All of us witness examples of Nepal’s corruption pandemic every day in every sphere of life: from slipping a few to get a driving license to setting land transactions. Roads that are dug up and not finished for years and bridges that collapse as soon as they are built are our monuments to malfeasance. Clever civil servants now deploy ‘brokers’ outside their offices to ‘facilitate’ state services that should be free, so they do not have to directly get hands dirty. 

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But these are cases of petty theft by small fry. At higher levels of government, corruption is so huge and widespread, so accepted as SOP, that the word ‘corruption’ does not do justice anymore to this contagion of loot and plunder.

One egregious example of the rot was the ugly scene in the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday when Nepal Communist Party MP Aman Lal Modi accused Kul Man Ghising of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) of corruption. Ghising, many readers will remember, is the man who ended the practice of his corrupt predecessors of providing 24-hour power to industries in return for bribes. Nepalis did not suffer from load-shedding just because of undersupply but because of structural corruption —  top NEA executives were selling electricity to industrialists, leaving household consumers in the dark for 10 years.

Ghising recently asked those industries to pay a backlog of dues for dedicated feeders, prompting Nepal’s so-called captains of industry to gang up on him. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out why MP Modi is using PAC to go after Ghising.

Then there was the sordid affair of the Melamchi contract. The much-delayed $500 million project to bring water supply to Kathmandu Valley was nearing completion in December. A Dispute Resolution Board awarded the contractor Rs350 million for delays caused by the earthquake and Blockade in 2015, but a secretary in the Water Supply Ministry refused to sanction payment unless he got Rs50 million in kickbacks. The Italians abandoned the project, Melamchi is in limbo.

To understand just how deep-rooted corruption in Nepal is today, a report issued this week by the Niti Foundation, Nepal’s Kleptocratic Network: Mapping Corruption and Impunity, is an eye-opener. To be sure, none of what it contains should surprise us. We always knew rent-seeking was the modus operandi of the state, and politicians and bureaucrats were up to their necks in extraction and extortion. Such is the impunity, the big fish never get caught. 

The report tries to show, not tell, just how nefarious, deep-rooted and interlocked rent-seeking is in Nepal. Illustrating graft with graphics, we are given flowcharts to explain why plunder and impunity is so systemic.

‘Core state entities responsible for regulation and upholding rule of law have been weaponised or hollowed out by the kleptocratic network to extract resources and guarantee impunity,’ says the report. ‘The impunity network comprises those that declare law, enforce law and apply law.’

The report lays bare how Parliament is infiltrated by special interest groups who are in key committees drafting legislation for sectors like education, health and infrastructure. There is no separation of powers anymore -- the powers-that-be control all three branches of government.

The executive openly interferes in legislative functions, and tries to influence the courts with ‘bench shopping’. Those who stand in the way or try to expose the rot, like Kul Man Ghising, are themselves accused of corruption. The state is in open collusion with the private sector, which is now well represented in Parliament. The CIAA corruption watchdog is a lapdog of the state. Lack of transparency and impunity is rife in the security forces. The report has gory details of how ‘revenue capture’ works through collusion between officials in all three levels of government and contractors.

The only remaining check and balance function is carried out by the fourth estate, hence the moves to try to censor its content through legislation. But even the media is used by powerful interest groups to target rivals or tar those who expose them.

Everyone seems to be on the take: it is a public-private partnership to loot the country. ‘The private sector has gained primacy as the driver of corruption and impunity in Nepal … by distorting the functions and policies of government regulatory agencies and to hijack key revenue streams to facilitate money laundering and rentier practices.’  

The Niti Foundation report makes for thoroughly depressing reading, and what it lacks is a roadmap out of this morass. Our only hope is in a transparent and fair electoral process that will one day punish thieves and reward the honest by electing them to office.

10 years ago this week

The Nepali Times edition #452 of 22-28 May 2009 was filled with analysis of the politics post-resignation of Pushpa Kamal Dahal over the Army Chief sacking. The Ass had his own take on the matter, and except for GPK, the cast of characters are the same in this excerpt from the Backside Column ten years ago:

‘Rate we are going, the new federal constitution of Nepal is looking more and more like a mirage. The closer we get to it, the more it recedes. The prolonged coalition-cobbling is reminiscent of mid-1990s. And it’s the same old faces.

BijayG being pulled by both arms to switch sides when Upadro refused to toe the line. The only difference with 15 years ago is that this time the entire exercise is outsourced to Lainchaur. And the sight of both GPK and PKD courting Kamal Thapa for royalist support just shows how quickly fortunes turn in politics.

And even the bigger parties are out to feather their nests. One senior NC leader, when asked by the Ass if he would be joining the Makunay-led govt, said: “You think I’m stupid to join a sarkar that will last three months? I will join the one formed after this.” 

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