May 13, 2019 02:00 AM NPT
When influential politicians openly hobnob with business leaders of questionable conduct, it raises question on their commitment to honesty and integrity. In a country like Nepal, where often policy and plans come to be compromised to serve interests of powerful interest groups, it is important for the top leaders—especially of ruling parties—to maintain fine distance with those figures who tend to get their jobs done through political connection. Nepali politicians have not been able to keep away from such figures. They are seen together with business tycoons who look to game the system to enrich their business enterprises or themselves. One such instance was noticed soon after Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli took office in February 2018. He and his party colleague Pushpa Kamal Dahal were seen dining at a house belonging to the owner of a medical college Durga Prasai. Then little known Marsi rice not only became the status symbol of wealth and affluence it also became the symbol of possible bribery. When in January this year, Education and Health Committee of the parliament approved the National Medical Education Bill paving the way for the establishment of B & C Medical College owned by Durga Prasai it was seen as the result of Oli and Dahal dining at Prasai’s house.
Ruling Nepal Communist Party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal repeated a similar scene of a sort on Friday, when he hosted a grand reception at the house of Niraj Gobinda Shrestha, one of the former owners of the Ncell telecommunications company. The occasion was Dahal’s 50th wedding anniversary. Like anyone, Dahal has the right to celebrate the occasion, this is no matter of dispute, but the venue he chose for the celebration has raised some suspicions. For the fact remains that Ncell is accused of not paying over Rs 39 billion in capital gains tax (CGT) even years after its owners sold their stakes to Axiata and other companies and despite the Supreme Court ruling. Ncell has filed an appeal claiming that the tax assessment by the government’s Large Taxpayer Office (LTO) was not proper. The case is now sub-judice at the apex court. The party, which was attended by top leaders, including ministers and lawmakers, was organized at Shrestha’s sprawling 18 ropani estate in Thecho, Lalitpur. It has come to light that Shrestha, who has been living abroad, arrived in Kathmandu just to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Dahal.
As Ncell is trying to evade paying tax to the government, anniversary party at the house of former owner of the Ncell is surely going to be interpreted as the effort of Shrestha to influence ruling party leaders for immunity. Besides, some ruling party leaders themselves are accusing the government ministers of becoming increasingly close to brokers and various interest groups. When ruling party leaders are seen standing together or supporting business people of questionable past, their commitment to zero-tolerance against corruption rings hollow. Participation of leaders in events hosted by people of questionable characters becomes the subject of public scrutiny. They should avoid such people and such events. It would help discourage questionable business people to exact undue (also illegal) benefits from their political connection.