It has been over a month and half since Republica and its sister publication Nagarik first reported of massive irregularities in the purchase of lands by the state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation for its new storage facilities. In this time, we have published multiple reports, backed by hard evidence, that point to the complicity of NOC chief Gopal Khadka in these irregularities. Perhaps people have now forgotten, but this is the same person who during the blockade admitted to breaking the law to award an oil-import contract to a private bidder. This time, after stories on his corrupt ways started to be published, and after all his efforts to silence us went to waste, Khadka then filed a defamation case against Nagarik, claiming Rs 800 million in damages. As a citizen of Nepal, he is perfectly entitled to do so. But our faith in Nepal’s judiciary is strong, and we are confident that the defamation suit will make our case stronger still, as the court will now be able to adjudicate on the veracity of our reports. But more than this court case, we find the government’s inaction particularly troubling.
With the proof of his crime now in public domain, why hasn’t the prime minister dismissed Khadka? Even the parliament has declared him corrupt. The parliament’s Public Accounts Committee had on August 4 found Khadka guilty of corruption amounting to Rs 670 million while purchasing land for construction of four NOC storage facilities in Bhairahawa, Chitwan, Jhapa and Sarlahi. Yet the executive has so far refrained from any action against Khadka, suggesting the complicity of at least some ministers in protecting the corruption-accused. We are not surprised. Another high-ranking bureaucrat whose wrongdoings we have repeatedly exposed—Sajha Prakashan’s general manager, Dolindra Prasad Sharma—continues to hold on to his chair. The only conceivable reason, again, is his strong political connections. Dr Govinda KC, a frail and aging doctor, has had to time and again put his life on the line to get the most commonsensical healthcare reforms enacted. On Wednesday, the Tribhuvan University finally cancelled the affiliation of the illegally built and operated Kathmandu National Medical College after Dr KC threatened with yet another hunger strike, which would have been his 12th.
Thankfully, the media in Nepal continues to be fiercely independent and has refused to be intimidated. Were it not for continuous media pressure, parliament would have perhaps passed a bill that allowed corruption-convicts to contest future elections. Dr KC, meanwhile, has become a media darling for his noble cause, and rightly so. And even though they enjoy a level of political protection, after the media’s relentless crusade against their corrupt ways, life has gotten steadily harder for the likes of NOC’s Khadka and Sajha’s Sharma. But that is not enough. Both should be summarily dismissed and corruption cases filed against them. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has of late made some bold decisions, for instance on Kathmandu National College and asking his MPs to withdraw a proposed amendment to electoral laws to allow corruption-convicts to contest elections. We expect the prime minister to show the same kind of decisiveness and commitment to good governance when his cabinet sits again and to get rid of the two rotten eggs that threaten to spoil his whole government.