Accountability Matters

D.M. Thapa

People were happy when a system was developed for prime ministers, ministers and others in the government and were told to compulsorily declare the monetary and other assets they owned. This certainly was a step forward in making efforts to control corruption which was, and still is, killing the country. In fact almost all ills we see in a once peaceful country like Nepal, were born from lack of vision, bad governance and the greedy attitude of leaders and their followers.

The media proudly splashes news about how much a prime minister or ministers own. But they are disturbingly silent on declaring to the public such assets of top level bureaucrats and security officials. These officials are also equally accountable to the public. But nobody seems to care even when such individuals live in lavish houses, drive expensive vehicles and own property and money which they couldn’t have made by just working in the government departments, Police Force or the Army. Of course there are honest men and women in the bureaucracy and the security forces as well, but they seem to be in the minority. This is quite sad. Otherwise why would only a few people get beyond the dreams of the majority of citizens and others remain poor?
The focus here is to emphasise that just declaring assets, that also to the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is not enough, there must be a strong body to question the officials about their sources of income. For an average Nepali, specially a civil servant, owning many plots of land, owning several houses and expensive vehicles are only things they see in their dreams as their income is barely enough to just put their children in school and make out a living.
But we read in news reports that some ministers have hundreds of grams of gold, thousands of grams of silver and hefty amounts of money in banks and share market investments. How was this possible? They must be grilled on this factor and not be applauded just because they made public their personal assets.
One American diplomat told me how he was questioned by the Congressional Committee which had to approve his appointment to an important post, and asked him how he bought a motorcycle thirty years back! “How the Hell could I remember?” this fellow had told me and yes, we may not have to be that stringent, but asking questions on how an individual has amassed a huge fortune in a few years time is definitely reasonable.
My husband who worked in a government enterprise for more than twenty years and at other places for years, does not have a single tola (11.6 grams) of gold, he does not have any land, except the land left to him by his father and he has not built any house, forget houses. I envy those who proudly declare their assets and say they have so much money, gold, land and so on and so forth. I feel like questioning him why he could not earn like them, but I know I will not get any answers. And mind you, he was in the top echelons of his organisation, but I hear from cousins and friends how even low level civil servants and police officials have earned much, much more than him. This is not a “sour grapes” story, like I mentioned before, it is a question of accountability and honesty, both of which seem to be in shortage in our government structure.
Furthermore, in rare circumstances when officials are convicted of corruption, they normally are left off with a very light sentence. Some top police officials have been jailed, which is a shame in itself, but they have been made to pay small amounts as fines. Of course we don’t want these individuals to commit “hara-kiri” or they shouldn’t also be shot dead at public gatherings like in some countries, but to deter corruption they must be made to pay hefty fines and their property confiscated.
To come to the 33 KG gold smuggling case, the accused must be asked where they got the money to buy so much gold. Some daily newspapers are offering one KG of gold to lucky subscribers and expensive vehicles as well, just ask them how much tax they pay to the government? But no one, including government officials seem to be interested in such aspects in controlling corruption and reforming the economy of the nation, as it is likely they feel they may themselves be dragged into the messy affair.
According to hearsay, I repeat hearsay, political leaders who have much clout, high ranking officials and even goons who can spend huge amounts of money are given special treatment even if they are sent to jail. According to several media reports one gangster was seen eating and drinking at posh restaurants at Durbar Marg and others were also allowed special food and also beverages in their cells. The jail officials and the police are also to be blamed for such a callous attitude, but we hardly hear anything about any action being initiated against them.
Only very low level police constables or sometimes a havaldar are merely suspended when authorities once more catch them being involved in corrupt acts. Not only for the junior officials but also senior ones, suspension or transfer from one place to the other is not punishment enough. It is ironic that a DIG in the Nepal Police, who had been suspended for his alleged involvement in some gold smuggling case was again posted at the Tribhuvan International Airport, the major entry point for smuggled gold and other goods. Whose decision was this; that person should also be held accountable.

To come back to where we started, political leaders, all officials in government organisations and others should be questioned about their source of income when they become millionaires overnight and apart from giving harsh punishments to those convicted individuals, others must also be held accountable, no matter in how a high position they are. This is important if corruption is to be controlled seriously in the future.


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