The Year of Scandals

Illustration: SUBHAS RAI

Speaking at a program on the International Day against Corruption on 9 December in Kathmandu, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal admitted that his government’s efforts to curb corruption “has so far been inadequate”.

It was ironic that the function was organised by the supposedly independent Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) which itself has been weaponized by politicians in power to keep rivals down, undermining the rule of law and the doctrine of separation of powers.

Indeed, 2023 is ending as the most scandal-ridden year in Nepali history with a new scam almost every week.

One could say the glass is half full because at least investigative journalists used a free press to expose these crimes, the police investigated and the court did put some guilty behind bars. But the list of graft, malfeasance, smuggling, bribery, kickbacks is too long.

Read also: Nepal gets Gold Medal for corruption, Editorial

Government officials and human traffickers colluded to cheat nearly 800 Nepalis by promising them entry into the United States as fake Bhutanese refugees. Former home minister Bal Krishna Khand of the Nepali Congress and former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi of the UML were among those arrested. However, on Thursday, the Patan High Court ordered the release Khand on Rs3 million bail.

But some innocents were also framed. Senior police inspectors probing the crime were transferred because the investigation was getting too close to the consorts of the powers that be.  

The property surrounding the Prime Minister’s residence was parceled off to individuals by the real estate mafia with political patronage, no one has been charged. More than 100kg of gold has been seized from smugglers in the past six months alone. Only mules have been caught.  

And just as PM Dahal was marking the first anniversary of assuming office this month, the Malaysian conglomerate Axiata exited Nepal after selling its 80% stake in Ncell to Spectrlite UK Limited registered to Singapore-based Nepali-origin businessman Satish Lal Acharya. A transaction of this magnitude could not have been pulled off without the involvement of top bureaucrats, regulators and politicians. 

In a case of the fox guarding the chicken coop, the Cabinet’s ‘high-level committee’ to investigate the Axiata stake sale is chaired by former Auditor General Tanka Mani Sharma, who was himself implicating in absolving Ncell in a previous tax evasion case.  

Read also: Losing our moral compass, Editorial

“Any investigative body that is tasked to investigate corruption must be independent, have jurisdiction, and be made up of experts,” explains Padmini Pradhananga, president of the Nepal chapter of Transparency International. She adds, “Investigations are fig leaves to let the guilty off and demonstrate an utter disregard for the rule of law and the separation of powers.” 

Dahal’s coalition partners have not spoken out about the telecom scandal, nor has the opposition UML. However, Gagan Thapa of the dissident faction in the Nepali Congress has said the Axiata sale would not have been possible without support from political and administrative leadership. 

‘It would be shortsighted to assume that forming committees will solve this issue,’ Thapa wrote on X. ‘Those involved in this sale be they in government or outside, no matter which level, rank, or influence, must not be exempt from investigation and action.’

Nepal’s mainstream media reports have quoted credible senior government insiders as accusing party loyalists and relatives of PM Dahal as well as relatives of his coalition partner Sher Bahadur Deuba of involvement. 

Read also: In a Federal Kleptocratic Republic of Nepal, Shristi Karki

And precisely because such big fish may be involved, there is a danger this one will also fizzle out like the other scandals this year. 

To be sure, figures including former ministers, government secretaries and dozens of others are behind bars. But more prominent people who have been named -- including the NC’s Arzu Rana Deuba and Manju Khand in the fake refugee scam, Maoist leaders Barshaman Pun, Onsari Gharti Magar, Nanda Kishor Pun, and Krishna Bahadur Mahara in the gold smuggling scandal, as well as former PMs Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai in connection with the Baluwatar land grab — have been unscathed.  

Says Pradhananga: “The boundaries between those who are punishable for crimes and those who bear the responsibility of penalising them are blurring. This is a sign of a nation in crisis."

Nepal ranks 110th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), with a score of 34 out of 100. This means that Nepalis themselves regard their government as being ‘highly corrupt’.

Read also: The tragedy of Tek Nath Rizal, Editorial

Shristi Karki


Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.

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