Print Edition - 2016-12-29  |  Yearender 2016

Watching the Watchers

  • Lokman Karki’s controversial tenure has left the CIAA at a crossroad

Dec 29, 2016-

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and South Korean President Park Geun-hye were impeached from their posts over corruption charges by their respective parliaments this year.

In Nepal, by contrast, the chief of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the anti-corruption watchdog, Lok Man Singh Karki, is himself facing an impeachment motion in the country’s parliament.

The charges against Karki are grave. After being appointed as the chief of the anti-graft body, Karki has been accused of going on a revenge mission against those who had been his adversaries in the past, running a parallel government, instructing government agencies, going beyond his jurisdiction and working for personal benefits.

The arrest of senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, who had protested vehemently against Karki’s appointment; and forcing former Chief Secretary Bhojraj Ghimire, who had replaced Karki as chief secretary, to fill out a 13-page property details and initiating investigation on the properties held by Finance Minister Surendra Pandey, who has spoken strongly against Karki’s actions in the past, were some moves that raised eyebrows among the public. 

The CIAA under Karki’s stewardship used regulatory bodies, such as the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI), against private firms, for instance, to a conduct raid on law two firms Janachetana Law Firm and the Legal Advisory Forum, a firm run by senior advocate Shambu Thapa, in September 2013. 

In the case of Janachetana Law Firm, even the Supreme Court in its latest verdict proclaimed that the CIAA went beyond its jurisdiction while raiding the firm, after a written letter from the anti-graft body to the DRI ordering a raid on the firm, was presented in court.

On the other hand, for example, the CIAA suspended the investigation on Ganesh Thapa, former president of All Nepal Football Association (Anfa), who is currently serving a 10-year ban on corruption charges mounted by the Federation of International Football Association (Fifa).

A CIAA commissioner said that the Karki, instead of the establishing a system, concentrated on ‘acting on personal interests’ by using the powers of his office.

“Informal pressure tactics were adopted instead of following formal procedures, making the CIAA’s actions controversial,” said the commissioner. 

Former chairman of the Special Court Gauri Bahadur Karki said that the suspended CIAA chief initiated the investigations on cases based on personal preferences—ordering his office to prepare strong charge sheets against those he despised. “In many cases, investigations were conducted just to bargain,” he said.  

Anti-corruption activists, however maintain, that the suspended CIAA chief’s actions were necessary because of the nature of  Nepal’s current political leadership.

Srihari Aryal, chairman of Transparency International Nepal, sees the appointment of Karki as the chief of the anti-graft body, despite the controversies surrounding him, itself a big mistake. 

“What forced the political parties to recommend Karki in the first place, despite their knowledge of the potential risks?” asked Aryal. “Now, the same leaders are complaining that Karki ran a parallel government.”  

Karki had been sworn into office on May 8, 2013, the same day a hearing against his appointment was scheduled at the Supreme Court. 

CIAA sees clipped authority

Karki’s tenure at the CIAA not only landed the anti-graft body in controversy but also curtailed its jurisdiction. 

The new constitution curtailed the rights of the CIAA, at a time when the anti-graft body was seeking to extend its jurisdiction into the private sector as well. “The behaviour exhibited by Karki is the chief reason that the rights of the CIAA has been clipped,” said the CIAA commissioner. 

Lawmakers involved in the constitution drafting process also said that they sought to reduce the jurisdiction of the CIAA because of its ‘irresponsible’ behavior, particularly its judicial overreach. 

“All of us who were in the Constitution Drafting Committee under the Constituent Assembly (CA) took unified decision to curtail the CIAA’s jurisdiction, considering its activities under Karki,” said Radheshyam Adhikari, a lawmaker from the Nepali Congress.

The fall out

Anti-corruption activists say that Karki’s impeachment is far from normal. It is, in fact, the first time that an impeachment motion has been registered against a chief of an anti-graft body in Asia.

Former chief of the CIAA Surya Nath Upadhya termed the incident ‘unfortunate’, warning that it will have a negative impact on the morale of the CIAA. “But, the anti-graft body should rise from this situation and start working towards regaining public confidence. The relevant commissioners of the CIAA should work to that end in the days to come,” he said.

 “Now, the CIAA is helpless in acting against political leaders.” said Transparency International chairman Aryal. In an article published in the Kathmandu Post, anti-corruption expert Narayan Manandhar wrote, “Political corruption—the biggest form of corruption in Nepal, will come as a free-for-all. We will come to a situation where the marriage between politics and corruption will be seamless.” 

However, TI chairman Ayral believes that only the CIAA alone cannot prevent or control corruption, as long as Nepal does not find political stability. “We have chosen a mixed electoral system, where political stability can be rare. Political instability gives space for corruption to flourish,” he said. 

Another fallout from the latest episode could be that the government’s intention of providing the CIAA with more jurisdiction might remain just a dream. As Nepal has already signed the United Nations Convention on Corruption Control, it is expected to create a legal structure based on the convention. The convention has sought broader jurisdiction for anti-corruption watchdogs, including jurisdiction over the private sector, public companies such as banks and financial institutions and non-governmental organisations.  The CIAA had been lobbying for a broader jurisdiction as per the convention. 

But, Lawmaker Adhikari quashed any hope for the expansion of CIAA’s powers. “There is no chance of more jurisdictions at the moment,” he said, despite the international commitments. 

Way forward 

Those who want curtailment of the CIAA jurisdiction say that giving more rights without accountability would be dangerous.

Lawmaker Adhikari still wants an institution like the CIAA in the country. “But it should be brought under the parliament,” he said. Lawmakers were miffed as Karki repeatedly ignored summons to the parliamentary committee over his actions. However, former CIAA chief Upadhyaya is against the idea of curtailing the power of the CIAA just because of one person’s misdeeds. “The institution should not be victimised because of one person,” he said.

Besides making the CIAA accountable, experts are of the view that the choice of the right person for the helm is crucial for the restoration of CIAA’s credibility.

Former Chairman of Special Court Chairman Karki suggested that the current setback to CIAA’s credibility could be restored if it gets a leadership that can perform duties as per the jurisdiction set by the constitution and the law.  “Even now, strong and fair leadership can change public opinion about the CIAA,” he said, adding that it should focus on using its power responsibly instead of demanding even more power.  

Published: 29-12-2016 10:13

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