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Formulate laws to curb corruption

Formulate laws to curb corruption
When Nepal became a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003, it shared a shared commitment to combat corruption and promote transparency and rule of law together with other nations. But despite signing the convention, Nepal has failed to create laws and structures in line with the convention's objectives. Laws concerning conflict of interest, protection of hostages, international organized crime, protection of victims, witnesses, and experts, as well as prevention, control, and confiscation of criminal assets and instruments, are yet to be enacted. The National Strategies and Plan of Action on the Implementation of the UNCAC-2013 has also not been implemented effectively. Although the strategy states that the appointment, promotion, and retirement of public officials will be made objective and transparent, this is not always the case.

There are constant controversies surrounding the appointment of public officials, and there have been criticisms and comments about violations of the law. The failure to effectively implement the provision of annual property statements to be submitted by public officials is also giving rise to suspicions and controversies.

In Nepal, reducing political corruption remains the most challenging task. Transparency International surveys have identified the government, political parties, public representatives, police, judiciary, revenue sector, and business circles as corrupt institutions. It is disheartening to see Nepal rank among the most corrupt countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 2021. Last year, Nepal was ranked 117th out of 180 countries, scoring only 33 out of 100 points. A score below 50 is indicative of corrupt practices. The CPI survey highlights issues such as corruption and abuse of power in the public sector, bribery in business, growing impunity, lack of information, and political corruption. Similarly, TI's GCP 2020 survey revealed that corruption is increasing in Nepal. Corruption in the government sector is a significant problem, votes are being bought, democracy is at risk, and there are issues such as having to pay personal fees to access services. The survey also indicates that corruption is becoming entrenched in Nepal, as people are not strongly opposing it. TI believes that government circles and public officials must be transparent and ethical for their indices to improve. Corruption cannot be reduced unless there is a culture of ethics in the government and public sectors. Unfortunately, corruption and bribery activities in public procurement, services, and commissions continue unabated. Last year, the government expressed dissatisfaction with TI's report, but this does not address corruption. Instead of expressing dissatisfaction, the government should work to clean up its apparatuses. There is a widespread belief that large-scale corruptions occur based on the decisions of the Council of Ministers. This is a ‘policy corruption’. Since the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the national anti-graft body, cannot review the decisions made by the Council of Ministers, there is a tendency to make controversial decisions through the Cabinet to avoid investigation. As amendments to the Anti-Corruption Act and CIAA Act are under consideration in parliament, there is a need to pile pressure  to provide clear definitions of financial transactions with political implications. If the state is not able to effectively control policy corruption, the current distortions and inconsistencies will only worsen, and the tendency to mock the law will continue. The CIAA must be aware of public comments of ‘small fish’ and ‘big fish’. The parliamentary committee has investigated numerous cases and sent files for prosecution, but many of these cases remain unresolved. It would be appropriate for the CIAA to provide timely conclusions on these matters. Additionally, it should address criticism that it is more interested in pursuing minor cases and avoiding larger ones. The CIAA needs to prioritize investigating major corruption cases such as the wide-body aircraft procurement, Covid-related procurements by Omni, security press procurement, and land purchases for Nepal Oil Corporation depots. The CIAA must promote the implementation of its reports and send a message that it is fulfilling its constitutional responsibility. Following the promulgation of a new constitution, Nepal has transitioned from a centralized governance system to a federal structure. All three tiers of government have completed their first five-year terms and have started their second term. However, with the decentralization of governance, corruption and irregularities have also been decentralized, as recorded in the reports of state institutions such as the CIAA and the Auditor General. Free and fair elections have laid the foundations of democracy, but there have been criticisms that the Election Commission has overspent its budget. Additionally, traders, businessmen, and contractors have been elected to all three levels of government, raising concerns about conflicts of interest. There have also been reports of lawmakers with vested interests participating in thematic committee meetings of parliament, highlighting the need for greater transparency and ethical standards in government processes. It is crucial for all stakeholders to put pressure on businesspeople to avoid speaking on matters related to their interests and to refrain from being part of parliamentary committees or involved in the amendment process that concerns their business. The parliament secretariat should also take steps to prevent such conflicts of interest by introducing regulations that require lawmakers to declare their interests beforehand. Moreover, the code of conduct for MPs should be made mandatory, and the 'Conduct Committee' should be activated to ensure that the code of conduct is implemented. Furthermore, to prevent money laundering, it is necessary to investigate the black money of Nepalis abroad resulting from corrupt activities. The system for identifying sources of income for investment must be improved and tightened to prevent money laundering. Pradhananga is President of Transparency International, Nepal Chapter