Government land fraud and other sorts of corruption have continued to plague our country. Recently, three scams involving government land have made headlines. These land scam incidents have also been raised by several parliamentarians during the current session of Parliament, highlighting the issue of corruption and nefarious nexus prevalent in the government organisations. Scams including the Giri Bandhu Tea Estate in Jhapa, Bansbari Shoe Factory in Kathmandu, and Ram Gram Land in West Nawalparasi have hit the headlines. All these government land scams were perpetrated with the intention of causing financial losses to the government, while the same transactions benefited individuals, high-ranking bureaucrats, and politicians involved in decision-making.
The perpetrators are believed to have earned billions of rupees in a deal involving the tea estate in Jhapa, where land was transferred to numerous persons when the government chose to swap the pricey land with other government land to allow tea plantings. Even though the tea estate is government land and that individuals are not permitted to own any government land, the leaseholders began selling the estate land to others after the KP Sharma Oli-led government made a cabinet decision to swap the tea estate land for inexpensive land elsewhere in Jhapa district. The Supreme Court intervened and overturned the cabinet decision, preventing the leaseholders from selling the government assets because it violated existing legislation in the country.
Similarly, the board of directors of the Bansbari Shoe Factory in the past had transferred expensive government land to a business operated by a businessman, Arun Chaudhary, the brother of Nepal's only dollar billionaire, Binod Chaudhary, who later developed the land into a commercial housing area where he also runs a school. Despite the National Investigation Bureau apprehending Chaudhary and others implicated in the scam, the district court released the culprits on bail.
Meanwhile, the Lumbini Development Trust, led by newly appointed but controversial figure Lhyarkal Lama, agreed to sell Ram Gram Stupa land to a private corporation on a 99-year lease, apparently for a low sum. After the agreement made news, a parliamentary committee investigating the matter advised the government to cancel it because it would result in significant losses for the government while benefiting the private leaseholder. It is also stated that individuals engaged in granting the lease will benefit from the agreement.
The preceding three frauds have demonstrated that anytime government land is involved, persons ranging from entrepreneurs to low-ranking government officers to top-ranking bureaucrats, as well as leaders of all hues and stripes, are heavily involved. Corruption through opaque government land isn't our country's only significant issue. When acquisitions for building government projects are involved, significant names come up in connection with their anomalies as well as inappropriate deals aimed at causing losses to the government while benefiting individuals.
The CIAA recently interviewed two leaders, one a sitting minister and the other a former minister, for their involvement in the purchase of Teramax equipment by Nepal Telecom. Some telecom officials resigned after facing legal action because of the purchase of the Teramax for an excessively large cost by disregarding government-set public procurement guidelines. Previously, telecom officials and government secretaries faced public and anti-corruption criticism for reportedly buying telecom gateway technology at exorbitant costs without following the procurement process.
Our only international airport is often in news for all wrong reasons. Huge amounts of gold are smuggled out, while persons travelling with an extra cell phone are apprehended and fined. A few days ago, the international airport became the scene of an undesirable incident: CCTV footage that went viral captured a confrontation between police officers and an immigration officer. It is reported that both police and immigration personnel at the airport have grudges against one another over the issue of human trafficking in the form of sending people on visit visas. Recently, authorities arrested numerous immigration agents stationed at the TIA for their involvement in transferring Nepali citizens abroad on visit visas. The issue arose after numerous Nepalis who operated as mercenaries in the Russian Army were killed during Russia's war with Ukraine.
It is often alleged that no government-related paperwork for citizens move ahead without paying bribes to officials. In the case of visit-visa, it was alleged that most of immigration officers deployed at the airport would receive bribes for allowing Nepali citizens to fly abroad under visit-visas. These unsavoury episodes tell us that everyone involved was out to make a lot of money through their shady connections with bureaucrats, top secretaries, ministers, and politicians. Corruption is thus a systemic problem in Nepal, firmly ingrained in its political, social, and economic structures.
There are various reasons for the growing threat of corruption, which is carried out through embezzlement of public assets, bribery, and nepotism. Nepal's political landscape has been characterised by instability and frequent government changes, providing fertile ground for corrupt practices to thrive. One of the most significant obstacles in eliminating corruption here is the development of a culture of impunity, which allows influential individuals and elites to avoid punishment for their acts. Weak institutional frameworks and poor enforcement mechanisms worsen the problem by allowing corrupt behaviours to go undetected. Furthermore, the close nexus between politicians and corporate interests frequently leads to cooperation and favouritism.
Although the current and past governments have often stated they have adopted several anti-corruption initiatives intended at encouraging openness, accountability, and good governance, they have not yielded the expected results so far. Political interferences, resource restrictions, and a lack of capacity in investigative organisations make the positive outcome quite difficult. Given the widespread nature of the corruption problem, only one institution's efforts will not suffice to combat corruption and bring perpetrators to justice.
Besides government efforts, civil society organisations, media outlets, and grassroots movements play critical roles in raising awareness about corruption and holding public officials and others accountable. Strengthening legal and regulatory frameworks, increasing the capacity and independence of anti-corruption organisations, promoting openness and rights to information, and cultivating a culture of integrity and ethical teaching can all contribute to better results in the fight against corruption.
(Upadhyay is former managing editor of this daily)