political parties and leaders now govern huge chunks of the informal economy in the country, operating operate through some methods that have become so frequent that they are taken as 'usual' or 'ordinary'.
A host of other private cartels (those in transport and medical education sector being the most notorious among all) also thrive under due political patronage.
As a result, state wealth that's meant to deliver services to people ends up in the pockets of politicians and musclemen, ordinary people are deprived of both the economic betterment and dignity.
It is against this backdrop that the latest appointment of Lokman Singh Karki, a tainted and controversial figure, to the top post of the anti-graft body of the country comes as a shocking news.
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is the body meant to investigate any act of corruption in the government and prosecute those who are found guilty.
Though the reputation of the body has not been perfect over the decades, there were periods when it was robustly effective and feared by those in power. Over the past many years, the leading politicians had found it convenient leaving it headless and ineffective.
Nearly everyone was shocked when the news emerged that the four-party political mechanism formed to assist the current election government had proposed the name of Karki for the top job at CIAA.
To start with, Karki was held guilty of suppressing the people's movement-II (2005) when he was the Chief Secretary during the direct rule of ex-King Gyanendra Shah. A commission which was formed to investigate the atrocities during the movement had charged him with suppressing the people’s movement and the then cabinet had declared him ineligible for holding any public post in the future.
This is, however, least of the concerns of people who have been agitating to avoid his appointment to the post.
First of all, the decisive figures behind recommendation of Karki's name for the post are understood to be Prachanda, the chairman of UCPN (Maoist) and K P Oli, leader of CPN (UML).
The consensual opinion of most informed people in Nepal is that the appointment of Singh as chief of CIAA has come with a doubtless motive of letting the duo of Prachanda-Oli free to run the show as it is now, ensuring absolute impunity, at least for six more years.
Second, the appointment has unraveled the worrisome ineptitude and hypocrisy of other less tainted leaders of political
parties. This includes the apparently clean-imaged Sushil Koirala, president of Nepali Congress and Jhalanath Khanal, president of CPN (UML). In either of the political parties, the most brazenly corrupt leaders are
having their way.
Third and most troubling is the dangerous collusion among all the powers in running the country to a deplorable end. When
Khil Raj Regmi, the then Chief Justice of the country, agreed to head the new election government, many had suspected his motives while others had chosen to question his credentials.
Others including this columnist had warned that it would suit even more for the politicians to do all the nasty things under the veneer of an apparently apolitical government. Unfortunately, suspicions of every kind are turning into realities; some more comprehensively than others. While the supreme court has gone to embarrassing length of giving a verdict in favor of the appointment and banning the media from the court sessions, Regmi himself has reportedly taken a strong stand for the
appointment of Karki at CIAA.
In the end, it was the acquiescence of the apparently unwavering President Ram Baran Yadav to the recommendation of Karki that paved way for the his swearing in as the head of the CIAA. Up until a day before the swearing in, the president had reportedly told party leaders to withdraw Karki's name. Agitating students, professional organizations and even most political parties had placed all their hope in the president.
This begs the question emerges as to why the politicians are risking their last support among the common people and intellectuals to promote a person as widely disliked by people as Lokman Singh Karki. Is the fear of being prosecuted in the future the only motive? Only future holds the answer.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Jiwan Kshetry is Kathmandu-based freelance writer. His primary areas of interest are corruption, violence and instability, particularly in South Asia. He regularly writes for his blog "South Asia and Beyond" (www.jiwankshetri.blogspot.com) and can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed in Twitter @jkshetry.