Against popular perception, Oli claims to have checked corruption

- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA, Kathmandu

May 5, 2019-

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has claimed that many cases of corruption have been unearthed under his watch, countering the narrative that corruption had thrived since he took power.

The Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led government is facing criticism for its inept handling of various cases of irregularities including the registration of government land at Baluwatar in the name of individuals, and a scandal related to the purchase of two widebody aircraft by the Nepal Airlines Corporation.

After revelation that Bishnu Poudel, general secretary of the ruling party, was one of the persons who bought the land in Baluwatar from “mafia”, Minister for Land Reforms and Management Padma Aryal publicly defended Poudel saying that he had bought the plot legally. The Commission for Investigation of Authority is looking into the matter.

In the case of widebody aircraft, the government had formed a probe team after a parliamentary committee pointed fingers at a sitting minister. But taskforce members were not given their terms of reference and the committee was dissolved without being formed formally.

“That these [corruption] issues have surfaced now does not mean corruption is thriving under my government,” Oli told a press conference at his residence in Baluwatar on Saturday.

“A CIAA official involved in corruption has been brought to book. As far as the Baluwatar land is concerned, an investigation is going on to find out when the public property was registered in the name of individuals,” the prime minister said. “The government will not tolerate irregularities. Some people are alarmed by this stance.”

The government announced in its policies and programmes for the upcoming fiscal year on Friday that it would reclaim all the land encroached upon by the next year.

“All kinds of encroachment of public land will end. Strong action will be taken against those indulging in irregularities in land administration,” read the policies and programmes presented by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

Last month, the government barred transactions of 113 ropani 3 aana land of Lalita Niwas in Baluwatar, including the plot owned by Poudel, after it was revealed that all the land there was transferred illegally by some individuals in collusion with officials at the Dillibazaar Land Revenue Office and the District Land Reform and Survey Office.

Poudel is found to have purchased 8 aana land at Lalita Niwas through brokers. The government is charged with trying to cover up Poudel’s deed with the prime minister himself telling the NCP Parliamentary Party meeting that Poudel had purchased the land, and not acquired it.

Oli, however, pointed to ongoing investigations into corruption scandals including the purchase of wide-body aircraft to show the resolve of his government against corruption. “When I say I will initiate a probe into corruption cases and punish the corrupt, I’m not saying it for the sake of popularity,” he added.

The prime minister sought to take credit for unearthing the gold smuggling scam through the Tribhuvan International Airport. “Now people say that corruption is widespread. When 38 quintals of gold was sneaked through, there was silence... When we stopped it, some people are asking why big fish were not caught. Big fish have come under the net and some porters might also have come under the net,” Oli said.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to curbing corruption at all levels, adding that even the monitors of irregularities would be monitored if they conspired to hide irregularities.

Anti-corruption activists, however, question the government’s commitment to curbing corruption.

Sukdev Bhattarai Khatri, former acting auditor general, pointed out a number of instances of the Oli government failing to control corruption. “One clear example of policy corruption is the amendment to Nepal Trust Act, allowing the government to lease out the land of trust for commercial purpose. Currently, its land can only be used for health and education purposes.

“This may lead the political leadership to lease the land of the trust for personal gain,” said Khatri. “We have seen the example of Chandragiri, where land was leased out for several years by charging a few hundred rupees per ropani.”

The Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government had leased the hill to Chandragiri Hills, a company owned by Chandra Dhakal, for 40 years without competition by charging just Rs5,000 per hectare. The land occupied by the company measures 36 hectares.

Khatri objected to the government’s decision to provide extra allowance for staff at two dozen government offices without considering its impact on others. “It has failed to take concrete action against large companies that evade taxes,” he said.

Published: 05-05-2019 09:59

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