Utopian dreamIncoming government needs to aim high if it is to seriously reduce corruption
The prime minister-in-waiting, KP Oli, when addressing a public meeting recently said that rooting out corruption from this country would be one of his topmost priorities. This is no doubt a noble and necessary goal for Nepal if Oli is truly sincere about his declaration. Corruption in different forms has drowned the country and is responsible for the multi-faceted ills that are plaguing the nation. Corruption has become a way of life to the extent that most people can’t get things done without resorting to corrupt practices. Corruption in different forms pervades all walks of our life. No wonder that the corruption index put out by Transparency International has listed Nepal among the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 131 (for 2016) along with Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Iran. All with a score of 29. The least corrupt are Denmark and New Zealand—both with a score of 90. Nepal’s score was 27 in 2015, 29 in 2014, 31 in 2013 and 27 in 2012. All through the years there has hardly been significant improvement in rooting out corruption.
Trickle down burden
The concept of a corruption free country is almost utopian, with hardly a chance of any country achieving this noble goal. Even the least corrupt countries in the world have not been able to be totally free of corruption. We have always been told that one has to aim high in order to achieve a difficult goal. So KP Oli’s pledge to root out corruption is no doubt a desirable and necessary aim. But how will he go about trying to achieve the difficult given that even political parties as institutions are perceived as being corrupt? Thus, one of the main aims of the future government should be to ensure that political parties and their sources of income become transparent. The nexus between political parties and the business and industrial communities is one of the reasons for the rise of corruption in the country. The common people pay the price of such corruption as they have to bear the additional burden of having to meet the demands of political parties. This happens because the business and industrial communities increase the outlet prices of their products, goods and services to finance the contributions they make to political parties.
Political parties spend huge amounts during elections, and there seems to be no effective legal provisions to delve into how political parties get their funds. Are the funds all legal? There are some people who seem to think that “some” corruption in political parties is justified. How so? A retired secretary told me some time ago that this kind of “small” corruption among political parties should be ignored. “For”, he said, “how else will they be able to run the party”. Such a sentiment coming from a former secretary shows how ‘coloured’ the thinking of some people are. So if the goal to be corruption free is to be met, any new government must be able to ensure that the new parliament is able to enact a bill that will enable any Nepali citizen to know just how politicians fill their financial coffers. And the proper auditing of accounts of recognised political parties should be made compulsory. How do political parties finance their activities? Do they do so through contributions by ordinary citizens? Or is it through business and industrial houses and their owners? Or through other means? There are also allegations that some political parties are given financial help by foreign countries through different sources including NGOs and INGOs. Such allegations will only go away when political parties open their books. But can this happen? One wonders if such a situation will ever come about because of the fate of a former Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) chief when feeble attempts were made to probe into the affairs of political parties.
Stronger laws on the horizon
According to media reports, the CIAA is preparing a draft of an Act that would make the law pertaining to corruption in Nepal on par with the United Nations guidelines. The news piece points to the fact that there are deficiencies in our corruption law, due to which many get away. But the CIAA will need the government nod as well as the support of other political parties in order for the proposed bill to easily pass in parliament. There is an urgent need to broaden the CIAA’s horizon so that it can probe in as broad a spectrum as possible. The income of many individuals including government employees and foreign agency individuals sometimes exceeds the stated sum, and hence the need for such probes. The CIAA in the past has nabbed a few government officials; some high ranking and mostly low ranking government officials were caught red-handed. The CIAA must be empowered to investigate the suspicious activities of not only government officials but also leaders of political parties and their links with business, industrial and various mafia groups which is one of the most important reasons for the rise of corruption in the country. Additionally, it must be remembered that the CIAA is a constitutional body and that anyone appointed in any of the positions in the CIAA must be able to rise above personal likes and dislikes, and carry out investigations without any prejudice or partiality. The cancer of corruption can be cured but it needs the support of all, including the government, political parties and ordinary citizens. We cannot forget that the work in many government offices that usually take seven days or more to complete can be done in seven minutes for a price. We, as responsible citizens determined to undermine corrupt practice, would do well not to pay that price because to pay would be to encourage officials to indulge in corruption. The new government must realise that fighting corruption in a graft-prone country like ours is an uphill task. But even though the idea of a corruption-free country is a utopian fantasy, it is something we all, including the government, must aim for.