Overcoming Hurdles To Good Governance

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The art of governance presumes an unalloyed and correct array of rules, actors and processes which reconciles moral philosophy with the constitutional conduct and negotiates with diverse societal demands, interests and issues in a perfect accord. Its cardinal virtue is the rightness in the performance of its key vectors - the state, the market, civil society and the general people - each with different functions, imperatives and mandates but requires cooperation to settle problems of multi-scale in nature.

The state is endowed with the monopoly on power to create public order, security and rule of law and synchronises the functions of all societal actors. The Nepali state needs freedom from the penetration of non-state forces into its institutions so that it can determine its affairs for the general good of its population and carry out duties beyond borders. The globally integrated but internally segmented Nepali market is allowed for the efficient production, allocation and exchange of goods and services. 

Yet its transactional practices are governed more by the utilitarian calculation of profit than the moral spin of just price. The boundaries between business and politics are blurred as both are run by elite associations of society — interest groups, contractors, brokers, bankers, operators of private educational and health institutions, comprador class and family-run practices. They habitually distort policy regimes. Both have weakened the ability of Nepali state to stand above interest groups, capacity to formulate and execute policies in the public and national interests, act impersonally in the general interest of people and balance rival geopolitical interests of fraying global order so that it does not create eternal governmental and political instability by confiscating the state’s capacity.

Efficacy of civil society

The efficacy of Nepali civil society rests on educating the people about their rights and duties, protecting the weak, giving voice to the voiceless, keeping due diligence and mediating the extremism of power and wealth in society. Yet, like markets and political classes, they are highly projectised and lack the participatory and empancipatory zeal of the nation’s classical ethos. Popular sovereignty enshrined in the constitution means final political authority lies in the hands of people and democratic power should spring from bottom up, not top-down in a bureaucratic way. Ironically, run under international stimuli of funding, philosophy and implementing agencies, civil society, like NGOs and auxiliary organisations of political parties, are entangled in the dialectic of inclusion and exclusion politics and limping collective action in democratic nation building. 

For long, governance in Nepal has penetrated vast areas posing problematic conditions of what to include and what to exclude from its domain and thus infringing each other’s prerogative. The new conceptual jolt, the gear change of government to governance with an emphasis on state minimalism in development where civil society and the market competed with it in policy space without shouldering corresponding burdens has, however, stilted the coherence of the state, economy, civil society and people in the national space. As a goal-oriented process, governance transcends the constitutional outreach and embodies ethical values of legitimacy, accountability, transparency, equity and responsiveness to the public. It links the wider horizon of education into practical policy affairs, social and economic discipline, moral training and civic action.  

The violation of normative culture of raj dharma can suffocate its goal orientation. One can see leaders’ under achievements of electoral and constitutional promises thus appearing weak to convert electoral legitimacy into substance democracy. A paradox lies in between the pre-democratic legacy of feudalism and the modern welfare state. As a result, the nation now finds a long catalogue of complex problems whose solutions require a balance between the leaders’ exercise of political power and political accountability to the public. The government is struggling to address the issues of loan shark victims, conflict sufferers, erosion of ecological and cultural forces, slow revenue collection, peasants’ demands for agricultural inputs, business persons’ plea for macro-political stability, poor capital investment and the struggle for the recognition of a myriad of people for their freedom, opportunity and dignity. 

Constitutional consideration is pertinent for caring engagement of governance because it embraces many relevant areas, despite a bundle of its contradictions each propelling the upsurge of rights, not duties and unburdening the future generation from powerlessness, debt and dependency. The enactment of right to information can work if there is a strong political will to punish crime, corruption, irregularities, deceit and rent-seeking, limiting secrecy and promoting transparency in the execution of equity concern. The quality of institutions of enlightenment matters for effective governance. The summum bonum of responsive governance is to provide public goods by a synergy of what Nepal’s constitution visualizes the public, private and cooperative sectors. It however, demands viva activa, the active and awakened life of Nepali leaders and people, not only on issuing rhetorical statements and casting an eternal illusion of progress. To Hannah Arendt, viva activa relates to three human conditions: labour, work and action. “Labour is life, absence of labor is death,” said Astavakra. 

Nepal’s internal labour market is squeezing. This has implications for production and the ability of democracy to provide opportunities for people such as poverty alleviation, employment generation and social cohesion and create their stake in the civic institutions — political parties, polity and the state. Mass migration of Nepali workers abroad drains its youth bulge and deprives them of the opportunity to enjoy all constitutional rights including the right to work and live with dignity.  Yet, they are the source of remittance which serves as the lifeblood of the national economy. Work opportunities have been compressed by the cut of agriculture subsidy and privatisation of all import-substituting public industries, massive import and underutilisation of natural resources thus subjecting Nepalis to inflation, raising cost of living and existential crisis. Nepal’s dysfunctional education system is partly responsible for this. As a result, national tax is insufficient to finance the survival of the state.

The revisit of geopolitics has, however, resurrected the primacy of the state over the other two vectors. Its imperatives demand the alignment of democracy and economy with foreign policy beyond geographical gaze. Nepali leadership has to change its political culture from transactional to transformational one able to adapt the nation in a great technological and geopolitical acceleration. The former type of leadership is the step-child of human nature while the latter is based on public interest, human rights and normative ideals. The former thrives on chaos; disorder and instability while the latter on sanity of tradition, order and peace. Virtuous and effective leaders are capable of utilising the benefits of democracy to improve the Nepalis’ condition of living and assume historical responsibility to protect national independence. They thus avoid politics turning into a grubby game unable to unpack the middle ground between personal differences among them and the commonality of people forming a mosaic of unity in diversity.

Those canonised in social science theories narrate governance in terms of their disciplinary lenses and justify their powerful patrons without focusing on improving the seamless web of several empirical variables that impinge on Nepal’s human development indicators. One can clearly see how coterie politics around leaders collude for their own interests and create a vexing nexus of power acting against public good. Those who extol the virtues of democratic polity only find flaws and imperfection in non-political factors influencing internal power struggle of political parties and favour the civic culture as a basis of governance beyond electoral outcome. Periodic election only bolsters the input side of legitimacy of governance, not the output side — performance and increases the trust of people in the integrity of constitutional bodies and public institutions. The difficulty in the execution of the institutional rules of the game in an impartial manner is obvious.

 The party dominance of executive, legislative and judiciary only indicates the absence of checks and balances and devolution of power in the system thus leaving federal, provincial and local governments jostling for resources, personnel, laws and clearly defined boundaries. The preference of bureaucracy for hierarchical coordination afflicts the business and civil society’s interest in de-bureaucratisation. Can the yet to-be- formed Administrative Restructuring Commission generate creative ideas for the smooth way of public admin or as usual pile up another report having the lack of political will for execution. Nepali people see only the thick veneer of partisan politics and the thin surface of democracy at the top where leaders preside in exchange relationships. Corruption and impunity have skewed the prospect for democratic dividend while deferral of transitional justice stokes conflict residues — both victors and victims to unite in opposite poles.

Disjuncture 

The leaders’ imperative to survive in power by whatever means available creates a disjuncture between the achievement of constitutional and sustainable development goals and atrophy of means to achieve them. Those survival-oriented leaders cannot be pro-active in undertaking worthy initiatives to settle multi-layered conflicts.  They only muddle around election, organisational control and cultivate linkage politics in other parties. In a fledgling democracy like Nepal leadership is pivotal for social transformation and it must have wisdom, sense of decency and propriety in dispensing justice. In a word, leadership must be cultured, able to liberate people from poverty, distress, ignorance and connect them to shared nationality and humanity.

Recalibration of reforms in the governing institutions from security and discipline- maintaining, legitimacy fostering, admin and integrity upholding, socialising to service-delivering agencies is essential to make them performance-oriented.  When all the constitutional bodies and public institutions are entangled in a variety of political parties and their auxiliary organisations, performance suffers a snag. This means autonomy and adaptability of public institutions are essential to spot the causes of ecological, social, economic and political shifts, liberate people from excruciating conditions of living and keep the production, provision and distribution of public good to enhance just peace and order so that Nepalis can pursue the life of freedom and dignity in well-ordered governance. It requires the administration of justice scrupulous and fast beyond the survival imperatives of leaders, their incentives to stay in power by unwritten transcript of society and make the future better than the past.  

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)

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