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Impeachment does not make the CIAA chief immune from future prosecution

KATHMANDU. Radheshyam Adhikari was among the first lawmakers to raise the issue of impeaching CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki in the parliament. Adhikari, a lawyer by profession, was also instrumental in defining CIAA’s jurisdictions in the new constitution. The Nepali Congress MP spoke to Republica’s Biswas Baral and Mahabir Paudyal on Tuesday about the rationale for the impeachment motion, the CIAA’s role and how the motion will be taken ahead.

To start with, why do you think it was important to impeach Lokman Singh Karki at this point of time? 
First, there is a clear evidence of his abusing authority. Second, he is guilty of obstruction of justice. This was evident during serving of Supreme Court notice (myad) to him. Third, he has defied parliamentary committees by not appearing when they have summoned him. So he is not accountable to the parliament and by extension to the sovereign people.

Finally, he has defied Supreme Court verdicts and has been overstepping his jurisdiction.

These are main reasons why the impeachment motion was brought against him.

What do you make of the sudden decision of the 157 parliamentarians to file the motion? Could they have been acting to save themselves from possible CIAA investigation? 
You have to understand that the constitution has accorded an independent and autonomous status to the CIAA. If cases against party leaders have been filed with it, the impeachment motion does not affect those cases. CIAA can take up these cases even while the impeachment motion is under discussion, or even after it has been passed.

There is no reason future CIAA leadership cannot take these up. The CIAA has institutional memory. So it won’t be right to say that once Lokman goes, all the cases registered with the CIAA will also be dissolved.

It’s also said that Maoist leaders agreed to the impeachment motion as they feared they could be implicated in the cantonment corruption case.

You need to put the cantonment issue and CIAA’s warning in a proper context. Look at the timing of the press conference CIAA organized to inform the media of its plan to investigate cantonment corruption. It was after office hours. The prime minister was in India at that time. CIAA chief could have organized the press conference the day after or after prime minister’s return. What could have stopped CIAA from investigating Maoist leaders in cantonment case if it had sufficient evidence? Why did CIAA have to bring this matter out through the press? This made it appear like a cheap publicity stunt. After all, the CIAA did not pursue the case even after 17 days of its announcement. All this suggests the very act of announcing cantonment case investigation was an abuse of authority. This is why it would be a mistake to read too much into CIAA’s warning.

The Supreme Court is considering a case against Karki even as the impeachment motion has been lodged. How do things proceed from here?
First of all, the person against whom the impeachment motion has been lodged by 25 percent of our MPs needs to think of whether it is morally right for him to stick to the post. Thus it is a moral question for Lokman. Thus the best option for him would be to resign. But that is up to him. We cannot force him to resign.

The parliamentarians have charged him of seven misconducts. He has been accused of not abiding by the constitution, abusing power and overstepping his jurisdiction. These charges have been backed with evidence. The parliament will now look into these allegations and come to its decision.

The matter related to Karki’s competence and qualification is sub judice at the Supreme Court. The court will investigate this case and announce its verdict based on its investigation. Therefore, the court case and impeachment motion are two different issues.

If the parliament passes the motion, Karki will be relieved of his duties. If the Supreme Court rules that he is not qualified for the job, he will be removed in that case as well.

There is another aspect to it as well. The CIAA head can be brought under the purview of investigation even after his retirement or resignation, with or without the impeachment proposal. There is a constitutional provision to prosecute him, if he is implicated in some wrongdoing, post-retirement as well. The fact that constitutional body like CIAA has been endowed with special powers and autonomy does not mean questions cannot be raised against its office bearers.

It seems Nepali Congress is bitterly divided over the impeachment motion.

As Congress is not a signatory of the impeachment motion, it is natural for the party to take time to make its stand clear. UML chief K P Sharma Oli is said to have consulted Sher Bahadur Deuba before the motion was filed. Yet it is also true that Congress had no direct stake in the process. Deubaji is not against the impeachment motion per se. But he has reservations over the way UML and Maoist Center brought the motion, in a way that seemed like bypassing Congress.

It does not mean Congress will vote against the motion. I believe the party will ultimately vote in favor of it. Even those who were soft on Karki until recently have changed their stand. There is huge public and media pressure on Congress to back the motion as well.

The fact that Congress is taking time should not be understood as our refusal to back impeachment.

Has the Lokman affair made the parliament rethink the role of CIAA and if such a body is at all needed? 
We want CIAA to investigate corruption cases and bring them to justice. This is what is expected of it. But under Karki, it went beyond its prescribed role, needlessly troubling individuals and institutions that he did not personally like.

Let me clarify with an example. It is not necessary for CIAA to summon those holding public office to fill out the 13-page property detail form. Suppose that a complaint has been filed against me. I have been in public office as a member of parliament for the past 14 years. In that capacity, I have been submitting a four-page property detail status to the Parliament Secretariat at the end of each fiscal year. The CIAA needs only tally my current properties with the property details I have been filing. If there is mismatch, then CIAA can interrogate or investigate me. But why should CIAA make me fill up the 13-page form, which it required to do of many people, when there is no evidence of unaccounted property? It suspected everyone of guilt even before their complicity was established.

Nowhere in the world does an anti-corruption watchdog work this way. But all this has happened not because the CIAA as a system is flawed. I think it is because of Lokman that it was led astray.

If so what can be done to make CIAA more accountable in the days ahead?
We are yet to frame CIAA Act in line with the provisions in the new constitution. We in the government and the parliament need to clearly lay down the procedures of CIAA functioning while drafting the new Act. We cannot leave this issue to CIAA Rules. We need to define the relation between CIAA chief and other commissioners. If we have clear procedures in the Act itself, no one will be able to bend it to his liking.

What do you make of the rumor that India is lobbing to save Karki? 
I don’t think so. They may be concerned about stability of the current coalition. But it may not be so keen to retain such a controversial figure, especially when the public sentiment is clearly against Lokman Singh Karki.

What about the concern that there will be a vacuum in the CIAA after Karki’s removal?
There will no vacuum. Deep Basnyat has already become acting Chief after Karki’s suspension and he has also started to work. Besides, a new chief can be selected from among the five serving commissioners.

What will happen to the cases CIAA is pursuing at the moment?
If there are cases that fall under CIAA jurisdiction, they should be taken forward. The cases pending at the CIAA do not become invalid just because Lokman goes. But CIAA should withdraw the cases that have been filed by going against its jurisdiction. I believe that whoever succeeds Karki will have to work carefully and by staying within his jurisdiction.

Does the parliament need to have clear proof of Lokman’s guilt in order to impeach him? 
You have to understand that impeachment is a politico-legal matter world over. If it is a court case, it needs to be backed with evidence. Once the court pronounces the judgment, the case closes. However, in politico-legal matters like impeachment, the parliament may not have sufficient evidence of wrongdoing of a particular person. Yet if two-third majorities of the parliament think that the person is unfit for the job, it can still pass the impeachment motion.

What do you think are the most important lessons of the Lokman affair? 
The biggest lesson is that time has come to properly define the scope and limitation of the anti-graft body. Impeachment is the last resort. First of all, we need to create conducive environment for CIAA to function well. We need to be mindful that a person who heads this body can be of authoritarian bent, even enabling him to hold the whole governance system hostage. Therefore we need to clearly define the role, scope, jurisdiction and limitation of CIAA head.

October 26, 2016 09:05 AM , MY Republica

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