Demand accountabilityPoliticians seem to think that governance means ensuring benefits for themselves
The three-decade-old democracy in Nepal has proved to be a costly experience for the Nepali people. The daily lives of many common citizens have presently been paralysed because of the misdoings of politicians like murder, nepotism, cronyism, corruption, bribery, discrimination in the public sector, black marketing and totalitarianism besides internal and external embargo and bad governance. In this regard, the Good Governance Act has to be evoked which was enacted on February 6, 2008 to guarantee good governance.
The act in its preamble states that it is expedient to make legal provision in relation to good governance by making public administration of the country pro-people, accountable, transparent, inclusive and participatory and making available its outcome to the general public; adopting the basic values of good governance like rule of law, corruption-free and smart (lean or smooth) administration, financial discipline and efficient management of public works and resources to create a situation for providing public services in a speedy and cost-effective manner; bringing into enforcement the right of citizens to have good
governance by translating it into practical reality; and transforming the administrative mechanism into a service delivery mechanism.
This makes it look like the people have been given the highest priority, are glorified as deities and are served well. However, in practice and reality, if one compares the good governance values and the act’s preamble, things are just the opposite due to the political unaccountability of politicians, civil servants and the government. Political accountability basically refers to the responsibility or obligation of civil servants including politicians to act in the best interests of society. One underlying theme in studies related to democratic governments today is the problem of political accountability worldwide, whether in the developed or developing countries. This is the key problem in the government of Nepal too. What then can be the solution?
After the Good Governance Act was enacted, the governments of Nepal and Switzerland together launched a first-of-its-kind project entitled Strengthening the Accountability of Local Governments (SALG 2013-2017) with COMAT-ASTHA-JV as their implementing partner to help accomplish the ethos of the law. According to the project, its overall objective is to promote bottom-up accountability by increasing the engagement of citizens and civic actors, particularly disadvantaged groups, in local governance processes. Furthermore, it aims to ensure active participation of people and civic actors in political processes with accountability and democratic life.
By empowering the people, especially the disadvantaged groups, and intermediary civic agents such as civil society organisations and the media, the project aims to strengthen their voice, engagement and capacity to hold local government bodies and line agencies accountable. In doing so, SALG expects to enhance bottom-up mechanisms of social accountability, and thereby increase the government’s responsiveness and improve fast-track service delivery at the local level, where it is closest to the people. The knowledge managed and shared from the project is intended to be used in a bottom-up way to influence national policy dialogue on local governance issues and sustainable social accountability practices.
This is a welcome initiative of the two governments to create a pro-people, civilised, prosperous and developed Nepali society and country. Hopefully, the project will yield positive impacts as envisaged in its conception and implementation during its four-year period.
Meanwhile, a complementary idea has been presented here to make this beginning a holistic one by implementing such accountability efforts at the central level during the project’s second phase which begins in 2017. This is required because people’s access to service at central government agencies is as important as at local government bodies. Two clusters can be created at the central level—the first consisting of the offices of the President and the Prime Minister, Cabinet and Parliament; and the second consisting of the ministries—to hold the central government accountable.
As at the local level, people encounter problematic opacity instead of transparency at the central government level too. Politicians, ministers and civil servants barely understand the simple meaning of “governance” as fulfilling the people’s needs by managing whatever resources are available. Instead, they only know how to fulfil their own needs, and our present crisis is evidence of that. Similarly, they hardly have the idea of “government” as gaining the people’s confidence that they will lead them and fulfil their needs. Instead, they mislead the people by claiming to be champions of good governance.
Therefore, there needs to be a central government programme mechanism to provide the answers to these questions to the people: Is the central government pro-people, accountable, transparent, inclusive and participatory? Does it strictly follow the rule of law? Does it have corruption-free and smart (lean or smooth) administration or cabinet and financial discipline? Is it efficient and effective in delivering its fast-track service to the general public?
There are many questions that politicians, ministers and civil servants have to answer. But they only chant slogans and pay lip service to the law while engaging in misgovernance for their own benefit. They should learn a lesson from the fate of Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania. There is no alternative to political accountability to create a prosperous Nepal.
Rapacha is a researcher and activist based in Okhaldhunga