Obstacle to Economic Development in Nepal Is Systemic Political Corruption

ASIA--PACIFIC, 9 Aug 2021

Kedar Neupane – TRANSCEND Media Service

4 Aug 2021 – A cursory reading of indicators in international publications Nepal’s standing appears disappointing and frustrating. This dismal picture of an immensely proud nation is humiliating for people of Nepal. There is no reason for a moral high ground for self-eulogy despite successive political transformations which occurred in the past decades. This metamorphosis resulted in continued social and political instability with misplaced politico-economic priorities leaving behind most of the nation’s population below the margins of subsistence living and quality of life. Economic prosperity should have been the principal concern of all citizens, irrespective of political ideologic orientation, economic philosophy, and friendships with North and South of the border or the West.

Nepal is the second poorest country in Asia and per capita GDP stands only slightly higher than of war-torn Afghanistan. Nepal is high on the Corruption Perception Index. Likewise, Global Competition Index in doing business ranks the nation near bottom of the scale. Pick any indicator in the international level or within SAARC and ASEAN groupings one will gauge its international standing. During the past decades, several countries registered meaningful economic progress particularly benefitting from the global trade liberalization and foreign direct investments. Nepal’s both neighbors made remarkable economic successes and have become dominating economic powerhouses dominating the global agenda.

Both, China, and India, are projected to dominate the 21st Century economic agenda and continue growing stronger militarily influencing world events. Just imagine, over the last three decades how communist China could uplift nearly 800 million people out of abject poverty level while wisely marshalling the foreign investments, tapping on the global economic trends unleashed by trade liberalization, and then investing on physical infrastructure and information technology. Such a massive transformation is an unprecedented in the economic history of the entire human civilization. India follows the trend, albeit reluctantly due to domestic political squabbling, but still making progress steadily. What happened in Nepal is anybody’s guess, and may be a subject of fierce debate? The truth, however, is it is still not noticed domestically and what is happening around the neighborhoods as if entire nation is in a political state of vegetation.

This nation has certainly missed the initial opportunities while dancing in the euphoria of political elixir emanating from the glorification of democracy and rhetoric of republicanism as if it is the only panacea of all political, social, and economic malaise. It does not seem to improve even after a decade of governance by elected people and by overthrowing the hereditary system of monarchy. Democracy exists on paper for the manipulative use of political elites and resembles like a cartel of political oligarchs. Country’s deepening crises is now like a cobweb of communal/racial divide, religious, linguistic, and geographical biases on the one side and, while on the other side, rising perception of state sponsored corruption, failing governance, nepotism, political impunity, misuse of treasury and sheer inability to focus on innovative measures for alleviating sufferings of poor and victims of coronavirus pandemic.

National institutions are weakened through political biases and meddling. The nation continues to rejuvenate with disillusioned relationships of Nepal with China and India complex. In addition, orchestration of ultra-nationalism has created an environment of highly toxic political polarization and, if combined with the redundant ideologies and perceptions of the past century it has become a sick man of Asia. Unfortunately, this polarization is deeply ingrained in national psychic of the population which is now the bedrock of political power play in Nepal. This ignores the real-politic of pragmatism needed for economic development. Consequences of compartmentalized national intelligence is a major concern to national development percept. The situation has, thus, grown into a cancer, the major hazard to economic development pathways.

During the past decade, little tangible economic progress achieved against the rising expectations of youths (representing nearly one-half of population) who expected a lot more from the regime changes and having installed elected representatives to governance after disposing the unelected monarchy. Disappointedly, this nation has become a hostage of power-hungry and inept leaders (elected and nominated) who could not establish a framework for peaceful cohesive nation and failed to marshal economic Marshall Plan. Instead, the usual old ‘divide and rule’ mantra continues to play as a game of musical chair of political leaders. This system has replaced notion of ‘democracy’ by a system of ‘party-of-crazy” where only the political party and ruling elites are the part of the system. The rest is of little significance.

Likewise, in place of ‘republic,” it is an affair of “rip-the-public” for lack of inclusiveness of dispossessed and marginalized people, and devoid of political ethics and moral values. It is a system that deprives those who have no political party affiliation. Go no further; see the efficiency and effectiveness in handling of crisis created by COVID-19 situation, faulty delivery of public health services and, lack of adequate support to the population impacted by this pandemic. Does not this demonstrate entrenched mindsets, inept practices, absence of effective leadership and shallow governance traits? The entire political establishment and bureaucracy have been trapped in a ‘vicious-circle of political corruption’ and, economic progress stalled.

Without reforming political mindsets and internal functioning, corruption is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Politicians dominate both legislative and executive branches of the governance and dominate the entire scene, directly or indirectly, and are perceived to be the part of systemic corrupt practices. This will simply not be evaporate from the nation any time soon. It has become an epidemic and appear un-manageable in its current state of health. The corruption epidemic can be reformed only if political masters and people vow to meaningful reforms themselves. In many countries around the world politics is taken as national duty to serve the nation by leadership as selfless vocation, but not as a political career for amassing personal wealth. Singapore, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Nordics countries could serve as some good examples.

It may be a tall order, but one can try instituting some tough disciplines regulating the ethical conducts of members of the parliament so that civic norms are restored safeguarding relevance of the republican spirit. Metaphosphoric Singapore could be a good reference to start with. In the mid-60s Singapore was just a backwater port, then a third-grade third-world squatter fishing village, at the time of separation from Malay Peninsula. Despite numerous political hiccups and with no internal economic drivers and resources this tiny city-state became one of the richest 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 people of Nepal dream where thinking seems to have been compartmentalized and time is frozen?


Kedar Neupane is a founding, executive board member of the Nepal Policy Institute, an independent think-tank , a retired senior UN official, and president of ‘We for Nepal’ association based in Geneva, Switzerland where he lives. He has worked in several countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe in his 38 years of service with the UN system and was Senior Change Management Advisor to UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Views expressed are his personal analysis and do not represent of institutions. neupanek1950@gmail.com

Theme of this piece first appeared during 2017 in annanote.com. It is revised and updated, and views expressed are personal.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Aug 2021.

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