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The coop scam probe panel should not fail the depositor

The coop scam probe panel should not fail the depositor

There was a huge hue and cry and hot debates as well as sharp allegations and counter-allegations among the political parties with regard to the huge fund embezzlement through different co-operatives for the personal gain of some swindlers. Thousands of Nepali citizens had deposited their hard-earned money in different cooperatives for rainy days. But when they knew that their deposits were embezzled, they hit the streets demanding the return of their deposits and legal action against the culprits. Some culprits have been caught, some have been absconding, while some others have been walking freely by misusing the state power.

Who raised the issue?

The Nepali Congress, with support from some other parties, strongly raised this issue in the parliament and on the streets. For almost three months, they obstructed the parliament demanding the formation of a broad-based parliamentary committee to probe the scam and suggest ways to recoup the deposits, recommend action against the culprits and resolve the crisis facing the co-operatives.

Probe panel

After long and painful days, obstructions and scuffles, verbal allegations and counter-allegations between the ruling and opposition parties, a seven-member parliamentary investigation committee (PIC) took shape with a concrete Terms of Reference (ToR). The committee will recommend ways to improve the overall condition of the cooperatives by conducting an in-depth study, focusing particularly on 20 crisis-ridden cooperatives, list those cooperatives, which financed the Gorkha Private Media Network using the depositors’ hard-earned savings, apart from the individuals, including the office-bearers, responsible for the scam. Let us hope that this committee delivers.

Political strategy

But this is only one side of the coin. The other vital and interesting side is the role and the strategy of the three big parties in this whole gamut. The main political strategy of the Nepali Congress was to win the depositors’ minds and support by raising and supporting their issues on the one hand, and weakening and—if possible—to break the coalition government and topple it. Whereas the desired end of the CPN-UML’s strategy was to drag the country toward mid-term polls by keeping the ruling coalition intact. 

For this, the strategy intended to bring the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) to its fold, create a rift between the NC and the ruling CPN (Maoist Center) as well as between the NC and the RSP.  

The strategy of the Prime Minister in particular and his party—the CPN (Maoist Center)—in general was to create an environment of mistrust between the NC and the UML, and position himself  as a mediator between the two big parties.

Who gained, who lost?

Let us re-examine the strategies. The NC made a compromise and moved one step back, making it partially successful with the realization of its core demand—the formation of a parliamentary investigation committee. On the downside, the party could neither make mention of Rabi Lamichhane in the TOR nor could it break the ruling coalition. The UML is happy as the party managed to get the support of Lamichhane, the chair of the fourth largest party in the parliament, and keep the ruling coalition intact. The Prime Minister is happy and satisfied as he proved himself to be a successful mediator, saved his government and widened the rift between the NC and the UML. All in all, it was a win-win scenario for all principal actors.

Merits of TOR

Now, let us talk about the TOR of the PIC. The TOR is generally good and positive as it is touching upon the core issues, problems and challenges facing the cooperatives. There is sufficient ground to believe that it will be able to drag out the crisis-ridden cooperatives from the vicious circle of mismanagement and mis-appropriation. For this to happen, though, the PIC should work independently and fairly on the basis of facts and figures. It should rise above a partisan outlook and work in the best interest of the country and the people by giving concrete recommendations vis-a-vis the crises-ridden cooperatives. The core issue is the depositors’ funds siphoned off to Gorkha Media Network and its embezzlement. What amount went to the network, who all are the cooperatives and individuals involved in this scam and what is the current status of this scam? The committee should bring out the facts without fear or partiality. The probe committee should keep in mind that the whole country is following the developments very seriously and carefully. The cooperatives’ victims are even more careful and alert, so the relevant actors should be honest, performance-oriented and accountable to the people.

Duty of stakeholders

Media outlets, intellectuals, opinion-makers and even politicians should provide their full and unconditional support to the investigation process. The PIC must complete its task within the given timeframe as any delay in the probe process is likely to invite conflict and confrontation with the victims staging street-based protests, giving rise to law and order issues and contributing further to political instability.

Duty of PIC

The onus is on the PIC to understand and internalize the gravity and dynamics of the issue. The political parties and the government should also take this issue very seriously because innocent Nepali citizens are furious after losing savings totaling billions of rupees. It is a genuine issue of the people and all relevant quarters should address it properly and steadfastly. 

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