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Test case for PM Oli

Test case for PM Oli

In some democracies, lying under oath is a jail-wor­thy offense. English novelist Jeffery Archer was imprisoned in 2010 for lying in a libel case. More recently, Michael Cohen, American President Donald Trump’s lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison after he lied to the Senate. In other democ­racies, like Nepal, the offenders tend to get away with it, as Minister for Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari will be hoping.

Adhikari tried to mislead the parliamentary sub-committee investigating the opaque transac­tions related to the purchase of two aircraft from Airbus. Asked by the sub-committee on why he had sanctioned payment on behalf of the national flag-carrier even though the procurement process was riddled with flaws, the minister replied that he was acting on the advice of Auditor General Tanka Mani Sharma. But Sharma, appearing later before the same sub-committee, said that he had offered Minis­ter Adhikari no such advice. As Adhikari has refused to comment on Sharma’s denial, there are grounds to assume his guilt.

We expect better of a public servant. We also expect accountability. Will the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), of which the sub-committee was a part, now seek punishment for the lying minister? And what will happen to others like the Nepal Airlines Gener­al Manager Sugat Ratna Kansakar and over 25 senior government officials who in this case have been found guilty of violating the Public Procurement Act? Senior PAC leaders have already distanced themselves from the probe, perhaps because investigating it could earn them the ire of their party leaders. There is thus con­siderable doubt that the PAC will act on the recom­mendations of the sub-committee.

The CIAA, the country’s chief anti-graft body, can launch an investigation only after the PAC’s go-ahead. It is vital to get to the root of this mammoth corruption case. The sub-committee concluded that over Rs 4 bil­lion was embezzled during the procurement of the two aircraft, with the involvement of everyone from sitting ministers to the chiefs of the Citizen Investment Trust and the Employees Provident Fund. But with friends in high places, will they be prosecuted?

Prime Minister KP Oli has repeatedly assured his fel­low citizens that no corrupt official will be spared and no one will be allowed to come in the way of his pet national prosperity agenda. He now has a chance to prove just that.