The case of alleged financial crime exposes compromised morality of some bureaucrats. Are there provisions to hold them accountable? 

Nepal’s Civil Service Act (1993) has provisions regarding the removal or dismissal of government employees from service. Top bureaucrats, however, often skip action by taking advantage of their political connection and shifting the blame toward politicians.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: Without a doubt, the recently exposed case of involving cronies to alter the tax rates in the draft of the budget has damaged the reputation of Nepal’s bureaucracy. 

Last month, a Nepali vernacular daily The Annapurna Post published a news report stating that Finance Minister Janardan Sharma involved cronies to alter tax rates in the budget draft just a few hours before the budget was presented in Parliament on May 29.

Reportedly, Finance Secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini and Revenue Secretary Krishna Hari Pushkhar did not object to the Finance Minister involving outsiders to alter the tax rates. As things stand, a minister alone cannot impose a blatantly wrong decision in such cases, unless the secretaries relent. In other words, if they had resisted the act of the Finance Minister,  he would not be able to allow an outsider to alter the tax provisions in the highly sensitive budget document. 

Moral decline  

Until the Finance Ministry refused to make public CCTV footage of the day before the budget was presented, Finance Secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini he was preaching morality. 

Senior TV journalist Vijay Kumar Panday expressed frustration in his recent tweet to mean that because we easily have people of low self-esteem like the finance secretary, ministers like Janardan have fallen so low. “We had people like Dr Devendra Raj Pandey and Rameshore Khanal as finance secretaries at one time.”

[Related: Cronyism, protectionism and rampant corruption likely to push Nepal to the brink of economic disaster]

Marasaini quickly reacted by saying “I don’t want to confront you, I wish you did not label my level.”  

Until recently, the Finance Secretary used to highlight the importance of transparency. On Tuesday, a decade-old tweet of Marasini went viral in which he had shown his commitment to transparency. 

The tweet reads: “I believe in transparency. You may visit for the latest activities from my office!”

As the Finance Secretary thus made a mockery of the word ‘transparency’, people on social media raged. 

A Kathmandu-based journalist Sagar Ghimire quote tweeted Marasini’s Tweet: “TRANSPARENCY? Why was CCTV footage erased? Not your responsibility to preserve evidence following serious allegations that two unauthorized outsiders entered the Finance Ministry on the night of May 28 & tweaked tax rates in the budget before it was tabled in parliament? #NepalEconomy [SIC].”

Ironically, the link provided by him is not accessible now. Some Twitter users have ridiculed him for the same. Ramen Adhikari replying to Marasini wrote: “Haha, the link here is : 404 Lol Transparency [SIC]” 

Likewise, Journalist Ram Prasad Dahal replied: “Fake commitment! Why CCTV record deleted? Any answer? Be answerable! [SIC].” 

Provision regarding conduct

Chapter 7 of the Civil Service Act (1993) clearly describes the basic conduct that any civil servant is required to follow. It states that a civil employee must remain in discipline and perform his/her duties with honesty and readiness.

[RelatedDespite calls for his resignation, Finance Minister Sharma demurs]

Chapter 9 of the Act is about removal or dismissal from service.  The act mentions that a civil employee may be removed from service if he/she frequently commits acts of indiscipline, takes part in politics and frequently neglects the responsibilities of his/her post. Likewise, an employee can be disqualified for government service in the future, if he or she commits corruption.

‘Hold them accountable’

Indicating the seriousness of the crime, Nepali Congress general secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa, on Monday, said, “this is not a minor human error. It is a grave matter.”

The whole episode involving cronies in changing tax rates has also raised questions about the morality of civil servants, a former bureaucrat told Nepal Live Today on the condition of anonymity. “Civil servants should not forget that they are ultimately accountable to the people and cannot become accomplices of any grave crime that can result in financial disaster in the country.”

[RelatedPrime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s reluctance to investigate the alleged involvement of an outsider to change tax rates in the fiscal policy by the Finance Minister shows accountability is at stake in Nepal]

Only investigation can bring forth the reality of the incident. But it is quite a rational demand that top-level bureaucrats should come under the investigation radar, said Navaraj Silwal, a Member of Parliament who is also a member of the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the House of Representatives. 

“The question is not about who is in the position. It is about accountability and ethics of civil servants,” he said. Even if the top-level bureaucrats were under pressure from the minister, they should be in the position to resist the wrongdoings and deny the entry of an unlawful person in the room.”

[RelatedHow Finance Minister Janardan Sharma is failing Nepal’s economy]

The incident also shows that our bureaucracy is dead. It cannot resist the proposal of unlawful activities by the minister, he said. “The investigation is a must to uphold the overall image of our bureaucracy. Everyone involved in involving outsiders to change tax rates and leaking crucial budget information should be held accountable.”