Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Nepal: Arresting Corruption

Last week, the Supreme Court judges delivered verdicts on two most closely watched corruption cases against ex-ministers one after another. It looked like as if the old men presiding over the benches had suddenly gotten agile and had become more responsible. However, the new found agility on part of judges caused tornado affect and sucked the trust towards judiciary out when they acquitted the two most tainted ex-ministers of all corruption charges.

The two most tainted men -Khum Bahadur Khadka and Govinda Raj Joshi- that were perceived to have used and abused the system for their personal gains in the last fifteen years were given a clean chit. The ex-ministers duo must be excited because they can now regain the lost power and acquire ministerial berths in post April-revolution Nepal.

By providing a clean chit to these tainted men that were even considered corrupt in their own party circle, the Supreme Court has set a precedent-if you have money and power, you can swindle tax payers' hard earned money and still live a life of a free man. The verdict in these two cases is a severe blow to the rule of law and fight against corruption. In both of these verdicts, questionable conducts of the two defendants were matched by many aspects of the judges that delivered the controversial verdict.

Even if these cases were not a "slam dunk case" on part of Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIIA), the burden of proof for proving that their property came from legal source but not through embezzlement rested on Mr. Khadka and Joshi themselves. The recent verdicts raise questions about the embezzled money getting trickled down to the court rooms. Such perception in itself is a dangerous thing because correction warrants for both marketing a non-corrupt image of judiciary and rebuilding the legitimacy of, and confidence in, the system. Corruption in the judiciary, real or perceived, has an over all impact on the measures taken to control corruption in the country.

As judiciary is one arm of defense against corruption, even perception of corruption in judiciary dwarfs the chances of controlling corruption in other areas. In addition, it is important to remain cautious regarding the corruption in judiciary because if a citizenry start perceiving judiciary to be corrupt and playing at the hands of corrupt politicians and government officials, they will stop knocking at the court's door. This is what is exactly happening in Nigeria which is considered as one of the most corrupt nation on the face of earth. Less than percent of the people surveyed in Nigeria, selected courts as their first choice institution for the correction of corruption. Nigerians seems to have lost faith on judiciary as an intuition to control corruption.

Corruption in the judiciary in Nepal is mainly occurs because of the lack of accountability. Even when judicial process and decisions are viewed and understood by citizens as politically or financially motivated, judges are not held accountable. As judges are not being held accountable, impact on overall effort to control corruption in the country is not gaining any grounds.

It is important to preserve the integrity of judiciary because where there is a high level of trust in the judiciary, there is a lower level of corruption. So, in order to lower the rate of corruption, it is important to keep judiciary clean and trust worthy. However, with all due respect to the judiciary in Nepal, the recent verdicts on these two cases have proved that these men in black coats are encouraging culture of corruption on and off the courtrooms.

Why is corruption a big deal? It is a big deal because it has ripple effect on economic efficiency and development. It retards economic growth, lowers investment, and last but not the least negatively impacts political stability. Foreign direct investments have negative correlation with the presence of corruption within the public sectors in the country. So, for an underdeveloped country like Nepal which is trying to attract foreign investment, it is extremely important to keep the level of corruption under control.

What can Nepalese people do when the corrupt politicians and officials are let set loose by the courts? If nothing, they can demonstrate and force politicians and government officials to step down from the public office like the Filipinos did in the case of President Estrada of the Philippines. In 2002 the protesters demonstrated ferociously and demanded the resignation when the legislature failed to act on evidence of his corruption.

Kathleen Barrett rightly points out the possible damages of perceived corruption in judiciary when she says,"It can be argued that perceived corruption in the judiciary is at least as harmful, if not more so, than actual corruption since the effects are the same but perceptions are not as easy to change as actions".

Judges must be held accountable for their decisions by the general public. If a judge is allowed to apply laws based on the value of a side payment then there is not equality before the law. The very nation of social equity gets eroded. It is not about the freedom of few individuals that amassed illegal wealth through corruption but about the impact of corruption on overall socioeconomic fabric of a society. The effect tends to reverberate through out the economy rather than being confined to the corruption based transactions.

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