RABIN SAYAMI/ NAGARIK
The day the Fund for Peace announced that Nepal ranked 26th on its annual Failed States Index, the most powerful members of the executive were having a heart-to-heart session. The ministers, led by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, chided the bureaucrats for inefficiency, failure to follow directives, and therefore the nation's economic backwardness.
Madhav Nepal was particularly displeased about the lack of progress in the maintenance of shoddy roads in the capital, a highway connecting his constituency in Rautahat to his other constituency in Kathmandu, and the establishment of a republic monument, or the giant horse that could fly. "You don't even obey the orders of the prime minister," he droned on.
The bureaucrats said they were helpless. There was too much pressure from the politicians to do things they didn't want to do, they said. Repeating what they had told the Public Accounts Committee last week when asked why funds were being diverted to projects in powerful politicians' districts, they said in unison: "We are forced to."
In the wake of a string of new corruption allegations against various members of the cabinet, the meeting was, to say the least, illuminating. If those who set the agenda and those who execute them are helpless pawns in each other's schemes then no wonder we rank so high on the Failed States Index.†No wonder we are chronically behind on development.
Only last week, it was reported that illegal tree felling in 25 locations in the Tarai had left long stretches of land almost bare. All this was happening under the patronage of community forest users groups and District Forest Offices, and even the†Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation Deepak Bohara was found to be involved with the timber racket. This is the same ministry that orchestrated a Climate Summit at Everest Base Camp and has accepted a £40 million grant from DFID to tackle deforestation.
After initially denying that any of the trees had been felled illegally, the ministry has finally started disciplining those involved. So far, one officer has been suspended. Not fired. Suspended. "But we can't take action against everyone because the papers said they are guilty," said the secretary of the ministry. Fair enough. But how about for failing to do their job, which was to protect the forests that now no longer exist?
Accountability is meaningless if you have immunity. Just 0.01 per cent of civil servants were dismissed out of a total of 77,000 last year. When bureaucrats say they are helpless, are they afraid of losing their jobs or being transferred to a less lucrative department? Haven't the ministries of finance or home always been coveted places to work, as opposed to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs?
Politicians are made accountable by elections. Through their actions, or lack thereof, they have maintained a sense in the voters' minds that the electorate is incapable of bringing about change. Frank Herbert put it nicely in the Dune series: "if you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master." Our government may not seem despotic, but isn't despotism a system where people are treated as subordinates?
On Monday, both bureaucrats and politicians said they were helpless, even though they continue to collaborate efficiently when it comes to embezzlement and corruption. They meekly announced that new solutions were needed. The solution is simple: they should work for the people and the country; if they can't they need to be dismissed. If we are complaining about 'the way things are', then we cannot rule out a solution because of 'the way things are.'†