Heights of Hype: The CIAA Wave

On February 25, 2015:

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)'s decision to put hold on the much-hyped case of alleged corruption at All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) amounting to six million dollars has manifested political bias towards the "big fish". Despite scathing criticism against solely targeting a spate of low-profile corruption cases, the anti-graft body has repeatedly blown its own trumpet, proclaiming allegiance to corruption-free society irrespective of rank, seniority and political influence. While substantial focus of the recent debate has centered exclusively on its overall quality and performance, there remains an emergent need to assess CIAA-led actions in terms of character as well as moral stewardship.

Recently, a program organized to mark the 24 years of CIAA establishment drew considerable attention among the bureaucrats and relevant stakeholders. Although President Rambaran Yadav congratulated the anti-graft body leadership on its massive growth and five-year long institutional strategy, he subtly shared his insights on controversial steps undertaken by CIAA, including a series of continual arrests conducted in a seemingly haphazard manner. Primarily, he suggested that corruption-related cases be rigorously studied and investigated prior to registering cases into the court. He further cautioned that no individual should be dragged into controversy until one's involvement has been proved.

In response, the CIAA chief instead vigorously claimed that he contemplates on catching the "big fish" all day and night. During the event, his failure to detail out any robust strategy on further investigating individuals who have amassed large properties through illegal means was utterly disappointing. Further, his disheartening comments in relation to human rights on cases involving corruption allegation is a sheer regression in the political discourse.

His two-year long tenure, that entails executing tasks rather perfunctorily in the form of massive arrests and inter-departmental orders, has witnessed towering heights of hype. Despite a concurrent investigation launched by The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) against Ganesh Thapa, all the hullabaloo for over four months on the ANFA story is a case in point. However, final verdict recently made by the Special Court on two previously well-publicized high-profile cases of corruption has dispelled the myth that CIAA makes credible allegations. Yet, majority of the public finds it difficult to dismiss the hoopla surrounding CIAA's pro-active approach as another regrettable example of circuitous celebrity politics.

Unfortunately, most of the media coverage on corruption is partly to blame. While sensational allegations made against an individual or an organization are more likely to appear in the headlines, final verdict on corruption-related cases that end in acquittal sometimes don't even get mentioned. The corruption charges made by CIAA against five Nepal Telecom officials in August 2013 for allegedly embezzling funds worth five hundred thousand dollars during the procurement of air-condition and gas supply equipments is a shining example. Despite prior extensive coverage on the accusations, the media body didn't deem it important enough to highlight the Special Court's clean chit to all the suspected officials.

More importantly, select-few stories on potential corruption receive fair amount of coverage, although not commensurate with the scale of allegations made. For instance, the corruption case filed by CIAA against Achyut Kharel, the former Inspector General of Police, recently ended in acquittal. This, by no means, implies that high-profile corruption allegations lack sufficient grounds. What this illustrates, however, is the potential rise of a severe "domino effect", inevitably emanating from recent CIAA policing efforts that appear to tarnish social prestige of the suspected officials. A more pressing question, therefore, is, how does CIAA account for such adverse consequences?

Sadly, the current CIAA leadership is mute on such sensitive matters, pertaining to human rights. In fact, it has failed to exhibit concrete herculean efforts towards mitigating the perverse social implications of a sensationalized public allegation. To add insult to injury, the current CIAA performance metric as per the five-year long institutional strategy report is focused only on increasing the number of lawsuits. Given recent verdict by the Court vindicating the previously suspected Nepal Telecom officials, CIAA should be held accountable for impairing their illustrious careers, and subsequently, their social status.

Worse, the anti-graft body appears to take pride in citing a high number of arrests made in relation to corruption charge-sheets. Only three weeks back, reports circulated that it achieved a successful conviction rate of 80 percent among the corruption cases filed at the Special Court in the last fiscal year. However, such figures appear fudged and utterly misleading, with the final verdict made by the Supreme Court recently in two high-profile corruption cases.

Undoubtedly, rampant corruption is an issue of significant policy concern. Yet, the underlying challenge ahead entails how anti-graft body representatives carry out investigative procedures. While CIAA has publicly maintained that it has no inherent interest in trampling on the state jurisdiction, it still doesn't have any specific policy on safeguarding the human rights of the suspected officials even after 24 years of establishment. Unless the anti-graft body accounts for unintended adverse consequences of public allegations, initiatives aimed at promoting effective governance will result to throwing dust in the eyes of the Nepali public.