Political theory throughout time has been concerned with governance and its potential to deliver welfare service to citizens and protect them from foreign interferences. Thus, good governance constitutes running the statecraft of a nation and safeguarding it from external elements. It depends on the cohesive relationship between governor and governed as well as other elements such as civil society and the market. Other aspects of good governance include human rights and the rule of law, political participation, democratic norms and values.
The idea of good governance is intertwined with democratic values and therefore it does not accept other forms of political systems. However, there is evidence of other systems of governance which can satisfy the citizens of their respective nations which challenges this assumption. The citizens of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, despite not adopting a democratic framework, are happier when compared with their democratic counterparts.
With the end of the decade-long civil war and implementation of Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), Nepal entered a phase of social and political transition with the removal of the monarchy and introduction of a federal framework. Despite this, none of the subsequent governments since the end of the conflict in 2006 has been successful in delivering good governance. Since the first election of the Constituent Assembly in 2008, none of the elections has handed majority to any political party to form a single party government. In the 2017 election, Nepal Communist Party (NCP) garnered majority in the federal parliament, but the NCP-led government collapsed after three years of its formation owing to the factional feud. Coalition governments have been the norm, not an exception. Due to their differing agendas and their need for political survival, coalition partners are often hostile with each other, leading to their polarisation and political instability. Parties are more focussed on ensuring their own survival than meeting the demands of people.
There has also been a tendency to ignore democratic norms in the last two decades. In accordance with the Constitution of Nepal, local bodies are solely governed by elected representatives. Unfortunately, these bodies were led by the civil servants who in turn were controlled by the all-party mechanism. Party mechanism was beyond the spirit and the provision of the constitution and there was complete absence of state in the local bodies which hampered the efforts for the prompt and qualitative public service delivery. The efficiency of government bodies has deteriorated leading to difficulties for the populace in receiving even their basic services. In addition, there is an absence of a mechanism to implement programmes and development works at the local level which has resulted in continuous budget freezes.
Thirdly, Nepal’s perception as a peace-loving nation as well as its religious connotation of being the birthplace of Lord Buddha and the only Hindu state in the world has been overshadowed by various corruption scams. Corruption has been a major obstacle to the quality of governance within the country and reports from Transparency International reinforces the widespread corruption in Nepal. Apart from a few, most higher-level politicians involved in corruption get off scot-free. Anti-corruption bodies are helpless in filing complaints against powerful individuals and they themselves are rife with corruption which erases accountability, a vital aspect of democracy and good governance.
Additionally, nepotism and clientelism has also been institutionalised. Offering high-level positions to those who are not qualified has an inimical effect on public service delivery. Moreover, poverty in Nepal has not been effectively addressed. Approximately, 20 per cent of people are living below the poverty line, earning less than a dollar per day. The social structures are also discriminating which has hindered the equal participation of marginalised groups in the decision-making processes. Lack of meaningful employment has led to an outmigration of people resulting in a drain of intellect and labour as citizens look outward to sustain their future survival.
Ethnic disharmony is also an issue which has created barriers to good governance. Ethnic tensions have been increasing and the revival of historical trauma has caused antagonistic relations between different groups resulting in security and social problems. Consequently, there is a situation of mutual mistrust which sometimes does lead to physical encounter and violence. In order to enhance good governance, peaceful relations between citizens are a must.
Nepal possesses a relatively small military force which is not adequate in fulfilling its security. Constant political transition has weakened the nation and state capacity and has had a negative effect on the military. The government is not able to provide even the basic services without the aid of bilateral and multilateral donors which increases its dependence on foreign actors. Such dependency on international community comes with a degree of political, social or economic interference from outside.
In a country like Nepal, a strong political will to reform concerned sectors is essential. Economic disparities and social inequalities are taken into consideration as the root cause of decade-long civil war. So, the government should focus on development works, economic programmes and awareness to overcome social stereotypes, stigmas and superstitions. While doing so, the religious, ethnic, and cultural aspects should be taken into high consideration. Otherwise, governance situation could not be improved to a desirable extent.
(The author is the former secretary of Nepal government.)