Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Graft busters


What better topic to discuss now than graft, especially as the former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and his team have just been acquitted of giving away cash to supporters at Dasain. Does this mean they've got a clean chit?

Governments the world over, especially democratic countries, have used graft charges to nail opponents. Classic cases of South Korea, Japan and of course India show how showcase corruption trials are done live on tv. Autocracies, too, it seems use corruption charges to sideline opponents succumbing to the temptation of launching political witch-hunts disguised as corruption control.

In fact, it is easier because the accused doesn't have the usual recourse to rule of law when media functions under state diktat. Pakistan has examples of how a state's relief fund might be acceptable if it intends to use it but is unacceptable if its opponents do the same.

This is just drawing parallels between countries where different forms of regime exist. Surely, in a pluralistic democratic set up, graft is more democratic too as the trickle down effect reaches the village political levels. In the past decade-and-a-half of plural democracy, we found more grassroots level politicos in graft scandals than in earlier regimes when it was relegated to the upper echelons.

This Beed has always been harping about making political donations legit in order to ensure that there is little incentive for people to risk getting involved in corrupt practices. Every country perhaps has its own anti-corruption watchdog and our own CIAA has been found to have quite a few of its teeth missing. With a larger high-level-outside-the-pyramid body in place to even act as a watchdog on the watchdog body, the current state of dealing with graft is still unpredictable. While government servants languish in reserve pools anticipating some action, either positive or negative against them, no one is sure about the right definition of graft.

In times of conflict, graft becomes even more difficult to understand as security expenditure and actions necessitate decisions in closed rooms that are immediately effectuated. This makes analysing the expenditure of the state or various governmental and non-governmental organisations that proclaim to be helping conflict mitigation, management and elimination rather difficult. With the media cautiously on tiptoe, journalists have to be careful about what they report so the debate on graft cannot fully surface either.

There is a very thin dividing line in developing societies like ours between legit activities and graft. The onus lies with the state whose responsibility it is to devise a mechanism where graft policies are equitable and not biased towards a certain section of the society. The ruling elite always have more opportunities for corruption than the opposition, that is why self regulation must be strongly in place. Lee Kwan Yew has set many examples and there are lessons to be learnt from his experiences in dealing with graft in Singapore. But let's not use the Singapore model of autocracy as an excuse for corruption control. You can never replace rule of law with rule of Lee.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)