The fast approaching constitutional deadline and political parties’ marathon meetings to narrow down their differences on contentious issues have made people a bit sanguine. After the new constitution, Nepal will be formally moving into a federal system from a unitary governance structure. As the country will be carved into different federal provinces, the kind of institutional set-up, approach and strategy Nepal will be taking up in a new federal setting will decide the success or failure of its anti-corruption efforts.
Single vs multi-agency
The ubiquitous nature of corruption has worried many policy makers across the world to ponder over what accurately offers an effective remedy. Comparative study on anti-corruption approaches in some Asian countries shows two types of corruption control patterns being practised. First, a single agency approach being adopted by Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand. Second, a multi-agency approach as taken by India, Philippines, China, Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Of the two approaches, relying on a single-agency modality has proven to be the best and most cost-effective in counties like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia and most recently in Indonesia. However, the existence of a single anti-corruption body doesn’t automatically guarantee success in combatting corruption in the absence of four minimum preconditions such as a strong political will, an incorruptible anti-graft body with enough resources and staff, favourable laws and policies, and extensive investigation outreach.
When a single agency approach has yielded comparative successes, resource and efforts-dilution due to duplication and lack of coordination among the anti-corruption agencies has failed the multi-agency approach in many countries. The Philippines best exemplifies the trend. Since 1950, there have been 18 presidential anti-corruption agencies. Today, on top of the ombudsman, and the anti-graft court, there exist five presidential anti-corruption agencies which hardly make any significant dent on controlling graft.
In India, the Prevention of Corruption Act is enforced by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, state anticorruption bureaus, and state vigilance commissions. Now, the concept of a single anti-graft body called Lokpal has emerged and is being hotly debated across social and political circles in India.
Similarly, Vietnam has six anti-corruption agencies. In 2005, the need to coordinate their efforts was finally recognised which paved the way for the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Steering Committee (NACSC) under the prime minister’s jurisdiction under the Law on Anti-Corruption.
Cambodia also relies on five departments within the Ministry of the National Assembly - Senate Relations and Inspection (MoNASRI) which was formed in 1999 to combat corruption. These departments probe complaints, monitor law enforcement, investigate graft and also deal with conflicts of interest. With these mixed stories of success and failure in many countries, Nepal is also currently facing the urgent need to remodel its anti-graft body and its approach in the new federal system.
Nepal has been adopting a single agency model to deal with corruption through the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). The Committee for Determining the Structure of Constitutional Bodies has proposed that Nepal would continue adopting a single-agency approach even in a federal structure. The committee has recommended that each province would have a CIAA to be headed by a chief commissioner and two other commissioners with a tenure of six years.
But, while replicating the single-agency model in a federal set-up, we will have to seriously reflect on the past to see what went wrong with the CIAA. Indubitably, lack of unflinching political support, including other essential reforms in its mandate, investigation modality and staff recruitment, has made it ineffectual and unsuccessful. Hence, wisely assessing the structural lacunae and legal lapses based on our past experience will help us identify some core areas that require pressing institutional and legal reforms to make the CIAA a very powerful and effective anti-graft body in federalism.
First, the area for immediate reform is its mandate. It is estimated that the private sector, non-governmental organisations, army, judiciary and political parties constitute 60 per cent of the corruption in Nepal. Given the jurisdiction, the CIAA can only investigate public sector corruption which is roughly 40 per cent of the volume. Therefore, unless the CIAA’s powers are expanded to investigate irregularities in these sectors which have hitherto remained out of its reach, the anti-graft body’s role in controlling corruption will be limited.
Second, the existing investigation system must also be revisited. Currently, the CIAA is more focused on the reactive approach. It lacks a proactive modality as taken up by the Central Bureau of Investigation in India and anti-corruption agencies of Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. If the fight against corruption is to be made more effective, it needs to augment its reactive modality by tying up with proactive investigative capability.
Staff composition and their recruitment process also affect the anti-graft body’s efforts. The current provision of civil service staff to work with the CIAA has scaled up the politicisation and high staff turnover annually. Therefore, the third area of reform must be the staff recruitment procedure itself. A separate service for the CIAA and staff recruitment accordingly by an independent agency can ensure professionalism, efficiency and impartiality giving better career prospects and motivation to the staff.
Fourth, there is a need to create a strong and vibrant intelligence body, a core cadre of staff trained in corruption investigation, commando training and culprit chasing techniques within the CIAA. It also needs to have a pool of trained informants and whistleblowers to tip off malpractices, fraud and corruption as a part of a yet to be taken proactive anti-corruption approach in the federal system.
Fifth, an anti-graft body like the CIAA should also be equipped with an internal-control system to keep surveillance upon its own staff to avoid possible manipulation and malpractices during the investigation. As such the agency wields much power and influence; there is also a risk that its own staff too would get involved in fraudulent acts. The anti-corruption agencies in Hong Kong and Singapore keep secret monitoring of their staff during office and non-office hours.
The malfunctioning and under-performance of the CIAA over the decade has taught us the above lessons. When only the CIAA’s structure, staff recruitment, investigation modality and legal jurisdiction undergo a complete overhaul, then the fight against corruption will begin to see fresh momentum in the new federal set-up.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)