Problems of Changes and Transition in Nepal
Chandra Mani Gautam
Nepal is currently in a historic but difficult transitional phase in spite of promulgation of constitution in 2015 by Constituent Assembly. The era of monarchy is over, but the possibility of reinstate of the Monarchy is still talk of the town. Nepal is at present between old and new regimes in terms of mind set and hangover of previous regime. The formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Commission for disappeared people, full swing implementation and adherence to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and the sharing of power in settling of the federal structure of the country are all important issues, which need to be resolved compulsorily. As long as the government remains virtually in a stage of transition, known and unknown dangers lie in wait, threatening to plunge the country into another crisis. Many other disputes and conflicts are ready to take center stage, and take the government’s focus away from the People’s requirements.
Nepal seems to be losing many basic tenets of good governance, and seems to have fallen into chaos, which prompted the title of this essay: The Vicious Circle of Bad Governance. Ballooning imports (export-import ratio 1 versus 14 in 2019) and consumption combined with shrinking production and exports, have created an alarming situation. According to the latest macro economic report of the Nepal Rastra Bank, the country is going through a heavy Balance of Payment (BOP) deficit. Capital drain, workforce drain and brain drain are the root causes of a Nepal that is “sinking”, according to The Economist. The Nepali financial sector is in dire straits.
In 1971, the United Nations declared 25 countries including Nepal Least Developed Countries (LDCs). 16 of the LDCs were landlocked. In the early sixties, the per capita income of Nepal and South Korea was relatively similar. But since that time the economic situation in Nepal has followed a continuously downward trend. Nepal remains poorest country in South Asia and counts 13th poorest country in the world. The commitment to economic revolution, which was made a long time ago, has become a misleading political slogan, a kind of eye-wash for the people. So seems the current slogan ‘Prosperous Nepal Happy Nepali’ !
In this way a deadlock has occurred at the decision making level leading to chaos in society and other anomalies. Problems in the upper echelons of society have led to domino effects reaching the most marginalized communities. Nepal has been fallen in a vicious circle of bad governance related to socio-economic and political issues. The vicious circle effect is apparent in the following factors and examples:
One of the continuing problems apparent in Nepalese politics is that parties are not easily able to agree with each other. This happens so often that few decisions are made even if they are in the common national interest. Parties have lost their confidence and ability to make decisions, which has made the country increasingly dependent on other actors for political solutions.
Nepal’s present politics is like a journey without destination. Today’s anomalies are the consequences of vested party-interests, which are prioritized over national interests. Numerous contentious issues have piled up as parties fail to resolve them in an amicable way. Talks among parties often end in a stalemate. Problems are inside the country, which are internal affairs, but solutions are often sought outside the country. This neglects the possibility of homegrown settlements.
One of the lessons for Nepal is neighboring Myanmar (Burma), where the era of present day democracy suffered in the past from a defective constitution, insurrection, military unwilling to trust the civilian leaders; and above all, the inability of the elected leaders to remain united.
Institutions cannot thrive unless they are based on democracy and rule of law. But democracy without institutional functioning only results in bad governance. Unfortunately, political parties in Nepal are often associated with non-functioning institutions.
Institutions with elected representatives should be functional at all levels in a democracy. Almost all democratic institutions with peoples’ representatives have to gain momentum even after the elections of all levels. Law enforcement agencies such as the courts, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and the National Vigilance Centre (NVC) must be active within their respective jurisdictions. The CIAA has to be functional not only in bureaucratic level but even in political echelon if necessary. Other constitutional organs and ombudsmen for the rule of law also lack functioning.
Lack of Accountability:
Accountability requires transparency and easy access to information. A key problem that has caused other crises is a lack of accountability and indifference among decision makers. Instead of accountability there is a crisis of confidence, a crisis of character and a crisis of leadership. Even after achieving the government of two-third majority in parliament, political stability, good governance and delivery in people seems difficult to get things.
The bureaucracy in Nepal is highly politicized and divided, which has resulted in it losing its status as Rastra Sevak or permanent government. The bureaucracy has been divided into many interest groups set by party politics. It has lost its national commitments to such an extent that groups in the bureaucracy are accountable to their respective political party rather than the institutions and laws. In an interaction program held recently with the prime minister, all the government secretaries complained that the bureaucracy has failed to deliver because of political interference, frequent transfers of civil servants and the creation of unnecessary posts. In many cases ministers were responsible for this trouble, although it is against the law and ethics. The appointment of ministry secretaries based on political reasons, leaders’ vested interests or personal loyalty has contributed to the failure of the bureaucracy. Even the top posts of universities, academies, and service centers are influenced by politics. Seeing this pathetic situation, the obvious question is, who should be held responsible?
During Margaret Thatcher’s tenure in the UK, she introduced a “hit-squad” to scrutinize civil servants called the “Efficiency Unit”. Its aims were to promote a system in which officers at all levels have-
- a clear view of their objectives and relative performance
- well defined responsibility based on value-for-money provided by tax payers
- information and advice about exercising their responsibilities.
Nepal is in need of a similar initiative. A code of conduct will help guide ministers to run the bureaucracy in a systematic and ethical way. The cases of Sri Lanka, Malawi and Guatemala suggest that depoliticizing and professionalizing the bureaucracy, fighting corruption and increasing decentralization are crucial government reforms in the transition from conflict to peace. Uganda is an example of a country going through a peace process and running development activities simultaneously. Case studies illustrate that these reforms help to prevent further conflict and assist the peace process. In its own transition period Nepal could benefit from developing its own reform program based on the reform programs in other conflict affected countries (or the UK).
Another key component of vicious circle, which has close connection with Lack of Accountability, is Impunity which has led to rampant corruption from the level of policy decisions to implementation. All major political parties, lawmakers, leaders of civil society, directors of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and human/civil rights lobbies seem mysteriously tight-lipped regarding impunity and corruption in the government. To this day no party has taken action to accuse its leaders. Even in exceptional cases when society has identified a dishonest politician, the parties refuse to accuse or discipline them. Ultimately such events increase impunity by assuring protection to the corrupt and encouraging armed outfits to commit more heinous crimes.
According to Amnesty International’s 2018 annual report ‘World Human Rights Situation’ humans right violations and insecurity in Nepal have increased and the present situation is not an improvement over the previous year. The report has pin pointed that the main cause of intensifying violence and insecurity is impunity among political actors.
When the Mallik Commission’s report about those who attempted to suppress Jana Andolan 1990 and the report of Rayamajhi Commission about the attempted suppressors of Jana Andolan 2006 were ignored, the culture of impunity inside the government grew. Offender were not only off the hook, then went on to increase their political influence.
Likewise recent reports of Transparency International (TI), Nepal ranks 128st or so around among some 180 countries surveyed. Nepal fell 4 places from its ranking in the 2009 report. In South Asia, Nepal’s governance is worse than many of its neighbors. Another report of TI concluded that the three most corrupt institutions in Nepal are the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy.
Due to criminals’ links to the political circle, the open Nepal-India border, cross border crime, a weak judicial system, and the incapability of state mechanisms, impunity become a serious threat to law and democracy in Nepal. Protection against impunity has been enshrined in the constitution with sub articles such as: “The right to live with self-respect”. Furthermore, victims of impunity should have the right to accuse their offenders and bring them to court.
Impunity needs to be curbed by holding guilty persons accountable, which the International Criminal Court (ICC) is empowered to do. Since 2002 the ICC has brought to trial a number of most notorious persons involved in serious crimes. It has given a credible message that those responsible for terrible crimes will not be allowed to go unpunished. Until now, the government of Nepal not decided to become a member of the ICC. The government has not recognized the importance of justice to make peace sustainable. A lack of justice means wrongdoers are not deterred from violating the law. Nepal is in a difficult political transition. To pass through this period successfully it has to signal to the international community that impunity will not be tolerated.
One of Nepal’s troubles is anarchy for which the ruling circle is responsible. The entire society has been compelled to face a situation, in which there is little governance, order and control. Even civil society is not free from the controversy that which has been called “white collar anarchy”. According to human rights organizations in Nepal, despite existence of international laws to transfer prisoners to jails in their own countries, around 11000 Nepalis nationals are in foreign jails. Nepal is yet to ratify the International Treaty of Prisoners’ Transfer, which allows transfer of inmates to jails in their own countries. The large number of Nepali inmates abroad illustrates why Nepal should enter such a treaty.
Civil society organizations are not connected with the broader societies of rural areas. Instead they are tied with the global market and political parties. Urban centered civil society, which is fed by donors, has failed to champion civic values nourished by the nation’s cultural heritage. Urban elites, retired bureaucrats, judges, business tycoons and unsuccessful politicians carry out agendas that serve their interests the most. The public sphere, including the media and civil society, has been hijacked by a handful of intellectuals who are not in touch with the needs and necessities of ordinary Nepalese people. This has undermined the role of ordinary citizens in the state and generated questions as to who really are the stakeholders of the state.
One of the characteristics of bad governance in Nepal is the instability that has permeated all organs of the state. This begins with the leadership of some persons, which is focused on their interests instead of the rule of law and democratic process. Nepal is not only suffering from political instability, but also from economic and social instability leading to a nation in a very fragile condition. The political instability has affected the economy which is turning from bad to worse. The government and the political parties focus on the issue of power rather than relief measures to help the economy.Change doesn’t mean abolishing all legacies and traditions. Nepal’s has failed to prevent instability in its transitional period and it has not learned lessons from the history of its neighbor India.
India, the largest Democracy in the world, had bitter experiences during its transition period. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was able to tackle the volatile situation, mainly between his country and the newly born Pakistan, to shape a new independent India. Also he is well known as an ideologue of the Indian constitution, builder of democratic institutions and the Indian polity and an advocate of freedom and peace. Nepal can learn from India’s experiences to make progress in this transitional phase.
So how can we achieve stability? This question can be answered 3 parts in terms of power and politics:
1.face the threat
2.defeat the dangers
3.seize the opportunities.
The way to achieve this is by focusing on:
3.peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.
Politics must be pragmatic to create such an atmosphere.
The ultimate result of aforementioned problems is Conflict. Nepal’s Changes can be seen as the transition from one conflict to another. The war is over but rivalries, criminal activities and threats to peace are still prevalent. There is no shortage of agreements and understandings, but many agreements remain unimplemented.
There are 5 key types of conflict shaping the situation in Nepal:
- Conflicts of injustice, discrimination and/or exclusion (bad state policy and performance)
- Conflicts of ethnicity and/or racial issues (Dalits, indigenous nationalities, marginalized etc.)
- Conflicts of poverty, economic disparity and deprivation
- Conflicts based on regional issues (i.e.Karnali, Terai/Madhesh)
- Conflicts based on gender issues
During the period of the Maoist’s “Peoples’ War” some 18000 citizens lost their lives. Despite the historical achievements of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2006, during the period of one decade after CPA, extra judicial killings took lives of over 5000 citizens, in additions to extortions and abductions.
In order to achieve lasting peace, all conflict-actors must first be disarmed. At this critical juncture the 5 point plan of the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, is very relevant to the present situation in Nepal. In short ‘We Must Disarm’ (WMD):
i. Disarmament must be reliably verified,
ii. Disarmament must enhance security,
iii. Disarmament must be rooted in legal obligations,
iv. Disarmament must be visible to the public, &
v. Disarmament must anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons.
Criminalization of Politics:
In Nepal violence in politics has become ordinary. All political groups, whether they are major parties or small parties, mainstream or rebellious, tend to use threats and brute force to achieve their goals. Violence by group is increasing throughout the country. The police are influenced by politics to protect criminals and/or gangsters from arrest and even release them from custody. According to government officials, many criminal groups in the Terai are under the protection of political parties. Consequently opium and marijuana farming is still in alarming situation. Security forces can do little, which has lowered their morale. This is an offshoot of bad governance. Criminals easily escape from the law, because they often have connections to political power. Almost every party in the government has withdrawn cases from court.
Politicization of crime:
When an activist commits a crime it is often defined as a revolutionary activity, which protects him from being labeled a criminal. From the very period when democracy was restored in1990, almost all parties sitting in power have decided withdrawing criminal cases from court, protecting their near dears from the legal trial and punishment. Until politicians treat criminals as a common enemy, politics will not be based on laws or ethics.
A state’s very first responsibility is to guarantee citizens’ life, liberty and property. A democratic government cannot ignore its fundamental duties on a pretext of ‘if and but’. Besides insecurity of life, liberty and property, the lack of personal and professional integrity, uncertainty about the future, and a lack of opportunities have contributed to Nepal’s unstable condition.
Instability and insecurity have led the entire country into a state of confusion, frustration, and emotional upheaval. Consequently, crimes such as suicide, in house violence, rift within family are increasing rather rampantly. People are unsure what they can rely on and struggle to agree with the government’s prediction that the future will improve. Every day, more than 1500 young Nepalese quit their native land to go abroad, not only for employment, but also to escape from the political uncertainty in Nepal. These outgoing citizens are frustrated and voting the regime a no confidence. The state needs to assure them to make certain they return.
Rays of Hope:
In spite of its struggles, Nepal has not reached a point of no return. It deserves and has the ability to succeed. But the Nepalese people need to take a firm stand in favor of stability, security, peace and prosperity. To this end, good governance is but sine qua non; it has to first tackle the issues of governance; and it would work only if the rule of law is established. The country is among the richest in the world in terms of water resources, biodiversity, and its incomparable natural beauty. Nepal has fertile land for agricultural production, and is rich in its cultural heritage. Nepalese are a friendly, cooperative, hardworking and peace-loving people. With these assets and the generous support of friendly countries and International Organizations, Nepal will pull through these difficult times.
The Peace situation survey covered some 150 countries, taking into account 23 factors, including military expenditures, participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Missions, social unrest and jail population. Interestingly, Nepal is ranked higher than the US, which ranks 85th, but behind China (80) and Cuba (72). Among the major countries sliding down the tranquility index in South Asia are, India (128), Sri Lanka (133rd) and Pakistan (145th). Bangladesh ranks 87th and Afghanistan 147th. Life expectancy in Nepal increased from 63.2 years to 70 years in 2019.