Nepali Times
Greed, Inc.


Five years ago, no one would have believed that a highflying corporate giant like Enron could come to such an ignominious end. Watching Enron\'s ex-CEO Kenneth Lay walking to his trial in handcuffs reminded many in South Asia how close we came to being swindled by this guy.

After having secured a lucrative contract to sell energy from its Dhabol Power Plant to the Maharastra State Electricity Board, the company, promising hydro bonanzas came north to Nepal. It sought a license to survey the 10,800 MW Karnali Chisapani Hydropower Project, build it, and export power to Xian in China. Nepal\'s movers and shakers including politicians of the right, the left and the centre, fell for it hook, line and sinker.

A small group of Nepali academics, activists and reporters voiced serious caution about Enron trying to pull a fast one. They argued that the company had not built a single hydropower plant and that giving it a \'hunting license\' was risky business. The activists were branded "anti-democratic" and "anti-developmental". Leading from the front then was Sher Bahadur Deuba just into his first stint as prime minister. Even the communists spoke in favour of Enron in parliament.

Fortunately for Nepal, Enron lost interest and a couple of years later became bankrupt and ceased to exit. Will Enron\'s overseas racketeering be used in the prosecution of Kenneth Lay? Unlikely. The US Attorney General\'s office, civil society groups and conscious US citizens seem unaware of Enron\'s shenanigans abroad. Nevertheless, this issue is critical as the US struggles to engage the rest of the world. America\'s prosperity is more dependent on fossil energy than ever before.

Energy has become the one of the most necessary factors for Americans to be at peace with themselves. Consequently, assured supply is sought from the Persian Gulf region even if it means a violent regime change on the pretext that its tyrants are developing nasty weapons.

Historically, American expansion came in the form of colonisation of lands in the frontier regions of the American Midwest. Egalitarian native Americans did not understand the white man\'s individualism and motives for profit. They paid a heavy price as America powered its economy by building dams and reservoirs. Only some were compensated, not because of compassion of the state or market but because confrontational social auditors fought to ensure that justice was done.

But these civic pillars of American democracy remained silent while the Enron juggernaut violated American laws and values. This amnesia was a result of the triumphalism that followed the demise of the former Soviet Union, collapse of the Berlin Wall and rise of the bubble. This period saw privatisation without competition being pushed as the new global ideology. The free market fosters efficiency, creativity and innovation. But without the
safeguards of societal regulation, the result can be the kind of swindling epitomised by the Enrons of corporate America.

Enron\'s crooked intent touched Nepal too. While rural Nepal waited for Kathmandu to be sensitive to its pressing needs, political leaders of all shades vied with each other to please Enron. Foreign profiteers got their attention while Nepalis back in their constituencies did not. The result: a further erosion of trust.

Will Ken Lay go behind bars for his company\'s fraud? Logic says he should, but that is for the US courts to decide. The company\'s former chief accountant is already behind bars. Citizen-based groups and social auditors in the US need to reinvent civic confrontation to keep watch on corporate racketeering also globally by building transnational alliances.

The good news is that some American values like freedom, independence, democracy and civil liberties are also cherished elsewhere.

Water management analyst Ajaya Dixit edits the journal Water Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)