12-18 December 2014 #736

Dichotomy in development

A successful politician in Nepal is almost necessarily corrupt
Bihari K Shrestha
When Transparency International (TI) told us last week that Nepal has always been corrupt, and lately is even more corrupt most Nepalis greeted the revelation with a wide yawn. Tell us something new. It seemed it was only performing its annual ritual, although it is mandated to 'develop and promote practical tools' to reduce corruption.

Nepal went down a whopping 10 points in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) this year, although it must be said that it was being compared to the interim election government of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi. Alert readers will remember that the technocratic Regmi regime was relatively transparent.

TI’s 2014 index was such a non-news that the usually garrulous politicians had no words to express any outrage. The prime minister mumbled something about corruption not just being confined to government, while the corruption watchdog, CIAA, issued a warning that it was “soon” going to net 1,000 big fish.

The transplantation of the Westminster parliamentary model to Nepal’s feudalistic setting is at the core of rampant political corruption. Money politics determines election results, and since most politicians come from the ranks of the feudal elite who have traditionally thrived on extraction of resource from the community without any accountability, they do the same when they get to national government.

The Nepali Congress, which likes to call itself the citadel of democracy in Nepal, recently welcomed back with open arms one of its senior members convicted and jailed for corruption. Since most in the party do not have a different record, there was sympathy expressed that the man was just unlucky to get caught. For all practical purposes, therefore, a successful politician in Nepal remains necessarily a corrupt man in most cases. So no matter how many CIAA catches, there would be many more on the loose.

Besides, politicians have managed to place themselves above the law too in the meantime when it comes to corruption, especially after 2006 when Nepal turned into a three-party dictatorship. The anti-corruption watchdog has been busy lately nabbing crooks here, there and everywhere, but it doesn’t seem to be able to net a single senior politician. Not a single mastermind of national plunder has been caught, making the CIAA itself a laughing stock too Then, there is the non-government sector with an estimated population of 50,000 NGOs. While vast sums of foreign aid are being expended through them for decades, they are not required to account for lack of impact. The CIAA has precluded itself from this sector, and there is no authority to investigate the money that is siphoned through this system. Although donors’ lofty mandates focus on building Nepal’s capabilities, their employees in the field could not care less.

With malfeasance turning into an epidemic, Nepal’s economy has been coming apart, with some 1,500 young men flying out of Kathmandu everyday in search of jobs, relegating the country to survive on remittances increasingly.

However, there is a more reassuring part too to our development narrative. Despite such chronic and pervasive misrule at the macro level, Nepal has developed dramatically in two areas and earned lots of international plaudits for them. First, it had taken Nepal 30 years to destroy most of its forests beginning 1957 when it was nationalised, and only 10 for it to re-grow them beginning 1988 when the forest user groups were devolved the authority to manage the commons.

Similarly, Nepal also rose from the bottom of the heap to the top of the table in world ranking in achieving MDGs in child survival and maternal mortality reduction. This was achieved through devolution of authority to mothers’ groups to which the ubiquitous female health volunteers are accountable at the grassroots.

The secret of their success lay in the fact that when the direct beneficiaries themselves, as distinct from VDC members, participate in decision-making it ensures transparency of management and accountability of leaders. Because of these good governance conditions, resources are properly used and development becomes equitable, accelerated and sustainable with little room for misappropriation of funds.

Devolution of authority to the users themselves at the grassroots thus remains a viable antidote against corruption, particularly in rural communities. To minimise corruption where it matters most for people in this predominantly rural country, it is time that both CIAA and TI consider reorienting their mandate so that they go after policy reform in the government that would ensure the people-owned institutions themselves acting as effective bulwark against graft.

Read also:

Decentralised plunder, Editorial

Rs 6.3 billion extortion, From the Nepali Press

Watching the watchdog, Binita Dahal

Afraid of catching big fish, Muma Ram Khanal

Watching the watchdog, Kunda Dixit

Distant normalisation, Editorial

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