Nepal has moved from an unstable to a stable government and then again to an unstable government. During this period, unstable governance continued owing to the apparent conflict of interest in the public institutions.
A conflict of interest involves a conflict between the public duty and the private interest of a public official, in which the official’s private-capacity interest could improperly influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities. It’s the abuse of political and administrative power potentially leading to corruption.
There are several examples of conflicts of interest in present Nepal including the appointments of businesspersons or financers (bank owners, school operators, hospital managers, contractors in key public posts and corresponding changes in policies and contracts that benefit their business; collusion within and between public officials, and service providers or service seekers.
Even the constitutional Development Fund has created the conflict of interest as it violated the key democratic principle of separation of power by giving the executive function of budget execution on the legislature. How does the government set up a monitoring mechanism and internal audit of such a loosely managed fund, which is not a part of a structured fund-flow mechanism?
Now the question is: can public officials prevent conflict of interest given the fact that all public officials have private interests of some kind in their capacity as private citizens? Is it even possible in a country where there is no mechanism to regulate and channel political financing, and there is a lack of political discipline? How is it likely in a power-based society like ours with nepotism, favoritism, or various forms of gifts and benefits?
The answer is YES, but there are challenges. Pursuit to lessons and good practices, public institutions can and should establish policies and procedures to identify, monitor, and manage conflicts of interest. It’s also important to improve the budgetary process, creating transparency and openness in government spending, cutting bureaucratic red tape, and strengthening performance audits to minimize opportunities for corruption.
There is a need to study political appointments and procurement decisions from the perspective of conflict of interest, and raise public awareness for effective identification of potential conflict of interest and management. We need to empower ordinary citizens so that they can ask the right questions to the duty bearers and elected officials demanding transparency and accountability in political appointments, public procurement, and pollical party financing.
We need a cultural change in public conduct where youth can play a change-making role. Further, timely information disclosure and functioning grievance response mechanisms will help address conflict of interest.
Nepal’s development is dependent on good governance at all levels of government. Without political will and commitment, the continuing conflict of interest will put democratic gainsand development at risk.
Preventing conflict of interest is self-discipline. The first step in bringing an end to the conflict of interest starts with you; comply with the code of conduct, obey the policy and procedure about conflict of interest and encourage those around you to do the same.
Author: Dr. Prabin Manandhar is an expert in international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Nepal. He is the Former Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at Kathmandu University. The opinions are of his own and not that of his employer. He can be reached at email@example.com