Leela Mani Paudyal had been on an anti-corruption law enforcement roll lately. On September 16 Paudyal, who was Home Secretary, the highest-ranked civil servant at the Home Ministry, which is in charge of Nepal’s police force, was abruptly transferred.
The transfer came at the insistence of his boss, Deputy PM and Home Minister Bijaya Gachchhadar, during a cabinet meeting. Despite Prime Minister Bhattarai’s promise that high-level civil service transfers would not be allowed for at least a month into his new government, the cabinet approved Paudyal’s sacking, terming it “an exception” according to the PM’s spokesman.
Paudyal was exceptionally good at his job. His previous boss, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who is currently DPM and Foreign Minister, decried the transfer, calling him “one of the best secretaries.” But the move was not a surprise to political pundits here: Paudyal’s impressive record of blocking political interference with the police wasn’t expected to sit well with Gachchhadar, who has been widely reported in the Nepali press to be protecting several underworld figures.
One such alleged crime boss, Kausar Ali Musalman, was arrested early in September. After reportedly being told that the Home Minister had called police to have Musalman released, Paudyal ordered that he be held for his scheduled court appearance.
Paudyal had also pressed hard to eliminate political protection of Ganesh Lama, reputed to be the Don of illegal smuggling of sandalwood to China. The Nepali press has frequently linked Lama and Gachchhadar and alleged that enormous bribes are paid to sustain the lucrative trade.
Paudyal had also been behind raids at Nepal’s casinos, which are off-limits to Nepali citizens. The casinos cater mostly to Indian tourists and pay billions of rupees in royalties each year to the government. Politically-linked trade unions have struggled over control of the casinos, whose business has fallen off in recent years as the number of casino licenses has increased. The casino owners, charged with enforcing the foreigners-only rule, have turned a blind eye to Nepali gamblers in order to bolster revenues, and sources inside the ministry have told Nepali media outlets that Gachchhadar wanted the police raids stopped.
And Paudyal allegedly tried to bypass the minister over a highly-publicized scandal related to corruption in printing of Nepali bank notes, asking the Central Bureau of Investigation, equivalent to the FBI, to send its report directly to the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority.
Paudyal may have overstepped his authority: Civil servants are ultimately responsible to their politically-appointed ministers. But his reputation for trying to implement the rule of law and end political interference in police matters, coupled with his sudden transfer, will not improve the Home Minister’s already tarnished reputation.