10-16 June 2016 #812

Fear and loathing

A parallel power centre is pushing the country towards a finish line that will finish us
Bidushi Dhungel

Last week, the physician-crusader Govinda KC wrote an op-ed in Kantipur, later translated into English and published in the online edition of this newspaper and also in Setopati, on corruption in Nepal’s medical sector.

The good doctor discussed how the health ‘industry’ and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) work hand in glove. The country’s governance structure and institutions are in a downward spiral due to corruption, but centralised parallel power in the unelected and unaccountable body to curb corruption has weakened our scope for growth and progress.

When the CIAA was established by the 1990 constitution, there was public enthusiasm that it might provide the extra check and balance needed to force leaders and civil servants to be accountable. Under the leadership of Suryanath Upadhyay, the CIAA seemed to be living up to its promise. But by the time his stint came to a close, the public was already awash with scepticism.

When it started investigating and implicating only Nepali Congress leaders, it became glaringly obvious that leaders of the other political parties, the UML in particular, were being spared. It was evident that the CIAA was not going to be able to distance itself from the graft it was set up to curb. Its ability to work independently, and more importantly in the interest of the people, was thwarted from the early days of its establishment because political parties were never able to agree on its membership.

But the real danger the CIAA posed to Nepal’s democracy emerged in 2013 with the appointment of its new head. There was a small group of protesters, and far too much apathy from most else. It was no longer about party vendetta, and the scope for hunting narrowed to the individual and his posse. The menace arose suddenly and has since worked relentlessly to shatter the principles of a free and democratic society. Since the CIAA’s chief took the throne, the country’s downward spiral that Govinda KC so aptly described has dangerously shifted gears and we are now collectively racing towards a finish line that may finish us.

People do realise what is happening, but there is fear everywhere. Bureaucrats are so afraid of the CIAA that they do not even perform wedding ceremonies for their sons and daughters. In January when the CIAA took over the Tribhuvan International Airport, bureaucrats were so fearful of being targeted that they took months off. The word in the street was that the corruption watchdog’s interest in the airport had more to do with personal imports... I mean interests.

As the rule of law is overtly undermined, few lawyers dare speak out. Journalists know, perhaps more than most, and yet remain quiet. How can they write and speak of what they know?: tomorrow, their family members may be investigated for amassing disproportionate assets. And if they can’t find proof, they’ll cite a shoe purchase 10 years ago that doesn’t have a VAT bill.  

The nexus between the political, bureaucratic and business elite has never been so emboldened. When the three pillars of society work hand in glove in a wicked cult, and the kingmaker of them all heads the only body that could potentially hold them to account, the damage is near-irreparable.

That is what hampers development and progress in real, implicit and tangible terms. The nexus even breeds a dangerous mentality among young professionals. Forget about being a doctor, engineer or entrepreneur, the only way to get ahead in this country is by membership in this greedy cult of power brokers where there is only one rule: profit, by any means necessary.  

Read also:

A parallel government, Govinda KC

Afraid of catching big fish, Mumaram Khanal

Lok in the time of Loktantra, Bidushi Dhungel

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