Monday, 6 December, 2021

Beating Predicament Of Weak Governance

Dev Raj Dahal


The rationale of governance implies collective rule making, rule enforcing and rule executing processes, authorities and institutions as per shared commitment to the constitution. It helps achieve national goals for the optimal satisfaction of citizens and get behavioural compliance. Its tools fulfil society’s functional needs-- provision, production and distribution of public goods while ideals carry legitimate and just use of power, transparent decision and accountability to the public. As a negotiated frame, robust governance keeps pace with the technological speed, ecological and economic change, growing expectations of citizens, controls pandemic and reasonably regulates citizens’ lives by what Sujai Shivakumar calls “problem solving traditions of a society’s indigenous institutions.” Weak governance habitually breeds vices, skews justice, fails to utilise relative utility of actors and plans less for the future. Coordination of their varied filters and behaviour is vital to keep just public order at multi-level governance and bridge issues and concerns for a lot more systemic fix.

Governance gaps
The governance gaps occur when sovereignty-constitutive public institutions are weak and ineffectual to execute shared tasks while sovereignty-free bichaulias (middle men) and interest groups are powerful enough to drain them and incline to reap illicit gains flagging both public and national interests and free ride on other’s hard work. The rise of poverty, inequality, joblessness, discrimination, corruption, impunity and anomie mark the signs of weak governance which are costly for the life of the wretched having fewer means for social mobility. Strong governance is central to keep shared policy space and right disposition of constitution, rules, institutions, processes and actors that can make the art of politics pivotal to spur productive business across the state, market and a variety of intermediary institutions between the family and the state.
Each of the governance actors affects one another but their combined synergy and feeling of solidarity in a shared destiny of the nation can beat baffling predicament. Their diverse lines of interaction demands consistency, synchronisation, communication and cooperative action to enable the governance to generate sheer force of political will and achieve its goals of social contract. Coordination helps concert large scale collective action and satisfies citizens’ constitutional and human rights, manages the circularity of demand and supply and improves governance indicators including justice and peace.
The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is the largest single political force having enough popular mandate to govern. Disarrayed oppositions, overwhelmed by the numbness of loser’s psychology, are feeble to take on oversight role. The intra-party power contest of NCP heavyweights, however, shows that rules, system and process of decision making have yet to shift from personalised practices to institutional norms. They influence the governance from behind the scene, not through enough deliberative, transparent and regularised process from bottom-up. Consensus on the rules of the game is central to make politics stable in terms of its legitimacy and properly apply resource, authority and power enabling the art of governing filled with promises.
The nation’s dreary malaises are piling up, swelled by growing frustration of citizens over the jolt of COVID-19, corporate leverage, mounting debts, fiscal deficits, rattled investments, economic downturn causing livelihood crisis, unplanned out-bound migration and scarcity of health related equipments, agricultural inputs, educational disarray, shortage of social discipline and geopolitical wrangling testing the gear of its socialistic kit. These challenges require coherent response of governance, an improvement in the failing human condition by the promotion of human rights - rights to life, liberty, health, education, food, security and opportunity enshrined in Nepal’s constitution.
Effective governance in a diverse society like Nepal supposes devoid of national capabilities of which security is the topmost. The security of citizens and defence of the state’s sovereignty are essential to harness human and natural resource potentials and unlock opportunity for entrepreneurships. Democracy, development and peace cannot flourish in a security vacuum. Security can be enhanced by bolstering state-bearing non-partisan institutions and cultivating the richness of its social capital of syncretism. The capacity of national independence of Nepal is closely associated with right steering shared and self-governance and enlarging their ability to produce and distribute public good impersonally. The Nepali state’s defective power monopoly, however, tells its decreasing outreach in society able to address unconventional security challenges and bolster the image and authority of discipline upholding and other specific constitutional bodies. So long as top leaders’ instinct to respect integrity, separation and check on each other’s power remains narrow, the governance efficacy fails to keep pace with interrelated transformations in the system and the life-world.
The second goal is to transform personalised rule of leadership to the impersonal rule of law. It enables Nepali polity offer legal equity, limitation of state power to constitution, reasonable regulation of market and legal certainty enabling the actors of governance fulfil their tasks and beat governance deficits arising out of inaction, partial action or party-government gridlock. Competent, motivated and honest public administration can live up to their oath of office and build state-citizens interface. In Nepal, the weakening of political parties by factionalism, legislative weakness by giving up its appropriate policy making authority and lazy adjudication functions by the courts with increasing delay, inefficiency and unfairness for partisan, corporate and executive biases are dismal signs of governance. Enabling them to function as per constitutional rules can arrest the free ride of the powerful elites over parties, legislature, executive, judiciary, constitutional bodies and watchdog agencies.
This is why standing committee meeting of NCP recently agreed on a roadmap to lubricate power-sharing deal, party unity, unity convention by next April, separation of the executive functions of co-chairmen Pushpa Kamala Dahal Prachanda and KP Sharma Oli, each not intervening in other’s domain and the government consult the party on vital issues. But its penchant to direct the government along party line does not cohere with the culture of democratic governance — constitutionalism — and its autonomy from interest groups.
The roadmap has mollified the risk of party split but lack of ideological and organisational coherence and contradiction on nominating Bam Dev Gautam to Upper House and endorsement of MCC in revised form are likely to cause conflict in the future. Dissenters are less satisfied with the refusal to accept “one person, one responsibility” formula and non-execution of party’s line of unity-struggle-transformation. Senior leader Madhav Nepal, the third force in the party, unveiling 17-point concept paper stated that the understanding of co-chairman of the party will have meaning if coordination is kept at multi-level party committee and governance, position sharing reflects power equation and the party is run as per principle and statute, not by setting and medium of comprador class.
The third goal is dense communication and feedback between Nepali leaders and citizens so that their civic participation in decision making becomes just and transparent. Participation offers ownership of Nepali citizens in official initiatives and legitimacy of leaders and policy and their compliance to rule, power and authority. Consent of those occupying radical and conservative space is equally essential to repair their faith in the democratic politics. The governance competency matters in reducing the causes of alienation, protests and rebellion. In Nepal where identity politics is institutionalised, training on citizenship and voice of left out sections is essential to build collective identity of pan-Nepalism and transcend tribalism, regionalism and patronage.
The fourth goal is generous social welfare which is profusely articulated in the constitution of Nepal such as social security, social justice, health, education, positive discrimination for women and Dalits and abolition of all forms of discrimination. These welfare rights can be attained if tax base of Nepali state is diversified, informal sector of economy organised and modernised making them productive and the nation can overcome its growing aid dependency, trade deficits, financial crunch, creaking infrastructures and weariness of corporate governance. Sustainable development entails public interest orientation of the actors of governance and the maintenance of their integrity in personal, professional and organisational life. This is vital to seek congruence of the governance and citizens and beat its malaises-- corruption, fraud and passing of unfair policy and deceiving those who are governed from the top-down.

Creative foreign policy
The fifth goal is to pursue a creative foreign policy to clog external penetration. Nepal has broad overlapping national interests and associative networks of transactions with India, China, the USA, other powers and international regimes enabling it to open different set of diplomatic loops, connectivity and initiatives. Intoxicated by strength and ambition, they are indulged in rumbling rivalry with each other for influence in the nation entailing it to secure historical insight, courage, wisdom, repertoire of skills and diplomatic flair to avoid being a hot spot for reason of its strategic geography and an ability to resolve the security dilemma of neighbours. It has risked stoking frozen fissures and proxy conflict causing national anxiety.
Nepal’s self-esteem demands coexistence with their multiple impulses, melody of relationship and gift of partnership in progress. Intellectual light to back up its diplomacy is essential to adapt to changing geopolitical constellation, maintain due diligence, resolve bilateral problems and craft innovative policy ideas to move safely ahead in the idiom of citizens socialised in universal aspirations. For a small state like Nepal its deftness should resemble a cat stalking its prey silently and a defensive hedgehog that is less disturbed by others. Range of creative ideas matters in enhancing Nepal’s destination of good governance embedded in choice and reflection.

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