Last week, Kathmandu hosted a workshop for more than 370 investigative journalists from all over the world. The participants of the workshop were pained to see the man behind the initiative making a brief video speech from Boston. Kunda Dixit, a noted journalist and editor of the weekly, The Nepali Times, said he was forced to flee the country to evade arrest. Kunda Dixit alleged that the political forces in the country had ganged up against him because he did not compromise with his professional responsibilities.
Kunda Dixit’s revelation, weeks after he left Nepal, at an international media forum showed up Nepal as a country that does not tolerate dissent and criticism. According to reports in the international media, he is being probed by the Commission of Inquiry Into Abuse of Authority (CIAA), an anti-graft constitutional body. The CIAA has denied this and said, “It does not investigate individuals who do not hold official position”.
Kunda Dixit’s younger brother, Kanak Dixit — also an editor and publisher— was earlier detained by the CIAA. He was released after a supreme court order. The CIAA has also put its scanner on the Social Welfare Council, a regulatory body that monitors funding by international donors to a variety of recipients in Nepal — NGOs, academic institutions, individual academics, activists and journalists, even judges and members of parliament.
About two weeks ago, the CIAA disclosed that it is in the final stages of an investigation into the huge misuse and bungling of funds meant for more than 19,000 ex-Maoist guerrillas. They were kept in UN-monitored cantonments for five years during the peace process until they were “integrated in the society and the state security agencies”. Those facing allegations of misuse of funds include Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Vice-President Nanda Kishore Pun. Dahal was the supreme commander and Pun was a deputy commander of the Peoples Liberation Army during the decade-long insurgency that ended in 2006.The disclosure came a couple of hours after the supreme court decided to review its ruling, dismissing a petition that challenged Lokman Singh Karki’s appointment as the CIAA Chief. CIAA’s notice to the Social Welfare Council detailing “abuse of funds and corruption by certain prominent civil society groups and academic institutions” came soon after.
CIAA’s probe into the alleged siphoning of funds in the cantonment is a result of media revelations. However, senior Maoist leaders had also raised the issue in party meetings. “Karki has raked up the issue now because he wants to strike some deal with us following the supreme court decision to review his appointment,” said Barshaman Pun, an influential Maoist leader and a former Peoples Liberation Army commander. But political parties, including the Maoists who lead Nepal’s coalition government, have not been able to initiate impeachment proceedings against Karki in parliament.
The media and civil society that once influenced the behaviour of political leaders, especially during the period of radical changes after 2006, have become collaborators of half a dozen key political parties. This attitude has hurt them. People see them as part of a system that runs on vested interests. The apathy towards the problems of the Dixit brothers is a case in point. This indifference is also an indictment of the country’s key political actors, civil society outfits and media outfits. They did work together for political change but their efforts did not extend to consolidating Nepal’s democratic institutions.
The aggrieved parties are sure to approach the supreme court. But for the first time, the apex court and its judges are being scrutinised by the public and the media. Most of the recent recruits to the apex court are either nominees of major political parties or have been NGO activists, funded by international donors. The CIAA’s recent notice to the Social Welfare Council targets some of them. But Nepal’s supreme court faces a much tougher challenge: Being seen as just.