Saturday, June 9, 2007

Redefining the Acronym

Finally, the uninterrupted run of Sita Ram Prasain has come to an end. The Maoists-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) on Monday handed over “wanted man” Sita Ram Prasain to police for necessary action. The YCL's act of handing over Prasain to police has drawn wide range of comments and criticisms from all quarters of the society. Prime Minister Koirala seems to have gotten so furious that he went to the extent of redefining the acronym “YCL”-Young Criminal League.

The Nepal Rastra Bank had asked the Nepal Police a long time ago to arrest Prasai for wrongful disbursement of loans worth 280 million rupees. Incompetence, corruption, and the undue influence of politics inside the institution of Nepal Police had so far eluded the arrest of Prasain. So, is it a good or bad action on part of YCL?

There is, no doubt, that YCL has been indulging in various illegal acts but this act of YCL should have been praised rather than condemned. YCL has done what Koirala's home minister and Nepal Police that feed on tax payers' money and whose first duty is to arrest wrong-doers could not or were unwilling to do. By acting as a moral police and handing over Prasain to police, YCL did infringe the state's right to maintain law and order, but how bad it is, when the state is turning a blind eye on criminals? Thus, before laying the blame for this one squarely on YCL, it is necessary to analyze the case in its entirety.

Who is the real culprit: YCL, who got hold of Prasain, who had breached the integrity of the position of chairman of Nepal Cottage and Small Industry Development Bank (NCSIDB) and blown off tax payers' hard-earned money or Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's home minister and Nepal Police that failed to bring Prasain and the likes of him to the justice?

The inability of Nepal Police to take action against Prasain despite his several public appearances is a severe blow to the rule of law and fight against corruption. Recent photographs of Prasain in public places and the herd of politicians gracing his lavish parties for free food and drinks have clearly revealed his close and unholy relationship with the politicians. In one of the recent parties that he threw at a five star hotel, among the most prominent invitees were Madhav Nepal, the chairman of United Marxist Leninist Party (UML) and Surya Bahadur Thapa, the Chairman of Rastriya Janshakti Party (RJP). It shows how deep Prasain and the likes of him have penetrated into the innermost circle of the major political parties. Seeing the guests that Prasain had in his recent party, it becomes evident that, our politicians instead of draining the swamp are making it even murkier and filthier.

The corrupt officials inside the police force and the politicians that might have gotten used to the free food and drinks in addition to “illegal cash” might not have liked this act of YCL, but this time around, YCL got it right. For the first time ever, YCL has done something that is in the best interests of the nation.

Some might term this as YCL's effort to earn social legitimacy to operate, whereas others might call it a public relation ploy. Whatever the case may be, the benefit of the doubt goes to YCL. In the case of Prasain, questionable conduct of the defendant was matched by many aspects of the Koirala's home minister and the police force who have been turning a blind eye to Nepal Rastra Bank's request to arrest Prasain. Where were Koirala's home minister and Nepal Police when the media was awash with the every fine details of Prasain's public appearances, his lavish parties which were thrown in five star hotels and attended by the high profile politicians and high ranking officials?

Like on many fronts, Koirala's current government is not doing enough to curb corruption. For the level of corruption to subside, you have to discourage corrupt minds. By not arresting Prasain and the likes of him on its own, the current government is fighting a losing battle against the corruption. It is not only not doing enough to discourage corrupt minds but also doing nothing to discourage a rent-seeking unholy coalition between business and politics that serves to fuel corruption in the society. Had it done enough, the politicians would have given a second thought before they attended parties thrown by an absconding “wanted man.”

Instead of following a rigorous path of ensuring that law and order applies to all, Koirala, like in the past, seems to be selective this time around too. He turns a blind eye when his men are on the wrong side of the law but wants to send a message that he is for maintaining law and order and controlling corruption. In his advent of becoming all things to people, what Koirala seems to forget is that one cannot win the battle against corruption by being selective. When you say you are for the fight against corruption and then do not do enough to make sure that “big fish” such as Prasain are punished, you are definitely sending a wrong message and encouraging the rich and famous to indulge in corruption.

We are poor not because we lack the required will, determination, or strength to succeed, but we lack equal opportunity and “rule of law”. We are poor because our leaders have been unable to stand for certain correct values in public life, values like honesty, hard work, and the rule of law. It is not a question of a couple of billion rupees that Prasain blew off but the harm corruption does by distorting our culture and undermining the “rule of law”. It disrupts the economy and destroys the morale of the general public. Out of many things, it distorts the very essence of good government and good governance. It diminishes the level of trust that general public have on government.

Whatever the reasons behind the home ministry's inability to arrest Prasain may be, the government should not set a precedence of selective justice by punishing “small fish” and letting the likes of Prasain enjoy freedom. This would reinforce the already existing notion that the rich and famous are beyond the clutches of law.

All citizens should be treated equally before the law of the land. If you can not administer justice in its entirety, do not provide a free pass to some- the likes of Prasain and make others a sacrificial lamb. It will further corrupt an already problem-ridden and a hungry nation.


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