The ethics of accountable governance is intrinsically associated with such elements as responsibility, answerability, integrity of duty, sound performance, openness and trust of people. It is an insurance against failure. These elements are crucial to meet popular expectations and assure the basis of legitimacy. Accountable governance discharges all the tasks assigned to it in accordance with the rule of law — transparent to the public as per the constitutional provision of right to information, contestable in the courts, functions in accordance with the consent of the people and reviewed by the departments of autonomous audit, legislative committee, media and other oversight and watchdog agencies.
Nepali leaders have the prime responsibility to set the ethical standards and become accountable to the nation and people. They are liable for the consequences of their actions whether they have to work under low- or high-pressure circumstances. In this sense, they need to revisit their assumptions and prejudices to fit with the changing system-sensitive deliberative politics and rights of people. Accountable governance has become a template for legitimate exercise of institutional power of the state and non-state actors under constitutional mandate to steer desirable actions of all the actors and stakeholders and satisfy peoples’ expectation through the fair provision, cost-efficient production and distribution of public goods in society.
Political consciousness in Nepal is surging which may help ordinary Nepalis to raise their voice, experience visibility and make a choice and effect rational action. Governance emptied of moral accountability to serve beyond primordial and partisan considerations and big picture of spiritual tradition to uphold duties to humanity and other species simply turns the public life of people broken and miserable and naturally feeds off societal malaises and rising blame-driven politics, not mutual accountability. It is a politics that yields only suboptimal outcome.
Accountable governance is a goal-oriented, purposive, coordinated and society-centric complex regime of the state, market and all the intermediary institutions, networks, movements and activities of citizens called civil society. Each actor, locked into interdependence, communicates and interacts with the other and utilises each other’s qualities to produce a synergistic outcome for development if they have common democratic socialisation. The mandate, power, authority and privileges they enjoy correspond to their tasks as per the guiding principles and rules and orientation to fulfill Nepalis constitutional and human rights and their legitimate aspirations for their freedom and wellbeing. Nepal has established the institutions of accountability at multi-level governance but they seemed feeble to evolve a political culture and discipline attuned to it.
Accountable governance also rests on how the nation’s leader’s election or selection processes are fairly organised. Obviously, Nepalis are responsible for the election of leaders. The modern values of “personal is political” presume that people are responsible to invent self and create a life of choice they prefer to live by. If the objective foundation of choice is weak they are easily manipulated by parochial considerations, short-term gain and shroud by ignorance thus fail to elect transformational leadership capable of representing people, working for their public interest and the national interests by enhancing the nation’s diplomatic maneuverability.
The capacity of state-bearing institutions rests on addressing the changing security situation and an adaptation to the technological, organisational and geopolitical evolution of politics, economy, society and foreign policies. The leaders’ imperative to survive in power by whatever means available has, however, created a disjuncture between the attainment of constitutional and sustainable development goals and atrophy of means and resources to pull off them beyond utilitarian calculus, egoistic drive or instinctive impulse, not fair choices. Utilitarian leaders emphasise on outcome, not the established constitutional and democratic process or rule of law. The lumbering political classes represent their own interest in cultivating political constituencies through state resources and often struggle for subsidy, privilege, patronage and monopoly, not evolving the concept of democratic self-governance.
Nepal’s personalised systems of parties have weakened the institutional base of the nation while others espousing instinctive impulse do not care about the popular feedback and have made every decision controversial, not consensual and rational. Both the tendencies have foreclosed possibilities for collective action. As a result, many issues of national interests are frozen in leaders' minds to be raised only when they occupy the opposition bench. As a result, the skewed execution of law and institutions sets the condition of uncertainty about accountability to future generations.
Accountable governance wields diverse Nepalis into common statehood and, therefore, less besieged by centrifugal forces of society. Nepali constitution has granted popular sovereignty envisaging downward accountability and redistribution of political and economic power. Those survival-oriented leaders are, however, transactional. They cannot be proactive in undertaking worthy transformational initiatives to settle multi-layered problems, transcend parochial differences and societal cleavages through a politics of rational compromise of interests, identities and ideologies and uphold the integrity and accountability of governance institutions.
They only muddle around election, organisational control and cultivate linkage politics in other parties to perpetuate in power through power bloc politics of alliances and counter-alliances irrespective of historically evolved differing identities and the risks the gush of populist politics, politics of reaction, historical amnesia, nostalgia and cover up of flaws. Only transformational leaders with the constitutional vision, have the ability to foster effective and accountable governance as a key to spur equitable and suitable economic development and engage in an uphill struggle to achieve SDGs.
Those reactive ones fail to find attunement of governance to the evolving internal and geopolitical condition, liberate public morality from the manipulation of spin doctors and find themselves in catalogues of deficiencies and frail to realise its potential through the self-determination in politics, laws and public policies. It has become especially difficult as sectional or special interest groups are becoming so powerful that they skew both general will and public good. Even the market principles, veered off their constitutional course, operate more by either family based or partisan political culture than by spirit of competition and fair price. Breaking the systemic defects of syndicate and monopoly is essential to alleviate the scarcity of public goods.
Political collusion of privileged classes has, however, made Nepali state very weak to realise enlarged rights including property rights, expand the space for productive participation and reasonable delivery of public goods on a sustainable basis. Recalibration of reforms in the governing institutions from leadership-breeding, justice-dispensing, socialising to service-delivering agencies is essential to make them performance-oriented. Nepali civil society groups too need to assume civic virtues of charity and act as a countervailing power on behalf of citizens without crossing the boundaries of discipline defined for them.
All the constitutional bodies and public institutions of Nepal are tangled in a variety of political parties and their auxiliary organisations and facing accusations of not being impersonal to citizens. As a result, they are suffering from a crisis of rationality, legitimacy and impersonal performance. This means autonomy, integrity, consistency and adaptability of public institutions are essential to dot the solution caused by value changes in ecological sustainability, social inclusiveness, equity-based economics and participatory politics, vault people from agonizing conditions of living and keep the policy cycle relevant to the distribution of public goods to enhance freedom, order and justice of Nepalis.
Optimal use of its own resources, natural and human, cultural wealth and site of strategic geography can set a favourable context to formulate indigenous policies owned by all to regenerate its own surplus and high value products in areas of comparative advantages so that Nepalis can pursue the life of freedom and dignity in well-ordered governance. Forward-looking accountability equally requires the administration of justice careful and fast beyond the survival imperatives of authorities, their incentives to stay in power by unwritten practices and make the future superior to the past.
In Nepal, governance-effectiveness rests on placing high-performance culture, establishing state and society ownership in politics, constitutional laws and development policies. It postpones their alienation of people from the polarisation of development and meets the existential, freedom-enhancing and transformational means at multi-level governance within the nation and escape from the push and pull of labour migration and brain drain. It is crucial to build a system that protects citizens from the risks of poverty, design public policy and programme to reach out to them to avert the global ranking of weak state context and muddle through a hopeful future by improving the confidence of citizens in reshaping shared prosperity.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)