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Nepal's corruption: A losing battle

Anti-corruption laws do not work unless there are behavioral changes among both public servants and the general populous

Prakash Khadka, Kathmandu

Prakash Khadka, Kathmandu

Updated: November 28, 2017 05:31 AM GMT
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Nepal's corruption: A losing battle

A cart puller takes a nap in a market place during a general strike that badly affected poorer people who live hand to mouth. (Photo by AFP) 

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If you bribe them 20,000 rupees (US$192), they will exempt you tax of up to 40,000; a win-win situation for both, an agent said.

I would rather pay full tax and remain legally strong, I replied.

Okay, I am just a messenger, responded the commission agent hesitantly before slipping away.

This is something I recently experienced at one of the Nepalese Government's land revenue offices.

From personal experience it is no wonder that the ranking of my country on an international corruption index continues to deteriorate.

Such systemic corruption with impunity results in unstable government. Anti-corruption laws do not work unless they are strictly implemented and there are behavioral changes among both public servants and the general populous.

It is often not easy for members of the public trying to do the right thing and follow the law.

People seeking some sort of official approval at labyrinthine government offices can be shunted from room to room, having to almost beg for various requisite signatures.

At most offices, a citizens' charter board is placed at the gate, and help desks are located at entrances, but they are commonly not manned.

When staff do give instructions, in many cases they do not speak clearly and information provided is convoluted and confusing.

You feel left with no other option than to find a middleman or a broker.

You pay the broker a handsome amount because he knows all the procedures and has good relations with the bureaucrats relevant to your request.

And the agent knows how to share his commission with others involved or to negotiate with clients if officials make higher payment demands.

Mostly when you pay under-the-table, officials don't even have to formally demand their cut.

A streamlined hierarchical process automatically delivers it.

At myriad levels, little is spared from abuse of authority in both the public and private sectors.

Nepotism, favoritism and bribery all play a role.

If we go through the past six years' Corruption Perceptions Index reports by Transparency International, Nepal has been ranked as between the 116th and 154th most corrupt country in the world.  

In its report of 2015-16, Nepal's Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) cited more than 24,600 corruption-related complaints, with the majority in the education sector.

Fake educational qualifications create more problems for society down the line.

Other areas of the bureaucracy most complained about included local government, land revenue, health and home affairs as well as the forestry department.

Forged documentation is rampant, including of citizenship cards.

There have even been problems within the CIAA, the constitutionally established anti-corruption agency.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court sacked Lokman Singh Karki after more than three years as its chairman after he was found guilty of suppressing opponents as a member of a previous government. 

One problem is that members of the CIAA are appointed along politically partisan lines.

So, it is perhaps not surprising that this body has mostly tacked the 'smaller fish' involved in corruption rather than cases involving abuse at the highest levels of government.

There can also be a backlash if the judiciary challenges the status quo.

Members of the ruling parties in parliament suspended Nepal's first female chief justice, Sushila Karki, after an impeachment motion was filed against her. 

According to data from Nepal's Office of the Auditor General, in the fiscal year 2016/17 financial irregularities constituted 6.86 percent of Nepal's audited annual budget.

Public servants can pay for positions or transfers and wealthy people can make donations to major political parties to secure endorsement for elected office.

Recently there was media coverage about convicted criminals, including an alleged mafia-style figure, being nominated by political parties for upcoming provincial elections. 

A losing battle  

It has been more than a decade since 'moral education' was removed as a subject in Nepal's schools.

Not only are schools failing to develop codes of behavior needed to stem corruption, the education system itself has been corrupted.

International pressure achieves little in isolation.

Nepal is a party to the United Nation's Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

But that is of scant use if its provisions are not observed

It is only honest public servants and members of the public who have the potential to turn things around by demanding enforcement of existing anti-corruption laws. 

Prakash Khadka is a peace and human rights activist as well as the Nepal representative of Pax Romana, the international Catholic movement for intellectual and cultural affairs.

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