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Scribes and diatribes

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Kathmandu, May 06, 2016: “This looks like a job for me, so everybody just follow me, coz we need a little controversy, coz it feels so empty without me”. While Eminem scored a massive hit with those sentiments the folks at CIAA seem to have registered a miss, if the collective furore of the past two weeks is anything to go by. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you wouldn’t have failed to notice the controversy surrounding the arrest of Kanak Mani Dixit by the CIAA. The ensuing hue and cry compelled the CIAA to issue – in defence of their actions – a lengthy statement replete with the sort of incoherence and inconsistencies that usually characterizes their work.

The release took great pains to emphasize the legality of the CIAA’s actions whilst taking direct digs at the media and other sections of society that have opposed their actions. While their words may be tinged with defiance, one is left with the overall impression that they are busy scratching their heads wondering why everybody is getting on their backs when they are trying to do what is ‘right’ by the constitution.

They kicked off their defence with a timely reminder of their remit just in case the nation has suffered from a bout of collective amnesia and forgotten that they exist to actually do some work. There have apparently been – by their own estimation – ‘several’ complaints lodged against Mr Dixit that prompted them to investigate him. Now, isn’t that something of a novelty? It would be interesting to invoke the Right to Information Act (RTI) and see how just many people have ‘several’ complaints registered against their name and the chronological order of said complaints.

My guess is the who’s who of Nepal figure rather prominently on the list with the overwhelming majority of them deservedly so. But wait! The CIAA, that beacon of hope, promoter of human rights and defender of rule of law believes that the RTI applies to just a select few. Just ask Suman Shrestha of the Campaign against Corruption, Nepal who has twice requested for property details of Mr Karki but been stonewalled by the institution so far.

While they went overboard with the transparency in Mr Dixit’s case – leaking out unsolicited information on the charges he is up against – they remain resolutely opaque on the property details of their chief. What makes this situation all the more ironical is the rather rich assertion in the statement about how the state ‘naturally expects more from a high profile, responsible and intellectual person in contributing to the observance of rule of law in the country than an ordinary citizen……with he/she assuming greater responsibilities to respect the constitution and law of the country’. Talk about people in glass houses and all that.

The overall tone of their defence smacks of the cynicism one would normally associate with petulant teenagers and not a body in charge of carrying out constitutional duties as we are reminded so often during the lengthy statement. They have singled out the media for special vitriol without perhaps realizing that public servants and the targets of their ‘corruption’ investigations only give two hoots about being probed because of the possibility of being named and shamed in – you guessed it – the newspapers. Beyond that a recommendation for departmental action (in most cases) and a slap on the wrist are hardly enough to scare a lifetime of habits away from public officials.

The media having sprung to the defence of a decent and well-loved personality seems to have caught them unawares. Even if he was not a celebrated personality, the media have every right to spring up for one of their own. This shouldn’t be surprising in the least and even if this opposition were misplaced (as claimed by the CIAA) they have every right to it.  Everybody is entitled to their opinion, to write as they see fit and that right stems from the very constitution that the CIAA so liberally alludes to in their statement. It is not only the media’s right to criticize a constitutional body but their duty as part of civil society. It forms an integral part of the concept of checks and balances, something that the CIAA might not be too familiar with.

They go on to accuse certain sections of society of acting as if this is the biggest crisis facing the nation today. What would they know about a crisis? They wouldn’t be able to recognize the biggest national crisis if it came and bit them on their collective bottoms. All of their indignation might’ve been slightly more palatable if they had done anything at all to curb the rampant anti-social practices that all of us have suffered from. Where was all this self-righteousness when government officials were colluding to appropriate relief materials or to black market essentials during the blockade right under their noses?

The statement also takes pointed aim at the ‘elites’ (your guess is as good as mine) and then goes on to explain that they are those who have been mooching off the state whilst pretending to be freedom fighters and key actors from past revolutions. If their language is to be taken at face value then this includes a huge bracket of people – most of them part of the establishment and insulated by varying levels of power. If I were the CIAA, I’d be very careful pulling on this string lest it starts to unravel the alleged cosy relationship between the politicians and their institution.

Mr Dixit has always stood for what he feels is right that is more than can be said about the CIAA. I’m not trying to paint him as Gandhi reincarnated but it says something about the country that while criminals go scot free, a person is singled out for special treatment because of his opinions. Whether or not Mr Dixit is guilty will be decided by the courts but the furore is perhaps an accurate reflection of where both parties stand in the national consciousness. And from the looks of it, the CIAA hasn’t got a leg to stand on.