Nepali Times
Remember Lauda?


Or we need to find alternative sources of political funding.

he national fixation with finding the best way of fostering peace and fragmenting land should not be allowed to obscure what could become the principal threat to our multiparty polity. RNAC's flight to disenchantment has overcome a major pocket of political turbulence after the Nepali Congress and the UML burned their fingers trying to collar each other for being neck-deep in corruption. By returning the Lauda and China Southwest aircraft and regionalising its operations amid the heat, RNAC may finally have begun to assert the corporate autonomy it has enjoyed on paper.

Ordinarily, this would have been cause for comfort. Irrespective of the party in power, the national flag carrier was among the first destinations of every incoming cabinet. Contrary to conventional wisdom, political interference in RNAC did not begin with Girija Prasad Koirala's first government. It's just that the restoration of organised politics made it difficult for agents of omission and commission to conceal themselves from public scrutiny.

RNAC's decision to pull out of the European sector may be good economics, but it is bad politics. Our leaders, who are expected to adhere to the pluralistic tenets of the US constitution without $25,000-a-plate dinners, found in aircraft leases a lucrative source of funding. That's why they ignored the barks of watchdogs likes the Commission of Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the olfactory alertness of nosy reporters as long as they could.

Ultimately, the kind of headlines Lauda Air made in Nepal was enough to chase air agents away. The political fallout? An abundant source of money carefully logged to flying hours and pegged to the day's foreign exchange rate has dried up. To be sure, the "people's war" has raised the prospect of another attractive source of cash through agents for arms manufacturers. With the Maoists and the government engaged in a relentless race to augment their arsenals even during their truce, commissions can be expected to pour in in copious quantities. However, you do have to factor in the possibility of peace talks succeeding, or, at least, the eventuality of belligerents becoming tired of shooting at each other. So this might not be a bad time to be thinking about ways of finding more secure sources of political funding.

The process can begin from the prime minister's official residence. The Baluwatar guestroom could be rented out for Rs 25,000 a night to those who can afford proximity to power. Throw in a couple of thousand more and you can even join the head of government for his working breakfast on forging the compromise of the day. The Nepali Congress could do a couple of things, such as organising camps for sister parties around the world on the cycle of uniting for democracy, fighting for its spoils and pretending to be on the verge of a split before re-adjusting internal power equations. The NC central office could organise a permanent exhibition portraying the party's progression from failed armed struggles to an aborted civil disobedience programme to the semi-peaceful popular mobilisation that eventually helped restore multiparty democracy.

The UML could join hands with other communist parties to give a crash course on how the Sino-Soviet split smashed Nepal's proletariat into smithereens, complete with pictorial essays on Puspa Lal's trail-blazing contributions to the construction of Prachanda's path.

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party could offer daylong seminars on the Theory of Perpetual Political Fusion and Fission. Sessions could be illustrated with case studies on how once-ruthless votaries of partylessness can manage to win votes in multiparty elections.

As an incentive, parliament could pass legislation exempting parties from disclosure rules on such income. In order to avoid charges of discrimination, the state could set up a national fund to finance the smaller political groups. The fund could raise money by, among other things, imposing a mandatory democracy surcharge at the airport and border points on all visitors entering on a valid visa or ID.

From the private sector, tour operators could launch special packages for adventure seekers, such as a 30-minute car ride across town during bandhs. Points could be awarded for the number of projectiles dodged, with occupants of the least damaged car getting vouchers for a Machhapuchre expedition redeemable within the first month after the mountain is opened to climbing. A portion of tourism revenues could be apportioned to political parties in inverse proportion to their role in instigating hotel strikes.

In terms of external resource mobilisation, donor governments should be encouraged to become more generous in the cause of saving democracy. Since they already influence our politics through the tiniest of micro-credit projects, they might as well become more active in directly funding political parties. The Bretton Woods institutions, for instance, could design a basket fund that would support parties by calculating the percentage of popular votes they received in the last election weighted with their voting record on legislation facilitating structural adjustment programmes.

Electoral laws should be amended to ease the flow of direct foreign political investment. This way, donor governments, agencies and consortiums could provide matching grants to candidates whose campaign pledges conform to their respective philosophies.

For a nation too rich to qualify for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative but too poor to afford frequent elections-general, mid-term, local and intra-party-the task of plugging the funding gap created by RNAC's cancellation of aircraft leases requires the same urgency as that of acquiring World Trade Organisation membership.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)