Lokman Singh Karki
Perhaps no other public office-holder in Nepal has been as controversial as former CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki. A man accused of corruption, gold smuggling, and involvement in the suppression of popular protests in 2006 was clearly unfit to lead the powerful anti-corruption watchdog. He neither had the required experience, nor the moral standing for the job, as the Supreme Court ruled on Sunday. So how did such an incompetent and corrupt figure become CIAA chief? Karki was appointed in 2013 through an executive fiat, as there was at the time no parliament to endorse his name. The major political parties had proposed his appointment, as they were reportedly under tremendous pressure from India, which, apparently, wanted some kind of ‘structural guarantee’ in Nepal to keep our politicians on a tight leash. In return, Karki selectively framed, on trumped up corruption charges, those who had publicly opposed the Indian blockade in 2015. In fact, during his three and a half years as CIAA chief, instead of going after corrupt government officials, as was his brief, he selectively targeted his critics. He also spread a reign of terror among high-ranking bureaucrats and government officials, who started delaying important decisions lest they be hounded by CIAA.
He routinely overstepped his jurisdiction as he started to openly meddle in I/NGOs. He also became involved in fixing the number of MBBS seats at Kathmandu University, again by overstepping his constitutional limits. He had become so powerful that some people had started questioning whether the country was run by the Tangal Durbar (the CIAA headquarters) rather by the Singha Durbar (the seat of Nepali government). His reign of terror is now over but we are afraid he will leave behind a poisonous legacy. The CIAA under him has gained such notoriety that it will be a long time before people will start trusting its future commissioners. But CIAA is a vital institution, which, if it is to function as intended, could make a big dent on Nepal’s image as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Hence, as the apex court has instructed, there must in the future be rigorous scrutiny of any nominees for CIAA commissioners, especially its chief
commissioner. Only a person with impeccable public service record should get what is among the most important public posts in the country.
What we fear is that the major political parties will use the specter of Karki, long after he is gone, to keep CIAA without its vital office-bearers, as a strong CIAA could expose their shady dealings. This was the reason that before Karki’s appointment, the major parties had colluded to hamstring the commission by deliberately keeping it without its office-bearers. This was unbecoming of our parties. If the supposed torchbearers of
democracy continue to undermine the rule of law like this, it’s only a matter of time before another power-hungry strongman like Karki rises. Only the right degree of check and balance between the three organs of the state will ensure continued health of Nepali democracy. We hope that our politicians have learned their lesson and will in the future desist from such unwarranted machinations and experiments.