Political Corruption : Stumbling Road Block to Economic Development
A cursory reading of various statistics in international publications Nepal’s standing appears rather disappointing and frustrating. This dismal picture of a very proud nation is humiliating for People of Nepal. This does not elevate us on a high moral ground at global stage despite successive political transformations which occurred in past decades Political transformation has resulted in continued political, social instability with misplaced economic priorities leaving behind the majority of nation’s population below the margins of subsistence poverty. Economic prosperity should have been the principal concern of all politicians and citizens, irrespective of party affiliation, economic philosophy, friendship with North and South of the border or West.
Nepal is the second poorest country after Afghanistan in Asia and our GDP stands only slightly higher than of war-torn Afghanistan. Nepal is close to Afghanistan in Corruption Perception Index. Likewise, in doing business, Global Competition Index ranks us near the bottom of the scale. Pick any statistics at the international level or within SAARC and ASEAN groupings we will realize our international standing. During the past decades, many countries advanced economically from the liberalization of global economies. Two of our giant neighbours made remarkable economic successes and have now become dominating economic powerhouses in the world. Both, China and India, are projected to dominate economically this Century, and perhaps, this would also be accompanied by stronger military muscles influencing global events and agenda. Just imagine, over the last three decades how communist China could uplift nearly 800 million people out of abject poverty level while wisely tapping on the global economic trends unleashed by economic liberalization. This massive transformation is an unprecedented in the economic history of the entire human civilization. India, followed the trend, albeit reluctantly due to political meddling, and presently making steady progress. What happened in Nepal is anybody’s guess and it may be a hot subject of fierce debate? The truth, however, is we did not even notice what was happening around us as if we were in a deep coma.
We have missed the fast lanes of economic liberalization train while we were dancing in the euphoria of political elixir emanating from the glorification of democracy and republicanism as if it’s the only panacea of all political, social and economic malaise. It does not seem to be the case even after fifteen years of proclaimed democracy, although it exists on paper only for the best use of a handful of political party personalities, which now resembles like a cartel of political oligarchs. Country’s deepening crises is now like a cobweb of communal/racial divide, religious tensions, linguistic and geographical biases on the one side and, while on the other side, rising perception of state sponsored corruption, poor governance, nepotism, political impunity, misuse of treasury funds and sheer inability to focus on innovative measures for alleviating sufferings of victims of natural calamities. National institutions are also being weakened through political interventions. The entire nation is rejuvenating conundrum of China/India syndrome. The rise of nationalism, overly played political card, for political power game is seemingly stuck with incurable India/China malaise. This is one of the consequences of compartmentalized national physic. Too much of this may turn into cancer at some point in time in future, a stumbling road block to economic prosperity.
During the last decade very little economic progress achieved against the rising expectations of a dynamic young generation (represents nearly half of population) who had expected a lot more from regime changes at the top after the popular movements and with the abolition of the monarchy. However, a country is in the firm grip of power-hungry and incapable leaders (elected and selected) who have failed to unite as one people of one peaceful cohesive nation and then embarking on economic Marshall Plan. Instead, the usual old ‘divide and rule’ mantra is in vogue and it continues to play a game of musical chair of political leaders. This has given birth of a new notion of ‘Democracy’ for it is ‘Party-o-Crazy” where the only political party and members are part of the system. I guess, why care the rest? Likewise, in place of ‘Republic,” it is an affair of “Rip-the-Public” for lack of inclusiveness of minorities and marginalized citizens, and those who have no party affiliation are out of decision-making process and not in the loop. Go no further; see the progress made, catalogue performance deliveries on governments’ commitments and support provided, to-date, to the survivors of the earthquakes and flood victims, particularly outside capital region. Doesn’t this amply exemplify firmly established mindset, practice and traits? The entire political system and bureaucracy are trapped in a ‘vicious-circle of political corruption’ and economic progress is stalled.
Without reforming political parties and their functioning corruption is unlikely to disappear from Nepal anytime soon. Legislative and executive branches are headed by politicians and so long as they are involved, directly or indirectly, in corrupt practices corruption will not be eliminated from the system. It has become like a country's cancer, un-treatable in its current state of health. It can be addressed positively if People of Nepal want meaningful reform and campaign to contain this malaise. Good examples are found around the world where politicians take politics as a vocation to serve the nation as a national duty, not as a career and amassing personal wealth. Just see Singapore, Canada, Nordics, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and several other economically advanced countries. It may be a tall order to reach that level but we can try instituting some tough regulations regulating the conduct of Members of Parliament so that civic norms will be restored safeguarding the essence of this Democratic Republic nation. Singapore, was just a backwater port in the mid-60s, then a third-grade third world town when it separated from Malay Peninsula some sixty years ago. In spite of numerous political hiccups, difficulties and with really no internal economic drivers and resources this city state became one of the best countries in the world, and still, it is. Success is attributed to hard work, unwavering determination and visionary but uncorrupt leadership, though seemingly autocratic in the Western eyes, resulting in the creation of a corruption-free country run by meritocratic political elites and bureaucracy. What shall we dream for Nepal where thinking seems to have been compartmentalized and time is frozen?
(Kedar Neupane, author, is a retired International employee of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who has served, for over three decades, in several countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. He lives in Switzerland and can be reached by email: Neupanek1950@gmail.com)