- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

Surya Nath Upadhyaya, 55, of Nepal, a lawyer and chairman of his country's Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, was interviewed in Washington this week by Chitra Tiwari, an analyst of international affairs and former political science lecturer at Tribhuvan University in Katmandu.

Question: Mr. Upadhyaya, welcome to Washington. Before we begin our conversation, please tell us the purpose of your visit to the United States.
Answer: I am here as a guest speaker at a seminar, which is organized jointly by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Inter-American Bank, USAID and others. They invited me to speak about my experience on the anti-corruption drive in Nepal for the last two years.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background.
A: Well, I really do not know why the Constitutional Council decided to recommend me for the appointment as chairman of this commission. My background may have been a factor. I have been a civil servant for the last 30 years before I joined this commission. I was an administrator.
I have held several important positions in the government. I held the position of secretary the highest-level bureaucrat in various ministries, such as Water Resources, Environment, and Agriculture. I was also a member secretary to the Constitution Drafting Commission, which drafted the 1990 constitution of the kingdom of Nepal.

Q: Nepal has been passing through a violent revolution for the last seven years. One of the causes of the Maoist revolution is said to be rampant corruption in the government. What is your assessment?
A: Well, you are right that the country is passing through a very difficult time, and besides so many other issues, the one that is at the forefront right now is the Maoist problem the security problem and the second one is the rampant corruption and mismanagement of the government.
This has led to the present situation, where political parties have not been able to deliver what they had promised to deliver to the people. Now His Majesty King Gyanendra has made a pronouncement and constituted a government under Article 127 of the constitution, and the Cabinet is given a very specific mandate: Hold elections, maintain peace and then control corruption.
And so, therefore, the present situation is that the government is in the process of bringing other parties into the Cabinet. But they [the other parties] have not joined the government. I do not know what they will do, but I hope eventually they will join the government.
But so far as corruption and anti-corruption measures are concerned, my assessment is that the government is committed to improving the situation.

Q: Friends of Nepal in the United States are frustrated by what they see as the Nepal government's lack of political will to crack down on corruption. U.S. diplomats in Katmandu have indicated that there is widespread corruption. What is the problem?
A: Let me tell you a little bit about this observation. First of all, the assessment that there has not been enough political commitment on the part of government is misplaced. I [disagree with] this proposition 100 percent. If you look back, say over the past two years, you will see that the government has been really supportive of what the anti-corruption commission is doing.
Not only that, the parliament passed four different sets of legislation creating a legal regime to empower the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority [CIAA]. The facilities and the resources have been increased.
The government has publicly committed itself against corruption. About the achievements, yes, there has not been much done, but I would say that in the last two years, we have moved ahead, and I would not blame the politicians for their lack of political will. They are the one who came forward in a determined way to improve the legislation and give more power to the commission. And that is one [point].
And secondly, so far as widespread corruption is concerned, there is a feeling, of course, yes, [that] the government has not been successful in delivering the goods and services to the people, and we all agree that corruption is one of the main reasons.
But it is not 100 percent corruption as such. There is nepotism that provides favor for certain people.
As you know, the personnel in the bureaucracy are so close to each other. It is a kind of "everybody knows everybody" situation. Even if you do not take bribes or graft, you tend to pass favors to the people you know and [who] are close to you. I think these are the things that are deeply ingrained in the culture of our society.
And the other very important element I would like to mention here is that there are no studies so far on the level of perceived corruption in the country. Unfortunately, Transparency International has been doing corruption studies in many countries India, Pakistan, Bangladesh but unfortunately, in Nepal, such a study has not been done.
So, there is no empirical data to compare the level of corruption with [that in] other countries. But it is true that there is a feeling that there is widespread corruption in Nepal.

Q: You have been in the limelight in recent days following the arrest of a few high-ranking bureaucrats and two former high-profile ministers in the deposed Cabinet of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Is it the beginning of cleaning up the government?
A: Well, I do not know whether it is just a beginning, or it is going to end there. But I'd like to tell you that when I came to this commission two years back and saw the activities it was doing, it was not surprising to me that the political situation had reached this level.
We have been investigating high officials, revenue officials, etc. There were other political issues as well which were investigated charge-sheeted but this agency, the CIAA was not that much active in the past although if you look at the mandate and status of this agency, it is clearly highly placed as a constitutional organ.
It has got all the powers that such an agency should have. So, therefore, these strides that we are taking certainly will improve the situation. And maybe it can rekindle some kind of hope [among] the people.

Q: Please describe the common methods and sources of corruption in Nepal. How much foreign-aid money do you think is embezzled by politicians and bureaucrats, and how do they steal it?
A: Well, the methods and sources of corruption in Nepal are not very much different from other developing countries.
The areas in which corruption takes place [are] the Customs, Revenue Departments, procurements, in land acquisition and distribution, during the award of government contracts, so on and so forth.
This is not the end of it. As a matter of fact, there have been some cases where corruption was subtly done under the garb of policies. The politicians or other decision-makers might make or change the policy itself to enrich themselves. It might look like a political policy, but the motive behind changing the policy is not devoid of ill intentions.
So, therefore, there are various methods of corruption. I cannot tell you at this juncture, due to lack of studies, how much foreign-aid money has been embezzled or stolen by bureaucrats or politicians. But I can give you some hint as to how they steal it.
The procurement of goods, estimates for building infrastructure, the contract awards are areas where one can always get some "skim" out of it. So everybody involved in development projects would like to have some share from the public money.
There is a link between various bureaucrats and politicians and this is not new in Nepal. So, it should not be difficult for us in the CIAA to dig up hidden corruption.

Q: What is the size of your organization? Do you have enough manpower for such a herculean task?
A: First of all, the CIAA is not that big. As a matter of fact, people are very sympathetic to me in the sense that, in view of the work I am mounting these days against corruption, the number of trained people the professionals that I have is very small.
I have about 140 people, among them about 40 to 45 persons are professionals.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to spread our wings to other parts of the country. We are basically stationed in Katmandu, but we are trying to spread ourselves to other parts of the country and open branch offices. So far as manpower is concerned, we need to expand it.
My experience of the last two years has been that what you really need is not expansion, per se, but what we need is quality manpower and dedication. This is something which normally cannot be done by everybody. You have to have some commitment and dedication to the country, which is crucial in fighting corruption.
Determination and dedication to the job are more important than expansion.

Q: How many cases of corruption are you investigating now? Will the military also be a focus of your investigation? Have you received any complaints on corruption in the military?
A: Unfortunately, I do not have any statistics as to how many cases we are investigating now. There could be roughly around 40 to 50 cases under investigation.
First, we do a primary investigation and then we move to detailed investigation. Many cases are dropped at the primary level. We move on to the next level only when it is required. As we go on to the upper level of investigation, the number of cases becomes small. We have investigated nearly 100 cases.
Now, about your question about whether the military also will be the focus of our investigation, I must tell you that under our constitutional mandate, two areas are exceptions to our jurisdiction the military and the judiciary.
When we receive complaints about the military and the judiciary which we do receive from time to time we pass them to the appropriate authorities within the military and the judiciary. These two institutions have their own mechanism to deal with corruption in their respective organizations.

Q: How do you initiate an investigation against an official or politician?
A: There are various ways. The laws do not bar me to initiate action against a corrupt official. I get tips from various sources newspaper articles, telephone calls, formal complaints or anonymous complaints from concerned citizens, etc. I also receive information through e-mails, faxes, etc., and even my residential telephone lines are open to citizens for any tip-off.

Q: Does the law allow you to initiate action against members of the incumbent government? Can you investigate the prime minister himself?
A: Oh, yes. If you remember, we questioned former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala when he was in office in connection with Royal Nepal Airlines Corp.'s plane-leasing deal with the Austrian Lauda Airlines.
We not only questioned the prime minister, but also cautioned him. We found that based on Cabinet decisions, the officials were involved in corruption.

Q: Do you receive any support or advice from U.S. government agencies or other international agencies in Nepal?
A: Yes, I have been supported by various international agencies. They have supported us with different programs some specific and some general. Since money is an object of corruption, I tell my friends in the donor community to be careful while disbursing the funds.
I tell them to make sure that the money they provide be spent in a transparent way. Both the recipient and the donors must be transparent.
Donor agencies are also responsible in the sustenance of corruption. So, transparency on both sides is vital in controlling corruption. We have some propositions with the USAID, and hopefully, we might be receiving some help from them in the near future.

Q: Do you receive instruction from anybody in matters of controlling corrupt practices in the government?
A: The source of authority of the CIAA is the constitution of the kingdom of Nepal. I have taken an oath to abide, to follow and to uphold the constitution of the kingdom of Nepal.

Q: Are you confident that your crackdown on corrupt politicians and bureaucrats will help the present government [win over] the Nepali people and thereby defeat the Maoist revolution?
A: Corruption and maladministration have certainly eroded and shattered the confidence of the people. If the activities of the CIAA rekindle the hope, it would be a matter of great satisfaction to all of us.


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