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Editorial: Conduct free and fair probe

Editorial: Conduct free and fair probe

The seven-member parliamentary committee formed to investigate various cooperative scams has officially begun its work. Although the committee’s terms of reference do not specifically mention Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane, its mandate includes studying claims that he misused funds from different cooperatives. The committee is powerful as it has a mandate of the House of Representatives, and its jurisdiction and terms of reference give it the authority to conduct a free and fair inquiry. However, there are concerns about the committee’s impartiality, given that the committee is under a lawmaker from CPN-UML, a party that has strongly supported Lamichhane despite opposition from other parties.

The main opposition, Nepali Congress (NC), has continuously disrupted House proceedings since the second week of March, demanding Lamichhane’s resignation. NC alleges that the hard-earned savings of commoners, parked in fixed deposit accounts at Supreme Cooperative of Butwal and Suryadarshan Cooperative of Pokhara, were illegally transferred to Gorkha Media Network. Lamichhane briefly served as a director of the company and hosted his show Sidha Kura on Galaxy TV, operated by Gorkha Media Network. The home minister has been maintaining that he hasn’t received a penny from the cooperatives. Although the ruling parties were initially against forming a parliamentary inquiry committee, they finally agreed to form the committee on the condition that Lamichhane’s name is not included in its mandate.

Much will depend on how the committee interprets and executes its mandate. A half-hearted probe that succumbs to external pressures and partisan interests will only deepen public cynicism about parliamentary oversight mechanisms. Nepali people have witnessed such failures before, where inquiry panels did not hold power centers accountable on multiple occasions. However, a thorough and impartial investigation can reignite public faith in democratic institutions and processes. By allowing the facts to speak for themselves, the committee can dispel the suspicions surrounding Lamichhane’s conduct. An independent inquiry that calls out the failure to observe standards of honesty, irrespective of positions or affiliations, would uphold the constitutional ideals of checks and balances.

The inquiry panel’s works and actions will be a litmus test of Nepal’s democratic principles and commitment to the rule of law. Any shortcoming in the investigation process could have repercussions far beyond this specific case. If that happens, it would only embolden unscrupulous people to defy legal and ethical norms with impunity.