Corruption | Impunity | Scam | political economy | kleptocracy
Rampant corruption is eating away Nepal — from petty bribes without which public service delivery is difficult to access to big corruption scandals — where top political leaders and bureaucrats are found cooperating together to steal wealth from the state and citizens.
General perceptions abound that state authorities — government, parliament, judiciary, and security agencies — are all corrupt and that rising corruption is one of the most serious problems in the country.
In a recent perception survey by Kathmandu University, large number of respondents shared they exchanged bribes to obtain land, vehicle, and banking-related services, manage various administrative documents, avail service from police and court, for employment search, receive health service, and obtain admission to school or university.
In the global macro Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2022 released by Transparency International, Nepal is among the countries with a considerably higher level of corruption.
Now, a new scam has shaken the nation — this time over 700 Nepalis were scammed for millions of rupees in exchange for sending them to the US as Bhutanese refugees. Allegations are that the thread of the network goes to the very top — with the involvement of leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties, and senior bureaucrats.
There is fury in social media with a growing public demand for a thorough investigation into the matter and for culprits to be punished. Similarly, parliamentarians are voicing for investigation and action involving every alleged name.
However, the country’s past with dealing with high-profile corruption scandals is shady despite the revelation of many high-profile corruption scandals in recent years.
In 2019, a major scandal came to light where land brokers colluded with land revenue officials, ministers, political leaders, and secretaries in illegally registering the ownership of government-owned Lalita Niwas land area — over 100 ropanis of land amounting to billions of rupees was sold cheaply. The scam also involved the then general secretary of the Nepal Communist Party Bishnu Poudel, currently vice-president of the CPN-UML, who later went on to become finance minister twice.
In 2020, Omni Business Corporate Group was awarded a government contract to procure medical equipment although the bid quoted an inflated rate.
The same year, an audio tape revealed the then Minister of Communications and Information Technologies Gokul Prasad Banskota, seeking Rs 700 million with a local agent for a Swiss firm in exchange for awarding a procurement contract for security printing press equipment. Following this Banskota, who was also heading the Ministry of Urban Development, resigned from both his ministerships. He currently serves as a parliamentarian.
Earlier, billions of tax fraud happened by granting tax exemptions through the Tax Settlement Commission to private enterprises without valid financial or economic reasons to do so — the news came out in 2017, allegations involving the name of a top official from the Nepali Congress, and is considered one of the biggest heists of the state treasury.
The procurement of wide-body aircraft for Nepal Airlines Corporation allegations of about Rs 4 billion corruption was also shrouded in mystery
In 2022, a news report alleged that Finance Minister and CPN (Maoist Centre) leader Janardan Sharma allowed two unofficial persons inside the ministry to adjust tax rates a day before the national budget presentation. What could have served as evidence — the CCTV footage of the night — was erased. Following this he resigned from the ministership but was reinstated back.
All these scams were either swept under the rug or very few were held as perpetrators. The buck however failed to stop at higher authorities. No severe action was initiated. Political parties and their leaders didn't feel it necessary to convince the public that no corruption took place or inform the actual details of what had happened.
This extent of corruption and impunity has institutionalised through a political mechanism that has a culture of collusion across political parties at large and a kleptocratic network of politicians and bureaucrats and even the private sector seeking private gains and institutional control.
They steal state revenues, capture development expenditure, engage in rent-seeking from the private sector and extract natural resources, milk wealth from citizens, control institutions, favour their kith and kins in lucrative dealings, and save the big fishes when things go south — all to amass wealth and consolidate power and use that to keep the corrupt mechanism intact. As all layers of state and non-state institutions are in bed for corruption, there is little room for accountability and justice.
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