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Monday, October 10, 2011

Corruption by Omission

Riding a cheap and simple vehicle instead of a luxurious and expensive one while on the top executive post does not necessarily mean incorruptibility of the leader. Nor does that guarantee the good governance and high accountability on part of the government led by such a leader. But the instance in which the new PM chose to ride a simple and cheap vehicle assembled in Nepal has made an huge impact in the psyche of the people. Even though the act of Dr. Bhattarai in itself does little in restoring the reputation of the Nepali politicians as an incorrigibly corrupt lot, it is a highly symbolic gesture carrying a huge meaning.
Significantly, Dr. Bhattarai is not the only one in recent history of Nepal to illustrate with eloquence that what the majority does is not necessarily to be followed by all. The then chief justice Ram Prasad Shrestha rose to the occasion to become the trendsetter in judiciary when he brutally penalized the corrupt leaders who had been evading the book with help of their wealth and power. The current justice at the special court Gauri Bahadur Karki and his team has been showing similar brutality at the special court that was once known as a place to vindicate the wealthy and powerful corrupt persons. Similar examples also exist in the beaurocracy and the police force.
Till now the exceptional heroes of those fields have been appreciated very warmly by the people. And most of us bemoan the dearth of a larger number of such individuals in every sector. The correct but ignored part of the discourse is that the few who serve the country with honesty and integrity are and should be the norm; not the exception. The corrupt politicians, beaurocrats and the judges who may form a majority at anytime are never the norm, however large their number. It is not the honesty and benevolence of the select few which is to be praised and rewarded but it is the treachery and malevolence in part of the majority that is to be consistently pursued till they are punished. That is only how we can establish a true order with accountable politicians and beaurocrats and incorrupt judges.
By this argument, it is not Dr. Baburam Bhattarai who is to be praised for the frugality he showed in opting for a cheap Mustang Jeep but all those profligate politicians and beaurocrats who misuse millions of rupees from the state coffers for their luxury vehicles who should be harassed from doing so. Similarly it is not RP Shrestha who is to be praised for cleaning up some of the mess of corruption that the highest judiciary of the nation was in. It is his predecessors (and successors if necessary) who are to be blamed and punished for making, promoting or condoning the act of extreme corruption and bribery as integral part of the system.
By changing our attitude in this way, we can promote a culture where the acts of money embezzlement, bribery and other forms of corruption become exceptions rather than the norm as they are now. More importantly it is not corruption only when one does a corrupt deed deliberately and for his immediate benefit. The concept of corruption should include all the instances when a person at leadership position fails to take appropriate action so as to prevent the loss of national or public wealth. That is the corrupt act of omission. A PM or a commissioner at CIAA or a judge who chooses to ignore the extreme acts of money embezzlement or other forms of corruption in the state apparatus should be treated as corrupt.
Corruption should also include the instances when a transaction does not benefit one person directly but unduly benefits the other at the cost of the state and the taxpayers. There is no doubt in such cases that the former takes advantage for the favor that he has done to the latter in other and subtle way that can be even more damaging to the nation than the direct exchange of favors. Examples of such transactions include the telecom ministers choosing to sell the telephone licenses to some of the private companies at throw-away prices and all flawed tender processes where the government offices collude with the contractors or the whole tender process is bypassed to favor a single contender.
Making the concept of corruption wide to include the whole range of immoral and unethical practices on part of anyone inside or outside the circle of ruling politicians forms the integral part of any effective anti-corruption attempt. After doing so we won’t have to wait for years before an exceptional ‘Hero’ in any field comes to supposedly rescue us from the menace of corruption our society is in. It is indeed impossible to check corruption with help of one or few persons at leadership. It is the comprehensive approach with role for all the stakeholders from the PM to a common man that we can effectively trim this dangerous virtue.

Jiwan Kshetry, KTM, Sept 2, 2011

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