On Tuesday, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli was reiterating his usual ‘zero-tolerance against corruption’ rhetoric. “I will not spare anyone who is corrupt,” he said in a program in the capital. Earlier he was reported as saying, “I don’t even want to look at the face of the corrupt.” This particular remark was mocked at in the social media. “In that case, the prime minister will have to close his eyes all the time because the notorious corrupt are walking around him,” Kamal Thapa, Chairman of Rastriya Prajantantra Party, who was deputy prime minister in Oli-headed government two years ago, wrote on Twitter. Many others responded by saying ‘look yourself at the mirror,’ or ‘close your eyes.’ It is unfortunate that PM’s anti-corruption remarks become the butt of jokes but this is because Oli’s administration has not been able to do much on corruption control and all commitments have been limited to papers and speeches.
This is reinforced by the findings of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index of 2018. Nepal has slipped in the global CPI at 124th position with a score of 31, among the 180 countries surveyed. Nepal was in 122th position in last CPI, which means the state of corruption, has gone worse this year. We do not fare better even region-wise. Among South Asian countries Nepal is ranked as third most corrupt country after Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It is obvious that failure of the political leadership to crackdown on corruption and glaring lack of political commitment has brought us to this stage. The fact remains that in 2018 leaders of major political parties were accused of embezzling more than four billion rupees while procuring two jet aircraft for Nepal Airlines. There were cases of contractors embezzling billions of tax payer money. All this, it seems, contributed to worsening position of Nepal in CPI.
It is good that Nepal’s anti-corruption body, Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has been active in the recent times. It has taken up big cases such as polymer note scam and Sikta scam among others. But CIAA’s sporadic actions alone won’t be enough. First of all, political class has to be really committed and serious about corruption control. The onus lies on the current government not just because it enjoys absolute power but also because it has made corruption control one of its main agendas. But it has not been able to perform as per the commitment. At times, the government itself looks unwilling to abide by transparency rule. For example, the office of the prime minister took a decision to award the contract of setting up video conferencing system at PMO without competitive bidding to one Chinese company (thankfully the government has corrected the decision). If the current government acts as per its commitment, we will surely be in a better position in CPI next year. Nor will the anti-corruption commitment of the head of the government become the matter of public ridicule. It’s already getting too late to wage a big war against corruption and win it.