Integrity is the issue. November 2005
The note is in response to the answers of visiting panel of Nepalese politicians on the issue of the political corruption. The political discussion program was sponsored by the ‘Carter Center’ on October 24, 2005; in Emory University, Atlanta, USA. Please express yourself. The e-mail addresses of the panel are given.
“Answer my friend is blowing in the wind and written on the wall.”
“Question my friend is how you want to be remembered in history.”
Anil Kumar Jha, Shadvabana – Anandi email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashok Kumar Rai, CPN – UML email@example.com
Bimalendra Nidhi, NC – D firstname.lastname@example.org
Chakra P. Bastola, NC email@example.com
Dhruba B. Pradhan, RPP firstname.lastname@example.org
Jhala Nath Khanal, CPN – UML email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Minendra Rijal, PhD, NC - D email@example.com
Pari Thapa, Jana Morcha firstname.lastname@example.org
Prakash C. Lohani, PhD, Jana Shakti email@example.com
Ram Sharan Mahat, PhD, NC firstname.lastname@example.org
Vivek Shah, Lieutenant General - Retired email@example.com
Any institute, whether a family or a nation or a football team, thrives on internal values. Though it may not be externally visible, the internal virtue or the Dharma is what sustains us. Not only the band of soldiers but even a gang of thieves draws strength from their code of honor. Let us not underestimate the importance of the internal values or loss of it in Nepalese politics. If our society cannot precipitate leaders with integrity, and if our political parties cannot produce even a handful of dedicated statesmen, then truly Nepal is a failed state. Other issues are merely technicalities.
Nepal is a poor country, therefore?? It does not mean a free for all corruption. It only means we cannot spend 10 good rupees to stop 1 rupee worth of corruption. It also means zero tolerance against corruption of ministers; high ranking civilian, police, military and judiciary officers. The zero tolerance is not only about the factual corruption but also about the public perception. We got to demand integrity among leaders and make sure of it.
To the question, "How do you respond to the following news report of 'AFP - French News Agency' on November 3, 2001: Kathmandu - Swiss accounts of three senior Nepalese ministers, including home minister Khum Bahadur Khadka, have been frozen for their suspected involvement in illegal gold and weapons trade and drug trafficking in the Gulf region, a leading local vernacular daily reported. 'Naya Sadak' quoting high-level Interpol sources said that besides Khadka, accounts of minister for water resources Vijaya Gachhedar and minister for information and communication Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta were frozen.”
Your responses sum to:
1. Corruption existed for the last 250 years ever since Shah and Rana dynasties ruled Nepal.
2. In ‘Panchayat’ time there was more corruption than in the multi-party period. However, because of democracy and free press the corruption in the multi-party period of hardly 12 years is more exposed.
3. Multi-party system has enacted stricter laws against corruption. Given time more will be done.
4. To run a political party needs money. It is simply a fact of life that parties have to generate money somehow, and we cannot count the teeth of every gift horse.
5. One should not criticize corruption of party ministers without criticizing Panchayat, Rana and Shah Ministers.
6. Since the political parties are currently fighting together for the democracy and freedom, parties have a tacit understanding not to criticize each other.
7. For the same reason we should not criticize corruption of multi-party ministers, because the current struggle is about system not individuals, and it may unnecessarily sideline the main issue of democracy.
8. To do so amounts to indirectly supporting king Gyanendra and monarchy against multi-party democracy.
Let us look at the issues:
1. Corruption in the time of Panchayat or earlier cannot be an excuse for corruption of multi-party ministers.
2. The public perception, contrary to your assertion, is ministers of multi-party system are more corrupt than earlier.
3. People of Nepal expect multi-party leaders to bring Panchayat stooges to justice, not to indulge in corruption themselves. What happened to the Mallik Commission (1989) report? The so-called anti-corruption measures of multi-party system are only in paper. If the ruling minister is corrupt, then he or she is not about to bring others to justice. Proof of pudding is in its taste. How many corrupt ministers have been convicted? None.
4. Yes, it is a fact of life that parties need money to operate. But corruption cannot be the answer. What is the solution? You tell us, you are the politicians. There can be agreement among parties on legitimate fund rising methods and lessening the costs. Perhaps some fund may be allocated from the national tax base in the name of strengthening democracy. Perhaps, certain time slot may be provided by the radio and TV free to political parties to promote their views. However, corruption is the anti-thesis to democracy.
5. John Locke type social contract does not apply between a king and subjects. People believe in, fought and died for the democracy. People vote and donate to the political parties, not to the king. Political parties are the extension of the people's sovereignty. The paradigm shift from being subjects to citizens must be noted. That is, today people look up to and hold you responsible, not the king or Panchayat.
6. Political parties are not gangs of thieves. That is, they certainly can and should have a number of common political agenda and policies, but it cannot include corruption. And, matter of fact, such compromise in corruption directly negates the fight for democracy.
7. If you have any regard for the democracy then you should be against the very termites gnawing the system. If people have to fight another battle for democracy, who will lead? Corrupt leaders? Should people sacrifice? Only to provide opportunity to another set of corrupt ministers? 'Bad' must be replaced by 'good', not by 'worst.'
8. To dismiss critics of corruption merely as supporters of royalty is moral and political irresponsibility; let alone intellectual and spiritual.
The context of your response is not-ingenuous. You are a part of the system, not a foreign visiting professor of political science. The alleged corrupt ministers are high ranking leaders of your parties. The correct response of a genuine statesman and visionary is, "I am not corrupt. I am aware of the issue and will report the truth to the public. I have taken and planning the following actions to address it. The actions include both in the context of law and public perception; and also inside the party and in the parliament. If I cannot adequately address the issue, then I will quit the party on the moral ground."
No, we simply cannot ignore the issue of corruption:
1. A bribe, especially at the high level, is not a matter of merely shifting a penny from one pocket to another. The damaging consequences are incalculable. The compromises in national policies relating to industry, water resources, environment, economy and social issues will have to be borne by the generations to come. Consider the non-political issue of a major deforestation caused by the Panchayat government in its bid to hold on to power in the early 1980’s. Almost 200,000 ha of forest were sold out. Is 'deforestation' really a trivial issue? For the record, the ecocide happened under king Birendra and royal prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa.
2. In the Nepalese cultural and political context the integrity of leaders is the primary issue. The policy differences are only secondary. Precisely due to the lack of the integrity the multi-party leaders were kowtowing to palace yesterday and to Maoists today.
3. Because of the corrupt political leadership, it is growing in government agencies. Who is responsible for addressing the issue at least in the government, if not in society? All of the Nepalese citizens, of course, but certainly the individuals whom people voted and trusted.
4. The major part of our political problem is due to our economic underdevelopment. Only way we can address it is by proper use of our meager internal capital, cultivating business leaders and entrepreneurs, and attracting foreign investments. The political corruption cuts directly against all the three means. Look at the foreign investments in China and India, and their economic growth. Do we really have option not to follow the pattern, especially in this age of globalization? The best bet for us is to use the opportunity available as best as we can. First thing we need for this to happen is the political leaders with integrity.
5. The 'integrity' must be emphasized before intelligence or education. You can always hire an intelligent expert. However, leaderships are judged by their ability to inspire people. That comes only with integrity and sacrifice. In the 1960's, India was going through partial famine. The then Honorable Prime Minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri did not say any thing. He merely quit eating Sunday lunch. His leadership precipitated similar awareness and sacrifices among Indian leaders and citizens. And today India is self sufficient in food.
6. King Gyanendra made a quantum jump in the annual royal intake from 120 million rupees to 660 million rupees three years ago. Let us put it in the context of Nepalese per capita being only 16,200 rupees (GNI per capita $220. Purchasing power parity $1500 per capita, 2004. Conversion: $1 = 74 rupees). The US based organization ‘Fund for Peace’ puts Nepal at the 35th rank in the failed states index out of 191 UN members. Integrity and sacrifice? Yet, the royal stooges who allowed it to happen strut around today in the name of democracy. We can assess the king's attitude and inner working by noting his choice of lieutenants. If he becomes footnote in history, it will not be because of lack of money or army, but because of lack of Dharma. Who is his spiritual advisor ‘Raj Guru’ helping him to define animal sacrifice as Dharma? However, the question is who will replace him? Not another corrupt leader.
7. Maoist insurgency may be seen as the consequences of apathy of central leadership to the rural underdevelopment. The self indulgent Nepalese elite do not relate to rural problems; and is not able to generate enough industries and jobs. On the other hand, neither insurgents have solution nor their mindless violence is acceptable. However, who will address the social and economic problems Maoists are pointing? Not another corrupt leader.
8. The growing perception that one can have political or government career to accumulate wealth through corruption must be dealt with. Politics cannot be a business proposition, where an entrepreneur invests a penny and makes three pennies in return through corruption. Our political parties must address the rise of corrupt politicians in their rank and sidelining of genuine statesmen. As Sun Tzu wrote – ‘First know yourself’, the internal cleaning and democracy comes before external demonstrations for democracy.
9. Obviously, Maoist insurgency and king Gyanendra's take over are problems and anti-democratic developments. However, they are only side issues. The central issue is the break down in the system due to the corruption in high places and resultant loss in people's faith. The problems of Maoist and the king occurred precisely because of it. Otherwise, neither Maoist will have alienated people to bank on, nor the king will dare to take over.
10. Even if democracy is restored and by some miracle both Maoists and the king vanish, will that solve our problem? Not really. The new set of corrupt ministers will simply create another set of problems.
11. Let us not forget that king Mahendra’s self serving ‘Panchayat’ political system has smothered formation of Nepalese leadership and gave opportunity to corrupt royalty and camp followers. If multi-party ministers are also corrupt then why bother?
12. Do not underestimate the power of 'Integrity' and 'Moral values' specifically in political struggles. Please do read Gandhi, M.L. King and Carter. You may augment it by reading Marcos, Mobutu and Noriega. Since the king and Maoists are holding guns and legitimate political parties are not; it becomes even more imperative to rely on this power of ethics or internal Dharma.
A further note to ordinary people like you and me:
To begin with you are not an ordinary person. You are a good person born high up in the great Himalaya with a proud history and culture. Let us be proud that we have been practicing village democracy ‘panchayat’ since the ancient time. Honorable king Janak of Ramayana practiced wise politics almost 57 centuries earlier. Politicians are merely the extension of your sovereign authority. Make informed decision and tell your friends and neighbors. Use the power of vote, donation and public opinion.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Make integrity of a leader a key demand. If a political party fields a corrupt candidate, take it as an insult. Vote integrity.
2. Raise the issue of corruption in every public forum with the politicians.
3. Do not respect corrupt ministers 'ghusya mantris.' Boycott socially 'ghusya mantris' and their sons-in-law.
4. Ask the political candidates about their career, means of living and current value of their property.
5. Ask the politicians about their plan against corrupt ministers.
6. Request honorable foreign donor agencies to make sure their fund is properly utilized and not siphoned off by the corrupt ministers. Otherwise, there is no point in spending tax money supporting corruption in the name of poor Nepalese peasantry.
7. Let us remember martyrs Dasharatha Chand, Dharma Bhakta, Ganga Lal, Shukra Raj and countless others.
8. And ask each politician, “What name and fame do you want to leave in history?”
If a politician offers you a free lunch for your vote, recognize the inherent insult. Be practical, enjoy the free lunch. Do not insult back in the privacy of the polling booth. That is merely an anger response and playing a zero sum game. Vote conscience - in politics, in society.
Yeto Dharma, Stato Jaya: Victory is where Virtue is.