Corruption scandals are quite common in Nepal. Once the media raise them, lawmakers take them to the parliaments, make strong statements and put pressure on authorities to investigate them. Investigations are launched, but then the cases are over.
If the political leadership was committed to not repeating them, they make corruption scandals involving parties against them as major reasons to solicit votes from every election. But, it rarely happens in Nepal; it seems there is a consensus among them to not talk about corruption before the elections.
Currently, parties are busy with election campaigns, but no one is seriously speaking about big corruption scandals in the country. Why? Below, we will tell you more about eight corruption cases that emerged in the past five years, involving leaders of different parties, yet they fail to be discussed ahead of the next elections.
1. Wide wide-body case reaches Deuba
On December 26, 2018, standing on the rostrum of the House of Representatives, the main opposition leader at that time, Sher Bahadur Deuba, aggressively highlighted how he knew there was corruption in the Nepal Airlines Corporation’s purchase of widebody aircraft and that he would do everything in his power to punish those involved in the corruption scandal.
“There has been corruption in this case and people should know the details. We need to find out what was done and tell people the truth. We will not let the people involved get away with it,” he said.
He pointed his anger towards then prime minister KP Sharma Oli telling him how he could not keep tabs on such a major procurement that took place when his government was in power. This is probably the last time Dueba spoke with authority in the lower house.
After that, the House’s Public Accounts Committee started its investigation into the potential corruption scandal. Oli also spoke answering Deuba that the procurement of the aircraft took place before his term. He even defended the procurement, which clearly took place before his time.
After the Public Accounts Committee, the government too formed an investigation commission under the leadership of former justice Govindra Parajuli. But, since its members never received an official letter, no work was done. Eyebrows were raised when the commission was formed as the government already has an autonomous body, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse Of Authority (CIAA) to investigate such corruption scandals. But, as the commission did not do anything, it was quite evident that it was formed just as a means of distraction.
Oli kept defending his tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari. But after Adhikari’s death in a helicopter accident, the issue was swept under the carpet as Oli did not speak a word on it and the CIAA has still not given its conclusion on the case.
When the Public Accounts Committee was about to submit its report, the committee found Deuba’s involvement during the procurement. A few days after Deuba became the prime minister on June 7, 2017, he paved the way to pay for the wide-body. During that time, Deuba himself was the tourism minister. Following Deuba’s decision, Tourism Secretary Shankar Adhikari wrote to Nepal Rastra Bank asking for money for the first instalment of the aircraft.
After Deuba’s name in the corruption scandal came to the surface, political pressure was used to remove his and other top leaders’ names from the committee’s report. After Deuba found he was also involved in the case, he did not speak a word about the wide-body case thereon.
“The rewards of political change in the country were reaped only by a handful of clever people. The mass never got to fully take advantage of it,” says Bhakta Kharel, assistant professor at Tribhuvan Univerity. “We have seen a lot of cases of corruption come to light during the past five years but action has not been taken. Nepal’s laws are very weak and until we change that, people will continue to get away with things.”
2. The big bosses of the Baluwatar land scam
For decades, no one spoke about how the land around Lalita Niwas owned by the government secretly came under people’s names. After the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party came to power, a committee was formed to investigate the corruption scandal after continuous pressure from home secretary Prem Kumar Rai. The committee was led by former secretary Sharada Prasad Trital, which came to the conclusion that the Council of Ministers had wrongfully allowed the land to be put under people’s names.
As revealed by the committee, the government led by Madhav Kumar Nepal in 2009-2010 had given the land illegally to a tenant who did not even use the land prior to the government giving him some part. Since it was wrong, the Land Reform Office did not give the land to him. But the land was given to the person using the Land Revenue Office.
In 2012, when Baburam Bhattarai was the prime minister, his cabinet made another controversial decision. There were not much land left and the Council of Ministers decided to transfer the land to Pashupati Tikincha Guthi. That then paved the way for the land to get into people’s hands. After that, all of Lalita Niwas’ land was under the names of different people.
The CIAA investigated the corruption scandal. It called Nepal and Bhattarai and secretly recorded their statement. Others in the government service had to be called to the CIAA to give their statements, but oddly, the CIAA allowed them to give their statements from their homes.
A team led by then-secretary Maheswar Neupane went to people’s homes to record their statements and came to the conclusion that no case would be filed against them. A case was filed against this decision, which is still sub judice in the Supreme Court.
Both Nepal and Bhattarai have never spoken or written about their involvement in the case. Instead, they went on to state how Oli was trying to defame them.
But, on what basis did they make the decision? Was it even legal? No one has spoken about this.
3. The omnipotent Omni
In March 2020, the first wave of the Covid pandemic was hitting Nepal. The government wanted to be proactive and decided to do everything in its power to ensure the country did not cripple due to Covid-19 as the west had.
A high-level committee was formed under Deputy PM Ishwar Pokharel. As the lockdown was being planned, the committee also decided to purchase health equipment and called for tenders. But, it turned into a notorious corruption scandal later.
The procurement should have been the role of the Department of Health Services, but everything was bypassed and the high-level committee was taking all decisions.
“Everything was done in haste. The minister issued a notice and a negotiation committee was formed and items were procured,” the then health secretary Yadav Koirala told the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.
Later, it was revealed that the deal with the Omni Group was a scam as everything was overpriced. Fingers were pointed at Pokharel and Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal and other officials for their alleged involvement in the corruption scandal. But, the officials said they had to procure the medical equipment after being ordered by the high-level committee formed to combat coronavirus.
Issues were raised by the Public Procurement Monitoring Office, which is directly under the prime minister. The office said that the procurement that happened under the eyes of the minister was not lawful. Even though the ministries said the procurement happened under special circumstances, the office said it could not find sufficient documents to support the claim.
Irregularities were pointed out, including that the head of the office was not responsible for the purchase, the previously opened tender was cancelled without justification, the cost estimate was prepared after asking the suppliers, it was not revealed whether Omni was eligible for the purchase of health materials, the cost was prepared in rupees and the agreement was made in dollars, and the quality of the goods was not guaranteed.
Pokharel, Dhakal and other officials from the health sector did not answer the charges of their involvement in the corruption scandal. Rather, they used their power to influence the decision of the Public Accounts Committee. The committee, without recording Pokharel’s statement, sent its report to the CIAA.
Former Secretary Som Bahadur Thapa comments that the parliament after 2017 has been ineffective when it comes to public accountability. “If we only look at the events, the government agencies haven’t been able to set a standard and take issues like this seriously,” he says.
4. Baburam’s bravery (?) regarding Budhigandaki
On October 8, 2020, former PM Baburam Bhattarai accused major leaders of political parties of pocketing around Rs 9 billion from the infamous Budhigandaki Hydropower Project.
“The corruption is in billions. This is theft,” he said. “I know KP Sharma Oli, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) have pocketed the money along with others. I will prove it.”
The project was started in 2012 when Bhattarai was the prime minister. After Bhattarai’s allegations, people who he had accused, came out and protested. But, they did not state how and on what basis they were innocent and on what basis the tenders had been assigned. They asked Bhattarai to prove his statement instead.
Interestingly, at an event held in Nepali Congress’ party office a month ago, Bhattarai conflicted his statement. He said he did have information about the potential corruption scandal, but that information did not have substantial proof.
5. Baskota’s big pockets
On February 19, 2020, an audiotape was released that shook Nepali politics. In the audio, then Communications Minister Gokul Baskota was asking for a bribe in excess of Rs 700 million with Bijaya Prakash Mishra to set a deal for the purchase of a printing press for the government. Following that, Baskota was forced to resign.
A complaint was filed at the CIAA asking for an investigation into the corruption scandal.
The then CIAA chief Navin Kumar Ghimire tried to delay the case as long as possible, but he could not. But, the CIAA did give its final verdict, in which it stated that there was no proof that Baskota took a bribe. After that, there were even efforts to reinstate Baskota as a minister.
The Public Accounts Committee also started a probe into the corruption scandal but could not reach a conclusion. Baskota even filed a defamation case against Mishra for recording the phone call. Oli even supported Baskota regularly rather than asking for a clean investigation of the case.
6. Rana’s ruling
Deuba’s fifth term as the prime minister has not been that great as far as corruption scandals are concerned. One of the biggest controversies his latest term has faced is making suspended Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Rana’s choice as a minister for helping Deuba become the prime minister through the order to reinstate the House dissolved by Oli. Deuba had made Gajendra Hamal, Rana’s brother-in-law, the Minister of Industries and Supplies. But, following heavy criticism, Hamal had to resign.
This was the start of Rana’s bad days. Talks started about impeaching him. But, when Rana was called to give his statement in response to the impeachment motion filed against him, no one from either the ruling or the opposition party queried him about him asking for a seat for his people in the cabinet.
What Deuba was accused of was huge. But, he has not spoken about it as he feels he does not need to answer questions posed to him. If you look at history, Deuba has never really addressed allegations of involvement in corruption scandals against him.
Deuba is also accused of acting according to his wife Arzu Rana Deuba’s rules. There have been sources who say it is Arzu Rana who selects who leads the different government bodies including at the ministry level and asks Deuba to appoint them.
7. Sharma’s curious CCTV case
In May, another corruption scandal did plague Nepali politics. Finance Minister Janardan Sharma was accused of letting a former ministry staffer and an outsider into the ministry during the drafting of the budget. Annapurna Post quoted a source stating those people came to the ministry to alter interest rates that would benefit a few people. Following that, Sharma faced criticism and resigned.
Opposition CPN-UML raised the issue and a parliamentary investigation committee was formed. The committee questioned Sharma, secretary Madhu Marasini and revenue secretary Krishna Hari Pushkar. Marasini took a leave of absence and got transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. But, the panel could not find Sharma guilty and he became the finance minister again.
This corruption scandal questioned the investigation process of Nepal’s parliamentary committee. With the CCTV footage missing, there was no way they could determine where a person was during a set time. The issue is rarely talked about now as no one was put to blame for the missing CCTV footage.
8. The CM’s costly cycles
The Madhesh provincial government as a part of the ‘Educate Girl, Save Girl’ campaign decided to distribute cycles to all schoolgirls. The idea was quite innovative as it aimed to put a stop to the dropout rate of girl children.
But, soon, the project came under scrutiny as the CIAA suspected that it could be a corruption scandal. Later, it registered a corruption case against a few provincial officers.
One of the main people involved in the corruption scandal was Chief Minister Lalbabu Raut. But, Raut was not booked for corruption. He did go to the CIAA and registered his statement, but following that, he did not say anything anywhere.
Officials who cannot move a leaf without the permission of the chief minister had to face a corruption case of embezzling Rs 103.3 million.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.