Corruption And Political Protection

Kushal Pokharel

Two high profile corruption cases have come to the fore in the past few weeks in Nepal. Furthermore, extensive media coverage is still ongoing to disseminate the adequate information to the public and unravel the hidden story. First, the case of exempting tax worth Rs 20 billion for different business firms by a high-ranking bureaucrat has shook the public tax administration including the entire nation. Second, the vested interest seen in the land acquisition of Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), a state owned oil monopoly,  has exposed the hidden motives of the NOC top officials. Let’s examine both these cases in detail.

The decision of the tax settlement commission to rid the corporate sector of the tax burden has invited severe criticism in the public circle. While the general public pay taxes abiding by the national tax policies, the grave violation of such policies by influential persons and business community has become more evident. Whether we refer to the case of Ncell, a private telecommunication giant, or other big business houses, tax evasion has become institutionalised in the nation. Here, some critical question arise: How is this possible when there are laws and institutions to curb such acts? Who accords protection to these organisations?  What is the role of politics and administration in entrenching this problem?
Unfortunately, it seems that the public administration and politics is itself protecting the unhealthy tax practices. In the incident cited above, the Director General of the Inland Revenue Department has been accused of tricking the entire administration to amass millions of rupees for personal benefits. Voices are also being raised for investigating the case at the political level too. One can’t simply believe that the corruption of such height can take place without political protection. So, the controversial decisions of tax exemption must have come in close coordination with the political leaders. The general public are of the view that unless and until there is a ‘win-win’ situation for both, such organised crime can hardly occur.
Second, overriding the decision of the NOC Board of Directors, the Managing Director of NOC is reported to have acquired the land for developing petroleum storage facilities in different parts of the country. If the media reports are anything to go by, the land has been purchased at three times higher price than the reasonable one. Even though the NOC chief is seen as a major culprit in this case, there is no denying that the involvement of invisible force to materialise this activity might exist.
The above two cases are representative of the extent of financial irregularities in the nation. While other such cases remain unfolded, even those that have come to the public inquiry haven’t been settled in a just manner. In fact, the high profile corruption cases filed by CIAA have received severe setback from the special court in the past. Citing inadequate and improper evidence, the high ranking corrupt officials have been spared in the form of bail or other such measures. While there might be the lack of intensive investigation of CIAA in probing the matter, it is difficult to believe the main reason for such positive verdict in favor of the officials with corruption allegations is due to this reason. Strong political backing though invisble has often come to rescue the offenders. In other cases, the might of money and power have destroyed the real evidences and acquitted the corrupt.
Even in the above illustrated case, it would not be surprising if the court verdict goes in favor of the offender because the politicisation of crime is a pervasive phenomena in Nepali society.
What is of concern is the fact that corruption is becoming a norm in the society. With the most corrupt people getting clean chit for their wrongdoings, a motivation to indulge in money making affairs of any sort is growing in the society due to moral and ethical bankruptcy. Instead of introducing tough punishments for bribery, the easy escape of the culprits through political connection has imprinted a really frustrating picture in the public mind about the state’s apathy towards corruption and the personality of political leaders.
Ulterior motives have thus plagued our societal norms and value system. Promoting a culture of transparency and accountability demands a massive self-correction from the political fraternity. Extracting public resources and manipulating the officials for personal benefits can only be stopped if there is an attitudinal and behavioral change in the political leaders. In the absence of political sponsorship or protection, corruption is unlikely to happen and thrive.

Positive change
Equally significant will be the need to encourage those who are contributing whole heartedly for the society giving up their parochial self-interest. An effective reward system needs to be in operation to value the attitude, skill and commitment of such people who believe in positive change.
Building a nation demands zero tolerance to corruption not only in words but in action. With a dedicated political leadership and willpower, this is definitely possible as the effect will start percolating down to the administration and other sectors of the society. But an important point is when the political culture of the country will get fixed properly.

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