Is Impunity a Privilege of Politicians?

Nepal is perhaps one of the very few countries in the world where politicians have been enjoying privilege of impunity from prosecution for years. The plain truth is that only one politician, a former minister belonging to one of the major political parties, has so far been rendered a jail sentence on charges of corruption. This may also sound incredible in a collapsing state where one after another scandal rocks the nation and hardly any influential person faces legal prosecution to be brought to book.

The Sudan scam can be an eye opener to expose all corrupt persons irrespective of their positions and punish them  depending on the crime they have allegedly committed as per the law of the land. It is too early to predict now how corruption charges already filed ( June 9, 2011 ) against a number of police officials, both former and incumbent, will unfold. Corruption cases are being decided by the respected Special Court in due course of time and every one sincerely hopes that their expectations about justice will not be dashed as in the past.

Emboldened by the courageous stand taken by former Chief Justice Ram Prasad Shrestha , who retired very recently, in dealing with corruption cases in past few months, people’s desperation has to some extent been reduced. However, the ground reality surrounding the most notorious corruption case does not convince the people that the big fish will not go unpunished, if proved guilty. Almost every Nepali understands that corruption is rampant and it is ominously getting institutionalized in the country.

Against such backdrop the Sudan scandal becomes emblematic. It is going to be the most serious test-case for the Maoist-dominated but UML-led government to determine if it is really committed to deny the privilege of impunity to the corrupt politicians and high-ranking public officials. Seen from the anarchic environment where goons defy the nation’s laws and get embraced by the so-called senior politicians, it is difficult to believe that the government delivers justice. No where  in the world can one find an incumbent home minister pleading humiliatingly before the prime minister to allow his party activist face the legal prosecution, once circumstantial evidence proves the guilt.

UNAMID

Nepal has been a police contributor to the UN Peacekeeping Missions ever since Cambodia mission which was deployed in early 1990s. Its contribution has been acknowledged by the UN, the evidence of which is the deployment of a formed police unit in a complex and risky operation like UN African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Darfur mission is uniquely composed of troops and police contingents from the UN plus African Union countries and thus is the first of its kind. In view of difficult mandate of restoring peace in a war-prone Western Sudanese region of Darfur, the UN had consumed tremendous resources to deploy a robust mission like UNAMID. The mission therefore, necessitated the deployment of formed police units equipped with Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) along with other logistics for success.

The UN does not have its own standing army. There is a long-standing practice of requesting the troop/police contributing country to send a contingent that owns its weapons and other logistics. At a time of increasing competition from among the contributors only those nations can get the chance of serving with the UN which can supply the force quickly accompanied by the necessary equipment. UNAMID provided such an opportunity to Nepal police but in a ironic twist of history our political, bureaucratic and police leadership have squandered it irreparably bringing disgrace to country’s reputation.

Questionable Image

When the government itself turns a blind eye to corruption, embezzlement of public funds takes place frequently. Had huge sum of money not been spent in the procurement of the APCs, the political, civil and police leadership would not have been supposedly bribed by the supplier to compromise on the quality of the vehicles imported for use by the UN mission. As revealed by one of the accused officials, amendments in the contract were made under the undue influence of the supplier. Consequently, the quality of APCs was heavily compromised. The APCs were declared unusable by the UN and Nepal as a police contributing nation has faced a great setback. No compensation from the UN for supplying equipment has been possible. Who should be held accountable to this loss of country’s global prestige? It is incomprehensible that the political bosses at home ministry would not know about such lucrative deal, whose final nod is needed even for recruiting lower-ranking police personnel?

CIAA

Nepal exhibits double irony in the sense that the Commission on Investigation of Abuse of Authority ( CIAA) has remained without a single commissioner for several years. Supposedly the tainted civil servants are supplanting the commissioners. The present bureaucracy in the CIAA has also admitted its inefficiency for handling such high-profile corruption case like the Sudan scandal. But blaming only the civil, judicial and police officials working with CIAA is not fair. The responsibility of strengthening the anti-corruption body lies with the government. Paying negligible attention to such sensitive issue by the government vindicates the public perception that it is unwilling to tackle corruption at the political level. Are the incumbent political masters wary of the fact that a precedent of trying the corrupt politicians will facilitate their own lawful prosecution in future too?

Civil Society

Of late Nepal has built a vibrant civil society. The members of such societies have sometimes performed well by making the government submit to public pressure on issues of national importance. Their constructive role was conspicuously visible during the 2062-63 People’s Revolution but in the aftermath of Republican Nepal most of the so-called intellectuals associated with civil societies are seen toeing the position of the parties they admire. What prevents them to put a moral pressure on the government to promptly constitute the Commission on Investigation of Abuse of Authority and accordingly handle corruption cases more effectively and efficiently?

Conclusion

Judging from the statements of the chairmen of the Parliamentary State Affairs Committee, the Sub-Committee set up by the parliament to probe the Sudan scam and even some of the alleged police officials made public through media, it seems that the political and civilian leaders holding public offices during the time of both contract awarding and the payment of various installments related to APCs cannot avoid their legal and moral responsibilities.

Facing mounting criticism the CIAA has tried to reassure the public that the political leaders have not been given clean chits already meaning that they are likely to be implicated. Encouragingly, the Supreme Court has issued a show cause notice on a petition by advocate Pawan Khadka seeking to file cases against former home ministers and home secretaries for their alleged involvement in the Sudan case. Let the government disprove that the Nepalese politicians and  high-ranking civil servants enjoy impunity from lawful action by dint of their positions.

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