CIAA Must Prevail Over The Corrupt
Lately, the Nepali media is replete with the news items of corruption committed by high ranking tax officials. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has arrested the director general of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) and slapped filed a case of corruption against him at the Special Court. The suspended director general Chudamani Sharma has been held in custody after CIAA found him guilty of exemption of taxes, which ran on billions and caused a huge loss to the government coffers.
The CIAA had found member secretary of the Tax Settlement Commission (TAC) Sharma and the Commission members, Lumba Dhoj Mahat and Umesh Dhakal had unlawfully waved hefty amount of taxes that benefited the big business and corporate houses of the country. The act of the three accused, according to the CIAA, has caused a loss of about Rs.30 billion rupees in revenues to the government. As a result, the CIAA has filed a case at the Special Court requesting the court to procure Rs. 10 billion from Sharma. Mahat and Dhakal are still on the run to avoid arrest. As soon as they would be arrested, each of them would also be asked to pay a penalty of the same amount. Apart from paying the penalty, the accused will have to serve certain years of jail term apart from losing their jobs.
The IRD director general and the two members of the TSC were responsible to collect the government taxes by providing minor exemption in taxes to the big business and corporation houses along with individual entrepreneurs. However, they were involved in exempting huge amount of taxes to the business and corporate houses. This act clearly suggests about the big scale corruption on the part of these officials who exempted the taxes to the big business houses. It is suspected that they might have received bribes for exempting taxes. All this had been done in the name of collecting taxes from the business and corporate houses and entrepreneurs who had not deposited the taxes as per the rules and regulations.
As the IRD chief, Sharma had worked freely when the CIAA was headed by the then CIAA commissioner, Lok Man Singh Karki. No one, barring few media outlets, had raised any question about Sharma’s working style. Then, it seemed, no one had enough courage to raise the issue of alleged corruption committed by Sharma. As soon as Karki received the Supreme Court’s boot and was forced out of the CIAA, the noose or corruption tightened around Sharma leading to his arrest on June 2, this year.
Sharma attracted the attention of the anti-graft body and other concerned bodies as well as media for TSC’s unlawful decision to exempt the taxes which ran on billions of rupees. In the past too, Sharma was criticised for his unlawful, controversial working style while he headed other departments. When Sharma was at helm of the Department of Money Laundering Investigation, he was crticised for working in close connection with the then CIAA chief Karki. He had made many controversial decisions when he was the Sunsari Chief District Officer.
It appears that Sharma had not good connection only with the former CIAA chief. Reports in media suggest that Sharma was in good offices of high level bureaucrats, ministers and leaders. Many of these big shots have now feared Sharma might spill the bean when he would be grilled at the court. He might expose his relation and nexus with all the high and mighty.
There are reports in media that Sharma may be absolved of the charges leveled against him. The high and mighty have thrown their full weights behind Sharma’s release. Talks are being heard that Sharma’s lawyers have raised the issue whether the works performed by the TSC would fall into the jurisdiction of the Special Court, which has been designated to look into the cases of corruption only. The Supreme Court has ordered the Special Court to put on hold the Sharma’s case before it comes with a decision on the contention of Sharma’s lawyer.
The CIAA, this time appears very serious to bring Sharma into the book. The CIAA is likely to book Sharma for another offense- amassing properties disproportionate to his income. Sharma, who has suddenly found himself in deep water following the departure of the former CIAA chief, will have to fight a long battle to get him absolved of the two counts of corruption charges.
The supended IRD director general’s case vividly tells us that our nation is in the grip of the corruption tainted high ranking government officials. Few months back, several former police chiefs were put behind bars for their involvement in infamous Sudan scam. Interestingly, these former police chiefs had surrendered to the court after being on run for several weeks and “happily” chose to go to jail to serve the terms. Though they were found guilty of a scandal that involved thousands of millions rupees, these officers were asked to pay minor amount of penalties that ran into few thousands of rupees only. The lessening of amount of penalty must have made the guilty officials and their families happy.
After committing corruption and abusing authority, these officials are always found trying every tactic in their bags to avoid punishment. They always take the help of noted lawyers to get clean chit from the courts. The lawyers go into details of existing laws with a hope to find some loopholes in the existing laws. The corruption tainted officials often walk free or pay peanuts in penalties due mainly to their hired lawyers’ guile, weaknesses in laws and the nexus among the lawyers and those who delivers the verdict on the cases. There were instances in which many judges of the country too have been accused of corruption and abuse of their authority.
Over the years, the level of public accountability has gone down in the country. As a result, we hear the cases of corruption and abuse of authority being committed by the persons enjoying higher public positions. After the nation was transformed into a federal nation, the people are witnessing sharp rise in corruption cases.
There is a greater need to put a curb on the rising level of corruption. One of the most effective ways to control ever increasing corruption is to consolidate CIAA’s position making it more effective in bringing the guilty under the book. In the recent past, the CIAA was made a hostage to the “ill” decisions of the now disgraced CIAA chief Karki. But performance of the anti-graft institution appears to be improving, following the departure of controversial Karki who was accused of investigating into some select cases of his preference while giving clean chit to others involved in corruption.
The CIAA must make its cases strong enough so that the accused should pay price and face punishment, which will send a clear message among the public post holders that they must work honestly and should be accountable to the country and the people. If and when they veer away from their duty and start abusing their authority, then they must face the law. The acts of the CIAA should prove an effective deterrent to those who want to enjoy the public posts but show their penchant to abuse their authority whenever they get an opportunity to do so.
Kamini Rajbhandari is managing director of Nepal Telecom (NT), the state-owned telecommunication service provider of Nepal. Rajbhandari has been leading...