Friday, 22 January, 2021

Improving Governance And Integrity

Mukti Rijal


Transparency International (TI) Report on corruption 2020 released, the other day, has been widely commented in Nepal. Its findings have even been contested from methodological and intentional point of view. According to the TI report, people’s perception of the state of corruption in Nepal is tinged with pessimistic outlook. Known as Global Corruption Barometer: Asia 2020, the report is dismissed to be lacking in methodological rigour and objectivity. It is reported that a majority of people surveyed in Nepal this year perceived that the corruption has increasingly gone up in Nepal. However, perceptions cannot always be real and grounded into reality.
According to the report, Nepal is bracketed among the countries like Thailand, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Indonesia that took top positions in terms of people's perception of corruption. Likewise, India and Bangladesh are also among the nations in South Asia that are listed where the level of corruption is perceived to be fairly high. TI’s reports of the previous years had also painted similar picture about the state of global corruption especially in many South and East Asian countries. The reports basically highlighted the relationship between politics, money and corruption. This year's report shows the accusing finger to the politicians, among other factors, for the alleged growing corruption in the respective countries.

However, in ensuring credibility and acceptability, authors of the TI report many believe should avoid naming and blaming a particular leader on the basis of perceptions and heresies only. In several countries as highlighted in the report it is alleged that the businessmen and entrepreneurs have an access to the corridors of power. They take benefit of it and attempt to capture some of the state policies and administrative apparatus. They exercise an influence on the high level government functionaries to extract undue advantage in expanding their business networks and profiteering deals. Responsible bureaucrats are amenable to such influences and get tempted to indulge into corrupt practices.
Moreover, expensive elections have been attributed among the major causes of corruption in many countries, including Nepal. Politicians are compelled to seek favour of the big business houses for support and contributions to finance the elections. The unregulated flows of big money in politics especially from the business houses also make public policy vulnerable to undue influence. Furthermore, reports generated by civil society organisations state that the countries with stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations have lower levels of corruption. But the countries where such regulations either don’t exist or are poorly enforced fare worse. Many countries that significantly improved their corruption perception scores also strengthened their enforcement of campaign finance regulations.
In fact, the current state of corruption undoubtedly speaks to a need for greater political integrity among the politicians. In ensuring control of corruption, governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure broad based input in political decision-making. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and broad based stakeholder participation. It is reported the countries with broader and more open consultation processes perform better on the perception index. By contrast, where there is little to no consultation, the state of governance is poor. A vast majority of countries that significantly improved their governance system engaged the most relevant political, social and financial actors and stakeholders in political decision-making.
Across the board, it is widely held by the stakeholders that rich people perform the influential role and buy the elections. This was also substantiated by some of the cases in the last democratic general elections held across three levels in Nepal. There is a need to insulate the democratic political process including the elections from the indiscriminate influence and control of plutocracy. Government should, therefore, keep vigil and tighten the control of rapacious profit seekers over financial and policy interests of the people. Moreover, it is necessary that governments should establish cooling-off periods for former officials and bureaucrats to work for the non-government and private corporate sector and ensure that rules are properly enforced and sanctioned. Governments should create mechanisms to ensure that service delivery and public resource allocation are not driven by personal connections.

Disclosure of income sources
The current state of corruption speaks to a need for greater political integrity in many countries. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power and undue influence, but by fair consultation, rational and responsible deliberation and allocation of resources. Moreover, political parties should also disclose their sources of income to finance the electoral campaign. For democracy to be effective and result-oriented, governments must ensure that elections are free and fair. Preventing and sanctioning vote-buying are essential in rebuilding trust in government and ensuring that citizens can use their vote in a scrupulous manner.
Democratic elections held in 2017 in accordance with the provisions of the federal constitution enacted in 2015 indicated that the polls have become prohibitively expensive both in terms of management and campaigning to jeopardise the rationale and significance of democratic polity. It is time to review the system to ensure that politicians are not lured and feel compelled to misappropriate and misdirect the national treasury for the sake of contesting polls.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. 

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