Almost all chiefs of the Nepal Police who came to power after restoration of democracy in 1990 have been convicted or implicated in multi-million rupee corruption scams over the years. The Armed Police Force (APF), the country’s elite paramilitary force, is facing a similar fate. In December 2015, ex-APF chief IGP Kosh Raj Onta was suspended after the anti-corruption body Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) implicated him in financial irregularities. Ex-chiefs of the paramilitary force, Basu Dev Oli, Sanat Basnet, and Shailendra Shrestha are also facing corruption cases at the court together with Onta.
But not a single Nepal Army Personnel has been dragged into court on a charge of corruption, though they have been involved in multi-billion rupee development projects for years.
The army is left scot-free not because it is the least corrupt of the state’s institutions, but due to the flaws in our legal system. The anti-graft constitutional body CIAA, popularly known as akhtiyar, doesn’t have the Nepal Army under its jurisdiction. And the promises made by the political class to rectify that hasn’t come true despite repeated assurances. The plans formulated by the Baburam Bhattarai-led government to do the same has seen no progress. Corruption oversight agencies like akhtiyar, therefore, don’t receive any corruption complaint involving the army. Even if someone dares to go against the wrongdoings of the army, the body refuses to take the complaints, deliberately overlooking scandals involving the army.
Taking benefit of this immunity, the army has been encroaching on more and more aspects of our social and economic life. Under the pretext of social welfare schemes, the army, whose strength stands at nearly 100,000, has been running profit-making businesses. Using its NRS 40,000,000,000 Army Welfare Fund—established in 2032 BS by collecting levy from Nepali peacekeepers working in war-torn countries—it has been operating everything from schools, hospitals, and medical colleges to petrol pumps and water-treatment plants. It has also invested money in microfinance, oxygen plants and catering services, among others.
Historically, the army has been involved in building roads and similar infrastructure projects. But irregularities in constructing such projects rarely get publicized or they never draw the attention of anti-corruption agencies. In 2017, the government awarded the Rs 112 billion contract for the Fast Track highway to the Army—a cost that is 16 percent higher the 2014 estimate by the Asian Development Bank. Although Nepal Army has not demonstrated any expertise for a project of such scale— a 76.2 km highway connecting Kathmandu to Madhes—the government handed them the contract following lobbying and pressure from the army. The army is now looking to prepare the Detailed Project Report, and has already begun preliminary work such as clearing trees and setting up camps.
Perhaps, the army will construct the project by any means. But corruption controlling agencies will not be able to investigate any irregularities even if it embezzles billions of rupees in the process.
The former Trichandra Military Hospital near New Road, Kathmandu, which is undergoing reconstruction, is another instance of the military choosing profit over welfare. Three years ago, the army claimed the reconstructed space would run as a public hospital. But the army plans to rent 90 percent of its space for commercial purposes. The complex does not have a building permit either.
Nepal’s anti-corruption laws only cover public sector corruption. Army, judiciary, political parties, I/NGOs, and corporate houses remain beyond the jurisdiction of the anti-corruption agencies. In 2011, the parliament ratified United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCaC). A task force was formed to domesticate national laws in accordance with the convention; it had recommended amendment of 27 prevailing laws and the formulation of seven new laws for expanding CIAA’s jurisdiction. Military Act 2007 was among the laws suggested for amendment.
But lawmakers who had vowed to bring the national army and other crucial institutions under jurisdiction of CIAA have done nothing to translate their commitment into action. Amending laws related to army, judiciary and corporate houses seems to be nobody’s priority. When concerned authorities began consultations to draft the amendments to align with the UN Convention, the army reportedly expressed reservations over the process, and lobbied to let the remaining provisions remain untouched.
The ratification action plan as suggested by the expert panel remains unimplemented. Drafts of only three laws—CIAA Act 2048, Corruption Prevention Act 2002, and Good Governance Act 2008—have been prepared so far. And the nexus between army, judiciary, and political parties indicates that bringing these institutions under the purview of the anti-graft body will remain a massive challenge. Will our politicians prove us wrong?
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