Raj Narayan Pathak, one of the commissioners at Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), who resigned on Friday, has defamed the country, and our anti-corruption watchdog, the institution people look up to for corruption control, in many ways. He should not be allowed to walk free simply because he has resigned. But Pathak scam also speaks volumes about why corruption control in Nepal has remained such a huge challenge and why we fare worse in annual Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International. Pathak was picked commissioner of the anti-graft body in 2015 by Constitutional Council headed by Sushil Koirala, prime minister at the time. He should not have been, for his involvement in bribery had become apparent even as he was serving at the Office of Attorney General. But the government of the day was apparently made to capitulate as he was recommended for the post by Madhes-based parties as a part of sharing spoils.
When in CIAA, he was accused of misusing authority by leaking question papers of the postgraduate medical entrance examinations to enroll his daughter and of accumulating wealth illegally. His evil deeds came out only after dispute emerged over ownership of Chagunarayan-based Nepal Engineering College. Lambodar Neupane, the chairperson of college management committee, wanted to register the college as a private company at Company Registrar’s Office. Other committee members stood against it and registered a complaint at CIAA in July of last year. When the complaint was registered, Pathak summoned Lambodar in the pretext of discussing the matter but actually to demand Rs. 3.8 million in bribe. That did not satisfy him. He demanded additional Rs 4 million. He threatened to jail Lambodar if the said amount was not paid. Lambodar did as asked but Pathak did not keep his promise. Then Lambodar demanded his money but Pathak refused to pay back. Only when the recorded conversation between Pathak and Lambodar over the matter was made public, we came to know what Pathak had been up to all along as a CIAA commissioner: a corrupt official promoting corruption from anti-corruption watchdog.
When parliamentarians from ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) started talking about impeaching him, Pathak has cleverly escaped the impeachment by resigning. What is deeply troubling about the whole affair is that top politicians, including the prime minister himself, were familiar with Pathak’s wrongdoings. What kept him from taking action? By resigning Pathak has chosen the way to escape punishment for this is how the country has dealt with most notorious corrupt in the past. Back in 2012, Labor and Employment Minister Kumar Belbase was found asking for bribes in exchange for registration of foreign employment companies. Videotape recordings of this had been made public. Seven years down the line, Belbase has not been punished. The case of multiple wrongdoings of former CIAA chief Lok Man Singh Karki is still fresh in public memory. After the Supreme Court invalidated his appointment, Karki has been walking scot-free. He has not been prosecuted. If Pathak is not tried, it will only help further institutionalize corruption. Every activity he carried out while in Office of Attorney General and in CIAA should be thoroughly investigated and he must be punished for every wrongdoing. Resignation must not be allowed to become an excuse to indulge in rampant corruption and then walk with impunity.