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The permanence of transition

The vicious cycle of corruption and misrule must be broken

By Bihari Krishna Shrestha

The latest narrative dished out by our “occupational” and largely corrupt  political class has been that with the completion of the upcoming election to provincial and federal legislatures Nepal’s long-running saga of so-called “political transition” will come to its end. However, all indications are that it is going to be anything but.

The rushed Constitution

While the Maoists, in their bid to justify their wanton killing and maiming of Nepali lives have been claiming that it was they who brought about republicanism, federalism and secularism to Nepal, the two major parties, the NC and the UML, who, totally alienated from the people due to ceaseless corruption, had to lend themselves to those new governing principles without the due processes of a referendum that otherwise remains the lifeblood of a democratic order. The poorly educated or the uneducated politicians in the overcrowded first and second CA–most of whom never had the competence to frame the nation’s constitution–spent most of their eight years in that hallowed chamber in shifting alliances and changing governments based either on foreign behest or lucrative offers from competing parties. However, seizing on the opportunity provided by the 2015 earthquake, they had hastily put together a Constitution in a manner that once again blatantly flouted due democratic norms. They purposely failed to incorporate the reaction of the people during the nationwide consultation on its draft. Media reports had it that people all over the country vehemently opposed the concepts of secularism and federalism in particular. But the handful of leaders from leading parties in CA2 took the liberty to ramrod the adoption of the draft unchanged. The resulting irony was that the new charter, otherwise intended to end long-running “transition”, had, through this purposive default, laid the foundation for what could be seen as permanence of transition in landlocked Nepal. All indications are that the new constitutionally mandated structure is already showing signs of unraveling with more seemingly on its way.

New local governance structure: From the frying pan into the fire

As provided in the new Constitution, the country recently elected local bodies that now number 753 that is only one-fifth the number of earlier VDCs and municipalities. By sheer arithmetic, this makes the newly elected “representatives” five times more “distant” from the electors than before. This would surely take its toll in terms of transparency and accountability of these elected officials and the resulting delivery of services. After all, as reported in the media, on average, a Gaupalika chief had spent (read: invested) one crore rupees for getting elected and a ward chairman 20 lakh.

However, even this prospect of heightened corrupt ion is not the main problem with this ambitious devolution. The Constitution provides for 22 different exclusive jurisdictions for these local bodies plus several more as “concurrent”, to be shared with the provincial and central governments. But the fatal problem is going to be availability of necessary professional competence to manage these jurisdictions autonomously in the real sense of the term. For instance, Education happens to be one such exclusive jurisdiction. While the “autonomous” identity of these bodies requires that they hire and manage their own personnel to manage their jurisdictions in their own right, this is not what is apparently being considered at present. The government in Kathmandu has reportedly been working overtime, rather unsuccessfully so far, to depute the centre’s own personnel to work in the local bodies. This compromises the very essence of local bodies’ autonomy. And even if the arrangement, presently being attempted, were to work, it is stipulated that the education department of a Gaunpalike would be headed by an official of the rank of a section officer. That is, a junior official of that status will have to discharge the entire range of functions that the mammoth Ministry of Education currently performs at the national level. A folly of the highest possible order in misgoverning the country! So, the end prospects are that the emerging ocal bodies scenario is going to be characterized by blatant and massive corruption, all-out misuse of funds and non-delivery of services to the people. So much for the slogan of “bringing Singha Durbar to the villages”. The tragedy lay in the fact that while Nepal’s two immense success stories in local development–the dramatic restoration and effective management of local forests through user-owned forest user groups and effective delivery of primary health care through mothers’ groups and their female community health volunteers–show that governance is more effective when it is close to and managed by the users themselves, these ill-educated feudal elites who masquerade as politicians and people’s representatives and the so-called Bigyas in the expert committee who worked on it have simply pushed Nepal’s local governance from the frying pan into the fire.

Provinces even with capitals

The problem with this “federalization” is that it was done by a bunch of politicians in CA1 and CA2 who mostly came from the ranks of poorly educated village feudal elites who traditionally thrived on extraction of resources from all around without accountability to go with it.

If the story of the local bodies–which has a long history in Nepal–is so dreadful in its prospects, the so-called “provinces”  are going to be much worse for the simple fact even the provincial capitals remains unnamed, forget about the provincial governments’ functioning.

Not that the handful of politicians from the three main parties who matter are unaware of this problem. The point is that they remain exclusively focused on the numbers’ game in the soon-to-be-elected so-called federal parliament. UML chief, KPS Oli, who is widely expected to win a majority is reported to be looking even further afield already. In a recent press meet in his Jhapa constituency, he reportedly cited the examples of China and America to claim that “non-parliamentary democracy too has stimulated growth” that clearly suggests that, if he is able to get the right numbers in the new parliament, he would go for the amendment of the constitution all over again for a presidential form of government in Nepal, a system that his newfound mate, Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has all along been advocating for obvious reasons.

Permanence of transition

However, what has always bothered the people is the utter lack of sense of accountability on the part of the politicians, more than the lack of political stability. After all, presidents could be as corrupt too. For instance, Brazil under a succession of corrupt presidents has lately has its army generals issuing warning that if the politicians do not behave, they may have to intervene. In any case, what seems to be in the offing in Nepal is what can be said the permanence of transition. Like what seems to be unfolding in Brazil, the vicious cycle of politicians taking turns of loot and misrule in Nepal too may need some surgical intervention, sooner rather than later.

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