Transparency International (TI) report 2019 highlights the worldwide relationship between politics, money and corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2019 in the report reveals that a staggering number of countries are showing little or no improvement in tackling corruption. The index scores 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption as viewed by experts, stakeholders and business people. The perception as revealed in the report is built in and fed by the growing nexus between politics, businesspersons and tycoons abetting to the rise of politics based on cronyism. This is exactly what has happened in Nepal for long and perceptibly expressed during these days. A group of businessmen and entrepreneurs with access to the corridors of power have seemingly captured some of the state policies and administrative apparatus to peddle influence in the executive acts of the state. As a consequence political leaders, bureaucrats and businesspersons are implicated in corruption allegations, and some of them are framed and booked in the court of justice. Why do politicians indulge in corrupt practices even as they are entitled to enjoy privileges and perks which are disproportionately excessive and lavish by any standards which ordinary people cannot even think? Politicians are placed in the special privileged category vesting in them an unfettered power and authority to meddle into the affairs of the state. Expensive elections have been attributed among the major causes of political corruption in many countries including Nepal. Politicians tend to court the big business houses for financial contributions to finance elections. During the recent days, contracting out big projects has been abused to extract grease money with a penchant to amass illicit wealth. In an interview aired in the local TV channel other day former chief election commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokharel has stressed the need for reviewing the election system as the existing model has given rise to patrimonial, corrupt and hegemonic political leadership. Moreover, Transparency International report mentions that the unregulated flow of big money in politics also makes public policy vulnerable to undue influence. The report explains that the countries with stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations have lower levels of corruption, as measured by the corruption perception index. Countries where campaign finance regulations are comprehensive and systematically enforced do score high as indicated in the perception index whereas countries where such regulations either don’t exist or are poorly enforced score worse. Many countries that significantly improved their corruption perception scores also strengthened their enforcement of campaign finance regulations. In addition, when policy makers listen only to wealthy or politically connected individuals and groups, they often do so at the expense of the citizens they serve. In fact, the current state of corruption speaks to a need for greater political integrity in many countries. In enhancing possibilities and chances of controlling corruption, governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure broad input in political decision-making. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and impartial budget. In the same vein, TI report does suggest that reducing big money in politics and promoting inclusive political decision making are essential to curb corruption. The report mentions that the countries with broader and more open consultation processes perform better on the perception index. By contrast, where there is little or no consultation, the average score is very poor. A vast majority of countries that significantly declined their CPI scores do not engage the most relevant political, social and financial actors and stakeholders in political decision making. Countries with lower CPI scores also have a higher concentration of political power among wealthy citizens. Across the board, there is a growing popular perception that rich people buy elections which was also substantiated by some of the cases in the last general elections held at three levels. Governments should, therefore, reduce the risk of undue influence in its policy-making. It should tighten controls of rapacious profit seekers over financial and policy interests of the people. .The Transparency Report suggests that the governments should establish cooling-off periods for former officials to work for the non-government 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 or are biased towards special interest groups at the expense of the overall public good. In order to prevent excessive money and influence in politics, governments should improve and properly enforce campaign finance regulations. 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 or political influence, but by fair consultation and rational and responsible allocation of budgetary resources. Political parties should also disclose their sources of income, assets and loans. Furthermore governments should empower oversight agencies with stronger mandates and appropriate resources. For democracy to be effective against corruption, governments must ensure that elections are free and fair. Preventing and sanctioning vote-buying and misinformation campaigns are essential in rebuilding trust in government and ensuring that citizens can use their vote to punish corrupt politicians. Governments should protect civil liberties and political rights including freedom of speech, expression and association. Governments should also engage civil society, and protect citizens, activists, whistleblowers and allow journalists in monitoring elections to prevent foul campaigning that challenge the integrity of electoral process. The democratic elections held in 2017 indicated that the elections have become prohibitively expensive both in terms of management and campaigning to defy the rationale and significance of democratic polity. It is time to review the system to ensure that politicians are not lured to squander the national treasury for the sake of contesting polls.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at email@example.com)