In UWC Scholarships, Nepotism and Conflict of Interest, writing about how scholarship applicants or potential applicants (and even parents of applicants) seek to get an edge over other applicants by seeking help from me, a member of a selection committee, I argued that, in Nepal, conflict of interest is something that most don’t think about or care about.
A blatant and a very seriously damaging ignorance of conflict of interest by the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court (SC) of the country just recently threatens to limit a freedom guaranteed by our constitution: freedom of press. The case has also revealed how other custodians of the law and the constitution have put self-interest before the best interest of the country.
It all apparently started with Kantipur publishing a series of articles about the discrepancies in the date of birth of Chief Justice Gopal Parajuli. I suspect Kantipur was just following up on allegations made by Dr. Govinda KC when he went on his 14th fast-unto-death hunger strike.
One of the demands he made was that the Chief Justice resign from his post for reinstating Dr Shashi Sharma as the Dean of Institute of Medicine (IoM) at Tribhuvan University. (Read the blog post The Good, The Bad and The Untouchables for everything about Dr. Govinda and his fast-unto-death hunger strike campaigns.) One of the number of things the Doctor charged the CJ of was “changing his birth date illegally with an intention to stay in office for a longer period.”
When a section officer brought charges of contempt of court against the Doctor for that and other accusations he had made against the CJ, Justice Dambar Bahadur Shahi, after hearing the case, had him arrested. Not surprisingly, more articles came out covering the issue with the CJ’s birth-date change, Kantipur Daily publishing a series.
On January 10, when SC ordered Dr. KC’s pre-trial release, it also sought “copies of Chief Justice Gopal Parajuli’s two citizenship certificates, Judicial Council’s decision on his age controversy and copies of his academic certificates.” Clearly a move in the right direction.
Except, an advocate brought contempt of court charges against another entity: Kantipur Daily. This time for publishing articles about the CJ’s different birth dates. The charge claimed “that the articles caused controversy and dishonoured the senior judge.”
And guess who heard the case? CJ Gopal Parajuli! Conflict of interest?!?! What conflict of interest?!?!
And guess what the verdict was? An order asking “PCN [Press Council of Nepal] to investigate if the news violated journalists’ code of conduct and to ensure that no news criticising the Chief Justice is published again.” An attack on the freedom of press as guaranteed by the constitution? Definitely!
Kantipur, in the mean time, approaches Nepal Bar Association (NBA) for comments. The March 6 article, बारको अर्थपूर्ण मौनता, details the curious case of NBA members remaining completely silent! If that isn’t infuriating enough, here’s the reason for their silence.
Why is the Bar quiet? “When it’s not appropriate to speak, what can you say?” shared Sher Bahadur KC, the President of the Association. He also added a curious statement as well: “The situation is a little awkward now. Were I able, I would have made a personal commentary, but I cannot say anything in my capacity as the President of the Bar.”
He SHOULD have objected in his capacity AS the President of the bar!
And here’s another gem from the article summarizing the general sentiments expressed by other current and past members of the Bar.
The curious things is, most lawyers and former office bearers of the umbrella association are unhappy with the work [of the Bar]. But no one wants to speak. Why? Everyone has pretty much the same answer, “Why anger friends and family?!”
So that’s probably also why the President doesn’t want to say anything! He doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers! WTF! Some times I wonder if I am living in the twilight zone!
No one associated with the Bar raises even a voice against the clear violation of conflict of interest by the CJ.
The CJ further threatens freedom of press guaranteed by our constitution, which is an unequivocal attack on the fourth pillar of democracy, and members of the NBA, when approached for comments won’t say anything because they are worried about angering “friends and family”?!?!?
In other words, in Nepal, it’s more important to keep your “friends” close and happy than to do the right thing for the country even if your profession and job DEMANDS it, which, in this case, is protecting our constitution-granted rights and freedoms to keep our democracy from completely collapsing!
I need a beer! Make it two! Hell…just keep the freezer stocked!
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March 15, 2018 Update
So, the Judicial Council (JC) Secretariat finally confirms what Dr. Govinda had contended (before he went on his 14th hunger strike) for which he was hauled into court to face contempt of court charges, and, just for following up on that, Kantipur also found itself in hot water. According to The Kathmandu Post,
“The Judicial Council on Wednesday relieved Chief Justice (CJ) Gopal Prasad Parajuli of the top post of judiciary citing he has crossed the retirement age based on his citizenship and academic certificates.”
‘“According to a secretary level decision of March 14, 2018, we inform that respectable Gopal Prasad Parajuli no longer remains in the post of Chief Justice as he has crossed the retirement age of 65 on August 5, 20017,” read the letter issued by JC Secretary Niraula.’
What of the abuse of his position of Chief Justice that he obviously got through falsification of his documents?!
But, of course, I am asking too much! Way too too much!
What do you think?
March 23 update
The plot thickens! Apparently, according to this article in My Republica, the supreme court has sought clarification on the case against the former CJ! The short article reads thus:
KATHMANDU, March 23: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered its own administration to clarify why it had earlier refused to register a contempt of court case brought against the then chief justice Gopal Parajuli.
A single bench of Justice Harikrishna Karki issued the order following a hearing on the case Thursday, which was registered on Thursday itself. The bench asked the case registration section of the administration to furnish clarifications outlining the reasons for the refusal. The contempt of court case was brought by advocate Manoj Kumari Adhikari, who accused Parajuli of undermining the dignity of the post of chief justice and judiciary by possessing academic credentials with varying dates of birth.
The petitioner has also sought one year’s jail and a fine of Rs 10,000 fine for the chief justice in line with the Justice Administration Act, 2017.
Kantipur Daily (March 6, 2018). बारको अर्थपूर्ण मौनता.
The Kathmandu Post (Feb. 2018). CJ Parajuli orders media probe.
International Federation of Journalists (Feb. 2018). Supreme Court of Nepal order violates press freedom principles.
The Kathmandu Post (Feb. 2018). Attempt to ‘muzzle media’ draws flak.
Reporters Without Borders (Feb. 2018). Nepal’s chief justice tries to gag newspaper.
My Republica (March 11, 2018). CJ Parajuli to head Kantipur daily’s hearing today. [Added on March 11, a day after the publication of the blog post.]
The Kathmandu Post (March 11, 2018). Parajuli misuses his office to fix rivals. According to this article, CJ Parajuli has been involved in a number of irregularities. [Added on March 12, 2018.]
The Kathmandu Post (March 12, 2018). Contempt of court against Kantipur: CJ Parajuli forms 7-member full bench. “In what appears to be a blatant disregard to the widespread condemnation, Chief Justice (CJ) Gopal Parajul has formed a seven-member full bench of Supreme Court (SC) under his leadership to conduct the hearing in a contempt of court case against Kantipur.” Can’t anyone stand up to the guy?!?![Added on March 14, 2018.]
The Kathmandu Post (March 14, 2018). Judicial Council relieves Chief Justice Parajuli.