| July 19, 2019

Right to wrong

Corruption in Nepal
The annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published by the Berlin-based Transparency International, a global anti-corruption watchdog, is the most trusted barometer of corruption around the world. Year after year, it has ranked Nepal as being perceived by its citizens, largely based on their personal experience, as one of the most corrupt countries. In the latest index for 2015, of the 167 countries surveyed, only 37 countries were thought of as more corrupt than Nepal by their respective citizens. This does not reflect well on Nepal’s image. But just because a country slips down the CPI does not necessary mean it is getting more corrupt. It could be the opposite. Maybe more and more people feel this way since the media these days extensively reports on official corruption. Such exposure in turn makes government officials wary of engaging in hanky-panky. So, maybe, there has not been an increase in corruption but rather an uptick in media’s coverage of it. But even if this is true of other countries, it’s probably not true in our case. At least a part of Nepali people’s response in such surveys is based on their experience in dealing with dishonest government officials. Also, even the most egregiously corrupt people in Nepal seldom get punished.

Former All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) chairman Ganesh Thapa was accused of embezzling around £4m and implicated in bribery by FIFA. But although he lost his post as ANFA chief, RPP-Nepal later nominated him as a lawmaker under the party’s proportional representation quota. Few voices were raised in protest. Likewise, Nepali Congress leader Khum Bahadur Khadka, who was convicted in a corruption case by the Supreme Court, polled the second highest number of votes in the recent election for the party’s Central Working Committee. These were political appointments. But where do people seek recourse when even the judiciary is thought of as corrupt and opaque? Nepali judiciary regularly polls as one of the most corrupt state entities in the annual CPI. But instead of making it more transparent, the government seems intent on feeding the public perception of a corrupt judiciary. The government has just registered a bill in parliament that seeks to give continuity to the existing provision of keeping the property details of judges a secret. The bill says members of the Judicial Council and other judges should furnish their property details to the council within 60 days of the end of every fiscal year. However, such property details will not be available to the public. No good reason has been furnished on why the property details of judges, who by necessity have to be impeccably clean, have to be kept under wraps.  

The immunity against prosecution the rich and the powerful enjoy in Nepal does not sit well with the image of a republican Nepal that is now wholly governed by people’s chosen representatives. It shows how self-serving our public office holders have become in the name of ruling and governing on people’s behalf. Transparency and accountability are two indispensible hallmarks of a functioning democracy. Otherwise, with the field tilted in favor of a handful of elites, the polity soon turns into a kleptocracy. This in turn increases inequalities and fuels social unrest. So long as we continue to socially sanction and reward the corrupt, we will never be able to establish the kind of inclusive and progressive society that people had envisioned when hundreds of thousands of them took to the streets during the second Jana Andolan in 2006.