Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Real Thoughts on Real Corruption

blogdai can't resist reprinting this article. This is good stuff. It is that rare article where someone actually applies real THOUGHT to a problem. Mr. Basnyat is the future of Nepal. Without ideas like this coming from Nepal's best and brightest minds, Nepal will be finished. I'll contact Mr. Basnyat and see if he'd be willing to write another article just for us. In the meantime, I won't be able to keep from commenting (in blue) after some of these thoughts; after all, we've said a lot of this stuff here at blogdai over the past year. -=BD


By Nischal M. S. Basnyat

“It is not that Nepal didn’t have the money,” said the young UNDP officer with a sinister sneer “Why do you think your leaders ride fat cars and walk on Persian carpets?” In fact, the only economic Index we seem to be ascending is the Corruption Perceptions Index commissioned annually by Transparency International. Ranked as the 47th most corrupt country on earth by 2005, Nepal enjoys the prestigious position of being more corrupt than historically corruption-ridden nations like Malawi and Libya.

So, whom do we blame for the decades of unprecedented corruption? Of course our initial finger pointing goes towards our leaders, and rightly so. Our philanthropic leaders have set an example for all charity workers worldwide; successfully dividing up the nation’s scarce riches, not only among themselves but to family members and friends alike. Domestic and foreign policy in the country lacked innovation because our judicious heads of state were busy spending all their creative input in managing their abundance of cash. Some hid it in their walls, some spent it on their daughters’ lavish weddings, some used it to buy apartments outside the country and of course some hid it in their water tanks. Although such dim-witted ones might have been exposed, the cunning, I’m sure, still hold large foreign bank accounts, from Indian banks to the impenetrable Swiss. (No favorites here. This problem affects both royal and SPA governments alike. It will require some cultural re-thinking and a sea change before the situation improves. Remember, we live just north of Baksheesh-Central)

Who could forget the nepotism? Army generals started promoting cousins and started sending the rest towards Maoist territory, ministers started appointing their relatives as ambassadors and national laws were twisted to favor a family member’s promotion in the government. All-in-all Nepal became a massive network of family run businesses. As the poor lay starving, even those that had worked so hard to get into power soon forgot their national duties.

So, how do we eradicate this crippling social illness? Many say that in the end it lies in the hands of our leaders and that their honesty and dedication decides the fate of the nation. True, yet how long are we willing to wait for the next Mahatma Gandhi or our very own Nelson Mandela? From ministers asking for ten crores to clerks asking for ten rupees, the culture of corruption has become deep-rooted in our society. Although every nation, from the most developed to the least, has their share of corrupt leaders, many of these countries are still prospering. By human nature one will try to exploit their position in power, so the solution comes in acknowledging that the system needs to be redesigned to keep the leaders on the right track. If there is room for corruption it will inevitably take place. Our country is corrupt and corruption flourishes because there are people in power who benefit from the present system. The answer is not to cross our fingers and pray that the leaders will be sincere but rather to blueprint an arrangement that would make bribery and fraudulence unattractive to persons of power.

The following schemes, tried and tested in other nations, are vital to ensure that corruption no longer impedes the crucial developmental work that is needed for the country to move forward:

First, an anonymous anti-corruption unit should be established. Often referred to as the ‘Hong Kong method’, this exceptional solution to corruption was adopted by the island in the early 90s. A secret team of corruption fighters, many of whom actually worked in the government offices and ministries themselves, caught acts of corruption in their own respective ministries with irrefutable evidence. Hence, not knowing who is an anti-corruption agent and who isn’t will play a psychological toll on individuals involved in corruption. Such a method will play head-games with government officials, and even if this small team of secretive informants doesn’t do their job, the idea that anyone in the office could be watching your move will deter officials from bribery and deceit. It’s like saying: if a driver knows where the cops are in the highway, he’ll slow down when he sees them to avoid a speeding ticket, but if the driver doesn’t know, chances are he’ll drive slow throughout the trip.
A person in power should know how long he or she is to remain in that position and should be appointed to a definite period of time. When one sacrifices their entire life for politics and finally comes to power for a brief stint of time they will obviously seek to milk the benefits of their struggle..... term wise selection of politicians and top bureaucrats is a must, not just for tackling corruption but also for long-term development and planning.

Secondly, the government should not fund anti-corruption agencies itself. The government and its politicians should have no hand in appointing or running the day-to-day activities of agencies such as the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), nor should it have the slightest clout upon such an organisation. The personnel involved in the anti-corruption task force should have no history, affiliation or relations to political parties. The solution can be establishing an independent organization with no association with the government or giving the job to organizations like CW (Corruption Watch) or TI (Transparency International). This approach has been taken by a handful of countries and also by the World Bank in order to monitor its money. When political leaders have the chance to pick the people watching over them or when the anti-corruption officers themselves start playing politics we will end up back at square one.

Third, a watchdog agency should be established to make sure that the main anti-corruption agency like the CIAA itself is doing the right job. This “watchdog for the watchdog” approach exists in various Asian countries where there is an anonymous taskforce established to track the work of the main anti-corruption organization and to make sure that the anti-corruption agency itself is not corrupt, which is often the case in Nepal. (I'd go one step further. Have this watchdog group actually research the connections between any anti-corruption official bringing charges and the person/agency that is being charges. No favoritism, family or grudges should be found.)

Fourth, the government should increase the salary of ministers and top bureaucrats. This technique was famously adopted by Singapore during the height of its economic instability and corruption in the late 80s. By paying the decision makers a large salary it took away their need to earn under the desk. Foreign aid and national income from industries like tourism and customs were put back into the nation without a large chunk being taken out of it from the powerful elite in the country. In addition, subordinates were found less likely to be corrupt if their bosses were faithful. Although the nation will loose money by increasing the incomes of these top officials, if we do our calculations right, the country can benefit greatly from this pioneering approach. (Interesting, but may serve to further drive an economic or class wedge between those who govern and those governed. Remember, we live just north of Caste System-Central)

Fifth, a person in power should know how long he or she is to remain in that position and should be appointed to a definite period of time. Corruption in most countries, especially ours, is often based on lack of job security. When one sacrifices their entire life for politics and finally comes to power for a brief stint of time they will obviously seek to milk the benefits of their struggle. Although such a step requires massive renovation of the political structure in Nepal, term wise selection of politicians and top bureaucrats is a must, not just for tackling corruption but also for long-term development and planning. (Term limits for politicians has been a blogdai favorite since we first logged on. They also are a great tool for increasing citizen participation in the election process and government in general)

Sixth, we must separate politics and bureaucracy. Post 1990, politicians started appointing government officials who would give them a commission once they were appointed to power. Certain ambassadors and consul generals would often give a portion of their corrupt earnings back to the political party that appointed them. Such “dalal politics” where politicians and bureaucrats do favors for one another has to be eliminated. In India where they have the same kind of unfaithful politicians from Bihar to Madhya Pradesh, politics rarely obstructs bureaucratic appointments or promotions. In this way, this emerging superpower of a billion is run efficiently not by politicians but by bureaucrats. Thus, detaching the bond between politics and bureaucracy will slowly alleviate corruption and nepotism from our own system.

Seventh, the deep-seated tie between our industrialists and politicians needs to be severed. From VAT regulations to fiscal strategies, many of our economic policies are geared towards favoring certain business moguls, knowing that there are benefits for the politicians for doing so. Whoever has come to power has ended up favoring his own business or the businesses of those closest to him. Monetary policies have to be reformed to make sure they favor the interests of the “average-Ram” and not favor the family and friends of the powerful.

Finally, the media, which has become the leitmotif of anti-corruption in recent years, has to abandon political agenda. It is unfortunate, but all of us know that some of our biggest media houses have political agenda and are giving the people what they want the people to know instead of what the people deserve to know. Media ownership along with the independence of editors must be under scrutiny to make sure they don’t turn a blind eye to reports of corruption or wrongly accuse political enemies of corruption. In a way, the media, as the supervisory body of society, has the greatest role to play in slaying corruption. ("Kantipur" always did sound like "Koirala-pur")

In the end, our Nepali cultural mindset of looking up to those that amass wealth and our tendency to agglomerate property for our sons, grandsons and if possible our seven generations also leads to corruption in higher offices. The four “pillars of integrity”; the justice system, watchdog agencies such as the auditor generals office, the media and law enforcement agencies should all work to uphold the nation’s dedication towards fighting corruption. Along with adopting novel approaches for combating corruption, we must remember that in an already deteriorating system, even if one “pillar of integrity” fails to be vigilant and do justice to the people of Nepal, the entire structure is at danger of collapse. (Absolutely brilliant. You need these "pillars of integrity" before you even have a chance at establishing any "pillars of democracy")

Although the same people whom we may call “fathers of corruption” are back in power today, they have been granted a second chance. If corruption and mismanagement of government was their greatest crime post 1990, correcting that mistake will be their greatest victory. (It depends on how well we can regulate the uncontrolled influx of foreign aid: A politicians favorite pig-trough. -=blogdai)

Currently studying in La Sorbonne (Paris), Basnyat is a student at Harvard University. A senior editor for the Harvard South Asian Journal, his writing has been featured in an upcoming book with eminent author MBI Munshi. He can be reached at


At 1:37 PM, July 26, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great outline for curtailing the inevitable political problems Nepal will face - as well as those we have currently in the USA, as well as many other countries. At least this plan gives some hope for the future - but how do we implement it?

At 2:18 PM, July 26, 2006, Blogger blogdai said...

Almost impossibleto implement, especially in Nepal.

You've got to crack the stranglehold that Nepal's corrupt politicians have over the entire political and economic process, as Mr. Basnyat points out. How to do this?

1. Have an international body monitor all facets of Nepal's governance until a transparent, term-limited parliament can be elected. Two monumental challenges stand in the way of this. First, the Nepali people would have to be so fed up with inept, corrupt government that they demand a takeover. Second, the UN or whoever won't just pop into Nepal without a popular, legal mandate. This takes us back to one of the fundamental reasons why Kiorala/Deuba administration refuse to hold elections.

2. Cut off the money. Make the fat-cats sweat it out. The UN and the international community can make a difference in this regard--if they ever find their spine. Suspend all but the most critical emergency aid to Nepal, and make all other aid programs transparent and incremental.


At 8:51 AM, July 27, 2006, Anonymous Author said...

Dear Blog Dai,
I have been a regular visitor to your blog for the past several months. I agree to almost all of your points and approaches. I've read your unbiased message between words, your philosophy and have compared them to that of other blogs around (www.blog.com.np, bloggers.com). With nothing else but truth, I feel exactly the way your feel, or at least feel what you write is rightful.

With influence from you and support from my friends, I have my own little blog site now. I am trying to write, research and report facts with all of my ability and hope god show me the right path. I know its difficult to walk on tight ropes and there are instances when my deep feelings and support have pressed me to be a little partial. But until I report facts, I think I am still on the ropes.

I would really appreciate, if you could drop in few comments and truthfully write what you feel about the articles. Although I am not a fulltime writer, I am trying my best to do my bit.

Thank you.


At 10:33 AM, July 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And this is what I call working for the country and setting the wrongs right. Like I said earlier, I repeat now...we move in different ways but we make sure that our destination is the same.

We must all get together and we are getting together. Now we just need to find the right people and divide the task. Effecive and efficient way is needed. SPAM is good at this and we need to show them that we are better and we will show them this by not following the path of destruction that they took up.

And at times we need to do tasks that no one knows of it. Some lessons from Mao Zedong's guerilla warfare tactis that we need to follow too.


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