13-19 December 2013 #685

Fighting corruption

Shreekamal Dwivedi, 9 December, Setopati

Every year on 9 December thousands of people around the world take to the streets chanting anti-graft slogans to mark the International Day against Corruption. But for a country like Nepal where corruption is deeply entrenched, it will take much more than slogans and speeches to rid our system of this practice.

The belief that it’s not wrong to abuse power and authority for personal gain lies at the core of corruption. And we have no one but ourselves to blame. When our loved ones are able to bend rules for personal gains, we pat them on the back. But if we see others doing the same, we immediately point fingers at them.

People in my neighbourhood boast of how they ‘settled’ a deal with local officials in return for regular water supply. It is unfortunate that we take pride in acquiring a larger share of government services through malfeasance. At the same time, we look down on honest people who refuse to abuse their authority for personal benefit.

Taking and giving petty bribes at government offices to get things done is the most rampant form of bribery. However, the more potent ones aren’t easily visible because they take place at the policy-making level among powerful individuals who bleed the state treasury dry by using public fund for personal use. One slight change in policy can lead to billions in windfall. Officials use their influence to land lucrative government contracts and in return, they use low quality products and come up with excuses to delay work, so that the money keeps rolling in. Tax evasion, which costs the country millions in revenue, is one such kind of corruption that a common man fails to notice.

But it is the corruption within politics that has the most severe consequences on the country and its people. Laws are bent and broken to benefit the powerful and rich. Billions are embezzled and nothing is done about it because these people enjoy political protection. Those with high connections find ways to lease public properties for long periods at unbelievably low prices. They change the designs and capacity of large hydropower projects which further hurt our already faltering economy.

Corruption at all levels in the state mechanism threatens to weaken the system that is supposed to monitor irregularities. A country cannot head towards development when corruption threatens the very foundation of nation building. Strong anti-graft laws alone won’t solve the problem. Unless corruption is considered socially unacceptable, it will be impossible to stop the epidemic.

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