Monday, March 1, 2010

Loot Continues Unabated

Life in Nepal may be tough for hardworking people that are struggling to make ends meet but for politicians in general, and ministers in particular, life and luck can’t get any better. Politicians to a large extent are a dishonest lot, especially when it comes to making money, and that is true everywhere. The only difference is that some make money more smartly whereas others are too na├»ve to understand the repercussions of blatant corruption.

Unlike in poor developing countries like ours with weak institutions, in well-established Western democracies with strong institutions, educated electorates and a vigilant media, politicians have limited opportunity to misuse their position for financial gains. The chances of getting caught or voted out after being exposed make it hard for them to engage in shameless corruption like the one that Ram Chandra Kushwaha was involved in.But this is Nepal, so the level to which our politicians stoop to make money through illegal means should not be equated with what happens in most other countries. In order to experience the joy of freedom that is there in the kind of corruption that Kushwaha engaged himself in or Sujata Koirala wants to experience through the passport deal, you have to be in Nepal.

What Kushwaha did is nothing new in Nepal and everyone knows that. This is not the first time it has happened and will not be the last time either. Corruption in teacher appointments has become a regular phenomenon and will not stop with Kushwaha’s infamous exit. Kushwaha, as a matter of fact, is a small fish in the water that is infested with sharks such as Sujata. Look at the scale of corruption they get implicated for. It is altogether a different thing that they never get indicted because of the dysfunctional anti-corruption agency and judiciary, whose pitiful status to a large extent is a direct result of political interference.The latest feather in Sujata’s corrupt hat might well be the passport deal with the Indian Security Printers (ISP), which she actually may be able to pull off, given the fact that the Madhav Kumar Nepal’s government’s fate to a great extent rests on Girija Prasad Koirala’s support and India’s “goodwill”. Madhav Nepal, who is enjoying the power without having to deliver, is well aware of the rewards that come with serving India’s interest. So, personally, I would not be surprised, if the Indian company finally gets the contract.

To ordinary citizens, it simply does not make sense why Sujata does not want to accept cheaper deals that other firms are offering. But think about it from Sujata’s point of view. For her, it makes a heck of a sense! Besides the financial benefits, she is well aware of the brownie points she will be scoring by giving the contract to ISP. Who says Sujata does not have political acumen?Amidst the gloom, the role of the media in exposing corrupt politicians is praiseworthy. In a country where the power of the corruption-controlling institutions have been gutted through political manipulation and where some 70 incumbent judges across the country have been accused of irregularities, the media’s role is not only necessary but also essential. Only then will we be able to save Nepal from becoming Afghanistan, which is the only country in South Asia that is more corrupt than Nepal according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

For some, political corruption may be something that is not as bothersome as the deteriorating law and order situation in the country. But, if you look at the knocking effects of political corruption, it becomes pretty evident that corrupt societies are certain to be weak in maintaining law and order, have corrupt judiciary, low level of economic development, and bad governance. For example, look at where Philippines, which was once Asia’s second-richest country – only behind Japan – is now as a result of perpetual political corruption. Political corruption is dangerous because it trickles down to common people, and as a result, becomes acceptable in the society. Still wonder why Nepal has been consistently slipping in the Transparency International’s corruption index year after year?

Corruption destroys a nation both politically and financially by decreasing the efficiency of public spending, reducing budget revenues, raising the budget deficit, hindering foreign direct investment, reducing the effectiveness of the use of aid, dissipating political legitimacy, and hindering democratic development. So, as corruption flourishes, which has been the case for a while now, the chances are that we will end up becoming poorer and less democratic.

The ever flexible and indicator-less terms of reference of building “New Nepal” is slowly but surely turning the country into a dysfunctional state from where flight of both human and financial capital is expected to gain even more momentum in future. With social capital in tatters because of ethnic polarization, the pre-requisites to building a prosperous Nepal is simply not there at this point in time. But reversing the tide is not impossible at all. There are many countries around the world, Rwanda being one, that have bounced back from the brink of collapse. Rwanda, which was not very long ago written off as a basket case, is now ranked as one of the top reformers in the latest Doing Business report. Things can be turned around.

By recalling Kushwaha from the cabinet, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party has demonstrated a fair sense of responsibility, which is quite frankly, unprecedented in Nepali politics. It remains to be seen for how long Sujata will be able to have a field day before she is held accountable and for how long Ram Chandra Poudel and others will shamelessly live with her nonsense out of fear of retaliation from her octogenarian father.

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