December 10, 2018 02:00 AM NPT
Of late, Nepal’s anti-corruption watchdog, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), is taking some measures to deter grafts on vital projects and taking actions against the accused. A week ago, it circulated its 14-point ‘Public Procurement and Development Program Reform Work Plan 2075’ to all ministries and agencies concerned clearly identifying malpractices in procurement of goods, equipments and services in construction of projects and recommending actions to prevent those malpractices. The work plan stated that goods, services and equipment for many mega projects are purchased without needs assessment, leading to low quality of construction work. If those recommendations are strictly followed, it could help a lot in minimizing corruption in infrastructure projects. CIAA took a bolder action on Friday: It filed a corruption case at the Special Court against former minister Bikram Pandey and 20 other individuals, on the charge of embezzling billions while building the Sikta Irrigation Project in Banke. Pandey, who owns Kalika Construction, has been implicated for the substandard work done by his company, which built the main canal of the national pride project.
Like other projects handled by contractors with political nexus, Sikta had become a scam. There had been reports of Kalika Construction building a substandard canal in the main section of the irrigation project, using low-quality materials and yet no action had been taken. Something had to be done about it. But often CIAA is also seen as doing nothing while corruption is rising astronomically. Why were Kalika and many other actors, including the government officials, spared while wrongdoing had been proved and reported multiple times? Why did it take so long for anti-graft body to take action against those who have been embezzling billons of money allocated for national pride projects? We believe it is time for the CIAA to flex its muscles and investigate all cases—including Nepal Airlines Corporation’s wide-body purchase scam and complicity of Pappu Construction in multiple irregularities.
While CIAA’s action of Friday has raised some optimism, people are still not sure the wrongdoers will face the consequences. For often they have been acquitted by the courts. In the most recent case, Tulsipur High Court ordered the government not to blacklist and not to confiscate the advance payment guarantee of Pappu Construction, the company which has earned notoriety for its involvement in multiple scams. It, at times, appears like CIAA and government proving something and courts disproving them. Such tendency does not help to make campaign against corruption successful. In case of Kalika, Pandey, its owner has been found responsible for embezzlement of Rs 2.13 billion. Many former chiefs of Sikta Project and a number of civil servants have been implicated. There must be fair and independent investigation in this case. Nepal has lived with stigma of being ‘one of the most corrupt countries in the world’ for way too long. Only collective efforts and commitment from the CIAA, government bodies and the courts will help us redefine our image.