• Wednesday 1st April 2020

Sleaze, sophistry and systemic succor

  • Published on: February 27, 2020



  • BY MAILA BAJE

    The man may have infuriated much of the country through his spoken and body languages, but you couldn’t deny that he always went all the way in defending the government. Maybe that’s why Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli seemed more loyal to Communication Minister Gokul Banskota than the other way around.
    It must have been with a heavy heart that Oli showed Banskota the door after the minister was heard negotiating millions of dollars in kickbacks in an old audio recording freshly leaked by the would-be briber. At a deeper level, the sympathy for Banskota – no doubt a smidgen at best – is perhaps understandable. Could he have had the audacity to do what he did without confidence in his mentor’s support?
    Without that audio recording of a conversation between Banskota and Bijay Mishra, the local agent for a Swiss company vying for a government contract regarding the security printing of passports and other sensitive material, we would still be talking about the acquittal of former speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara of allegations of attempted rape.
    Even before the court delivered his verdict, Mahara was the beneficiary of growing public perceptions that he was being punished for refusing to put the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact to a parliamentary vote.
    The criminal justice system’s refusal to entertain the alleged victim’s claim that she had made the allegations against Mahara only under duress, too, helped the cause of the accused. As Mahara charts his political rehabilitation, we cannot forget how he was caught in a leaked recording of a telephone conversation with a Chinese individual on the money needed to ‘manage’ legislators in changing the government.
    There is little – if any – evidence of a connection between the fresh cases of Banskota and Mahara. Still, it is hard to escape is the similarities between the men in terms of their respective relationships with Prime Minister Oli and Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Both were not only fiercely loyal to their individual mentors but were also important bagmen.
    If Dahal and Oli have any reason to feel they are now ‘even’, the former Maoist and Unified Marxist-Leninist satraps are not showing such a sentiment. While Dahal laments how power has tended to corrupt Nepali communists, Oli touts his firm and unequivocal record on ensuring good governance. Neither seems to see himself as part of the problem.
    Thus, it is the alleged would-be briber who makes the strongest case for ending systemic corruption. By inflating costs, rejigging specifications and other contractual legerdemain, the political-bureaucratic nexus generates kickbacks that are intended primarily not to line their pockets but to lubricate the body politic.
    The centrality of sleaze to a functioning state system has long been the subject of casual conversation. An elected official effortlessly narrates how he won a seat in parliament spending less than what he did earlier on a losing mayoral race. Another expresses his readiness to relinquish his public office if he were to be reimbursed the millions he spent to get elected.
    Maybe there is logic to why two former prime ministers and the incumbent general secretary of the ruling party evaded prosecution in the Balwatar land scam while people tangentially involved were caught in the anti-corruption dragnet. Despite heavy suspicion of guilt, the big fish are too important to the well-being of our political system.
    Subliminally, then, that may also explain why Nepalis who rail against the party in power are also those who vote for it in the first by-elections.
    A whirlwind of a week this was indeed – and a teachable moment as well.

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