Catch the corruptNepal’s new leaders have a duty and opportunity to redefine and wipe out corruption
Nepal’s rulers from the days of absolute monarchy and multiparty parliamentary democracy to a federal republic have vowed to stamp out corruption. Continuing the tradition, the newly elected government has declared zero tolerance for corruption. However, corruption remains endemic in almost all spheres of life. In 2004, during the height of the Maoist conflict, international corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) ranked Nepal in the 90th position among 146 countries. Successive years saw Nepal plummeting in the TI ranking. In 2017, it dropped to the 122nd position in a list of 180 countries.
Initiate concrete actions
Politicians in power and their coteries are among the leading perpetrators of corrupt practices. Genuine and formidable political will, unwavering social resolve and an autonomous entity operating under efficient legal frameworks are key to fighting corruption. Politically manipulated state organs with limited jurisdiction and lack of genuine political resolve at the highest level seem to partly explain Nepal’s chronic suffering as one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
Nepal’s wider public discourse tends to subscribe to a rather incomplete definition of corruption. Such a definition is propagated by influencers with vested interests. In simple terms, corruption is any willful conduct or intent aimed at securing undeserving or illegitimate gains through illegal, unethical or immoral means. Further, corruption is characterised by deliberate abuse or misuse of one’s authority or position. Nepal has pinned its hopes on the newly elected leaderships at the federal and provincial levels for political stability and good governance. The results of the recent elections indicate that there will be political stability for at least the next five years. Newly elected leaders are well positioned to initiate concrete actions to carry out their promises to eliminate corruption.
Visible actions at the federal and provincial levels are necessary to obtain tangible results, send a symbolic yet powerful message and offer psychological comfort to restore public confidence. Leading by example, the onus is on the government to engage and oblige all political parties to declare their funding sources. Lack of transparency and deliberate non-compliance is nothing less than a corrupt act. Nepal’s prevailing situation has only eroded public trust in politicians and parties.
As a new beginning, the new leadership should end the tradition of abusing their official position to unduly influence the state machinery to protect notorious goons, fugitives and convicted criminals. During the last election, the main political parties were competing to field candidates from these categories who would potentially become the people’s representatives and consequently enjoy immunity from any possible prosecution. These attempts were obviously motivated by ill intentions to serve vested interests. Taking a step forward, federal and provincial leaders are now in a position to bring such social evils to justice through due process.
Ending this embarrassment
Introducing measures to prevent politicisation and exploitation of students, teachers, educational institutions and the civil service which have ruined public education and the bureaucracy is another task that will take Nepal a step forward towards good governance and a brighter future. Any inaction or silence despite knowledge of and the power to address these problems can only be explained by the motive of undue personal or political advantage. Continued ignorance, inaction or silence is tantamount to collusion, and by extension, a corrupt act.
Ending the practice of abusing state funds by arbitrarily channeling financial aid to handpicked dubious recipients with complete disregard for accountability is another task for Nepal’s new leadership. This malpractice continues to inflict avoidable suffering on the country and the people. As the ultimate accountable entity, the government leadership’s deliberate inaction or reluctance to eradicate this evil is equivalent to becoming a partner in crime, and promoting and perpetuating corruption.
Unlike the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force, the Nepal Army continues to remain beyond the jurisdiction of Nepal’s constitutionally mandated corruption watchdog which is incomprehensible. Reports of financial irregularities, nepotism, favouritism and abuse of authority within the Nepal Army are not uncommon. The Army is immune from independent scrutiny beyond having its accounts audited by the auditor general. From the standpoint of civilian supremacy, no state organ can remain beyond the control of the state itself in a democracy. Nepal’s political leadership has the moral obligation and legitimate authority to end this anomaly.
When corrupt practices are widespread in a country’s politics, state machinery, business and corporate world and the society at large, the political leadership needs to have a high level of ethics and genuine and formidable resolve to fight this evil. Bringing political parties, civil society organisations, the business and corporate community and all state organs within the ambit of a reformed Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is among the important steps in the right direction. Shying away from taking such action for vested interests despite the power granted through popular mandate is no less than condoning, if not promoting, corruption. Authority empowers individuals and entities to perpetuate and fight corruption.
Despite enjoying generous international support as one of the least developed countries during the last 50 years, and seeing a succession of regimes promising good governance, Nepal stands humiliatingly among the most corrupt countries in the world. Accordingly, it is little surprise that Nepal ranked 101st among 156 countries in the 2018 World Happiness Report. Nepal’s new powerful leadership has an opportunity and obligation to put an end to this generational embarrassment.
Wostey is a development practitioner