Corruption continues to thrive at all three levels of government, despite the anti-graft body’s claim of having a strong monitoring mechanism in place.
Hardly any day goes by when there is no incident of corruption, mainly concerning civil servants taking a bribe, in the media.
Senior journalist Hari Bahadur Thapa says news stories about bribery that comes in the media are usually minor ones, and that there are much larger corruption cases taking place in the shadows.
Thapa suspects the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is deliberately turning its attention away from big cases because of high-level political involvement.
“The CIAA is failing to catch big fishes. It has abandoned the investigation of big scandals involving political leaders and focusing only on small cases,” he says. “This is because all the state mechanisms have been captured by the political parties.”
After a long gap, the Special Court in Kathmandu last week slapped two former ministers—Badri Prasad Neupane and Tek Bahadur Gurung— with nine-year jail terms and Rs 12m fine. But it was a one-off case of politicians getting convicted of corruption in the country. In Nepal, even courts are known to delay the hearing of cases involving politicians or those people who have high-level political connections.
A cursory look at the CIAA documents also shows where its focus lies when it comes to curbing and investigating corruption cases. People are registering more and more complaints with the CIAA. A majority of complaints (4,459) received by the commission in the fiscal year in 2021/22 were in the form of written applications. Complaints were also recorded via postal service, e-mail, and directly to the CIAA website.
Around half of the complaints (50.55percent), which also include those from previous fiscal years, are currently under investigation at the CIAA central office. Among the various regional offices of the anti-graft body, the highest number of complaints is being handled by the Bardibas office (8.68percent), while the Nepalgunj office (3.07percent) and Pokhara office (4.59 percent) have the lowest number of complaints, according to the report.
Likewise, the Kathmandu head office of the CIAA has settled the highest number of complaints (9,509) compared to its branches. Among the offices outside of Kathmandu, the Butuwal office had the highest percentage of settled complaints (84.52 percent), while the Bardibas office had the highest number of settled complaints (1,196). The Itahari office of the CIAA settled the fewest number of complaints in terms of percentage (53.36 percent), while the Nepalgunj office had the fewest number of settled complaints (524).
The report also showed that approximately half of the complaints filed at both the head office and regional offices of the CIAA were against the local governments and their agencies (47.08 percent). About 40.96percent of the complaints were against agencies under the federal government. In terms of provinces, the highest number of complaints was received against the offices in Bagmati, followed by Madhes, Lumbini, and Koshi. Number of corruption complaints against provincial government offices in Gandaki, Karnali, and Sudurpashchim was comparatively fewer.
In terms of agencies under provincial and local governments, the highest number of complaints has been filed in Madhes (28.10 percent), while the lowest was in Gandaki (8.47 percent). Lumbini accounted for 15 percent, Sudurpashchim 13.73 percent, and Koshi 12.79 percent of the total number of complaints filed. Bagmati and Karnali accounted for 11.78 percent and 10 percent respectively.
The report also showed that complaints against sectors such as federal affairs, education, health, land administration, forest and environment, physical infrastructure, and home affairs were comparatively higher. A significant number of complaints were related to fake academic certificates and amassing of illegal properties.
In terms of sector-wise distribution, complaints in federal affairs (including local government) were the highest (33.14 percent), followed by education (15.31 percent); land administration (7.71 percent), forest and environment (4.62 percent); health and population (3.99 percent); physical infrastructure and transport (3.88 percent); home administration (3.75 percent); tourism, industry and commerce (3.23 percent); energy, water resources and irrigation (3.09 percent); water supply and urban development (2.98 percent); finance and revenue (1.96 percent); agriculture and livestock (1.88 percent); and communication and information technology (0.99 percent).
After preliminary investigation, the CIAA head office settled 9,509 (77.31 percent) of the 12,300 complaints filed in 2021/22, said the report. The commission’s branch offices settled 7,660 (63.67 percent) out of 12,031 complaints.
In total, the CIAA settled 17,169 (70.56 percent) out of 24,331 complaints recorded during the fiscal year 2021/22. The remaining 7,162 complaints have been carried over for 2022/23.
In 2021/22, following a comprehensive investigation, the CIAA decided to register charge sheets in 130 complaints. Including one charge sheet decided in 2020/21, the commission filed a total of 131 charge sheets at the Special Court in 2021/22.
Additionally, the anti-graft commission issued 80 suggestions and 17 written instructions, while 637 complaints are in the notice service process. It also took 41 other decisions.
In 2021/22, the CIAA held 79 meetings and made 975 decisions related to filing charge-sheets, appeals, reviews, dispositions, and pending of investigation, among other matters. Of the 131 cases charge-sheeted in 2021/22, 35 were related to causing damage to public property, 34 to seeking illegal benefits, and 32 to corruption.
Seven cases were related to illegal amassing of properties, six to fake academic certificates, five to revenue leakage, and 12 to other offenses.
In 2021/22, the CIAA also filed appeals at the Supreme Court against decisions of the Special Court in 57 cases. A total of 637 complaints — 42 against illegal amassing of properties and 595 others — filed in 2021/22 have been kept in disposition as per Clause 19 (12) of CIAA Act, 1991, and Rule 10 CIAA Regulations, 2002.
The performance of the Special Court, through which cases related to corruption are settled, is dismal. For instance in the fiscal year 2078/79, altogether 792 cases were filed, but the court delivered on only 339 of them. Most of the cases filed at the Special Court are related to illegal earning, policy corruption, fake certificate, bribery, and money laundering.
Nepal was ranked in the 110th position out of 180 countries in the corruption perception index report of Transparency International in 2022. The country had ranked at 117th spot in 2021.
But despite the year-by-year improvement in corruption perception, observers say it does not take account of irregularities that are happening at the local level.
They say corruption and irregularities are thriving at provincial and local levels, and there are no reliable mechanisms to check them. This is true particularly in development projects, which have boomed in provinces after Nepal adopted federalism.
According to the National Vigilance Center (NVC), corruption has flourished mainly in big development projects. In one of its reports, the NVC states that the quality of big infrastructure projects is seriously compromised due to nexus between politicians and contractors.
To check the quality of infrastructure projects, NVC has set up laboratories but it falls short of sufficient human and other resources.
Padmini Pradhananga, president of Transparency International Nepal, says anti-graft agencies in Nepal are not paying attention to the corruption happening at the local level.
“We are receiving complaints that corruption and irregularities are happening in the health, education and construction sectors,” says. “There are also reports of the CIAA keeping big corruption scandals on hold and investigating only small cases.”