Power, Accountability and Corruption


July 25, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No.-3 July 22-2011 (Shrawan 06,2068)<BR>

By Nepal is at an important crossroads. Or, rather, it has been lingering there for some time now. The right way to go is obvious and presents itself as a very attractive option that no one can ignore. Write a new constitution, free the country from political ambiguity and move towards a promising future with a democratically elected government committed to the country’s development. Yet, the CA is still not in gear. Puzzling as it is, the impasse is not all that difficult to explain. The key is putting things into context by analyzing political affairs as a process. In the light of this, the title of this article serves to illustrate the path Nepali politics has taken, and this path leads only further into darkness. Consolidation of power by a core group of politicians has led to a lack of accountability, which has ultimately given rise to corruption.

Worst of all, these have now become so entrenched in politics that it resembles a nasty disease that is mighty difficult to get rid of. Recovery is possible, but it will take lots of time and requires a solid commitment by the Nepali polity.

*Power * has been elusive for some political parties, but now that they have found their place in the mainstream politics, they are trying their best to retain it. In fact these efforts are so pronounced that the political process has come to a standstill where parties are trying to work out who is going to stay in power and who is going to go. Perhaps we shouldn’t blame the politicians for this. It is nothing other than human nature to cling onto the slightest hint of power. History is full of tales about princes who kill their brothers and even fathers, so a bit of push-and-shove to decide who is going to lead a political party, or the government for that matter, should not be all that surprising. What is alarming, however, is thaT politicians seem to have found a most unscrupulous way of staying in the spotlight and further consolidating their standing by way of delaying any sort of progress that may be made towards the new constitution and future elections. The benefits of staying in power in the current unstable setting seem to be greater than being part of a political process en route to a better Nepal. *Accountability,* as a result of the way things are working at the moment, has almost completely eroded. The following statement might be a tough one to swallow, but at the moment there is no real democracy to be spoken of in Nepal. There have been no local elections since 2002, and the CA members have far overstayed their time in office.

The crucial point is that all of this is happening when almost everyone in the country is asking for a new government, stability and ultimately a constitution to pave the way for further progress. It is safe to say that the politicians have completely lost touch with the public and their interests, as they divert attention from more pressing issues such as development and financial recovery. As the Head of Office for the UK Department for International Development in Nepal Sarah Sanyahumbi, whose term very recently came to an end, puts it, politicians are neither focused on nor committed to development, in an environment characterised by a serious lack of leadership and accountability. Of course in the absence of democratic elections or any sort of threat to their standing, politicians feel free to neglect public needs and demands. In fact, they are in a pursuit to improve their personal fortunes with taxpayers’ money as well as funding from foreign donors. Not only is this detrimental to their own reputation within the country, which doesn’t seem to matter that much, but it also hurts Nepal’s credibility as a reliable recipient of aid.

*Corruption, * as mentioned earlier,* *is one of the benefits of staying in power and denotes perhaps the latest stage in the decadence of Nepali politics. According to the CIAA Joint Secretary and Spokesperson Ishwori Paudyal, “politics + crime + corruption” has become a way of life and Nepali politicians, especially ones in high-level positions, are “very interested and involved” in corruption and related activities. In fact, corruption is so ubiquitous and impunity has become so standard that the DFID, amongst other international donor organizations, refuses to put funds into the hands of government bodies unless they can have their own personnel overseeing the procurement operations. But even though corruption seems to have penetrated every level of politics, the CIAA signifies a commitment to putting an end to corruption. Or so it seems. Upon closer examination, it is revealed that the establishment of the CIAA was merely an act of lip service. First of all, it is limited to investigating only those who hold public posts, i.e. ministers and bureaucrats. This excludes party leaders and CA members who, according to Paudyal, undertake the most substantial corruption activities. In fact, he says, “Without controlling corruption at the policy level, it is impossible to eradicate any other form of corruption.” But without the authority to do so, the CIAA’s hands are tied. And perhaps the most important factor limiting the CIAA is the fact that it is the very politicians, whom the CIAA would like to see prosecuted are the ones who have the ultimate power over its organisational structure. According to the interim constitution, the CIAA is meant to have a Chief Commissioner, but this post has been unoccupied for the past five years. And whose duty is it to appoint someone to this post? It is none other than the government, which simply isn’t interested in strengthening an organisation that can potentially bring so much trouble upon its members.

Nepal is in a precarious situation where power, politics and corruption are dangerously entangled. Both my contacts expressed a possibility for recovery, but warned that there is a need for an unwaveringly strong stance against corruption from the government itself. But whether this will be possible is almost impossible to know, as it is far too difficult to predict what is going to happen in the CA to begin with. My interview with Paudyal ended with him mentioning the ‘inverted tree’ approach, where we need to start by dealing with what is at the root of the problem. Perhaps that really is what has to be done. Removing the small group of powerful politicians who have come to dominate politics in their own will, so that Nepal has the chance of having a healthy future.
Troy Edige from U.K.

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