Saturday, 4 December, 2021

The Costs Of Governance

Dev Raj Dahal


HUMAN beings are self-reflecting and self-interpreting species. Their passion, goals, beliefs and motivations are the traits that drive them to various vocations and actions. What they reflect and interpret shapes their own account of reality influenced by perception, desire, aspiration and interests. Human capacity for self-consciousness, reason and responsibilities has been well underlined in Nepal’s classical treatises which sought to strike a balance between cooperation and appropriation. They encapsulated diverse observational, moral, humanistic and spiritual experience of scholars into conceptual schemata for a dharma -based governance.
It is, therefore, important to guard against the influence of parochialism, prejudice and ideology as they limit in learning truth about human condition, lead one to pre-scientific conclusion and fails to make human life open to critical reflection essential to measure the costs of governance Nepalis are struggling against. Modern Nepali scholars and leaders must be capable of unveiling the rationality of citizens’ belief, values, culture, intention and action that shape the nation’s governing faith than only resorting to empirically-driven, socially divisive style of policy intervention.
The action of governance in Nepal for long oscillated in the shadow of the antinomies of market and the state, globalisation and nationalism and capacity of polity and increased rights and democratic centralism and decentralisation of power. The innovation of shared and self-rule has partially settled the question of sovereignty but many vital issues about the nature of Constitution, Nepali state, political system, government, etc. that are critical to the provision, production and supply of public good stay unsettled.
The costs of governance in Nepal are swelling by the bloated conglomerate of political class, bureaucracy and security agencies, enormous growth of special interest groups who farm rents from donors, the state, government, private sectors and international civil society and procedural cost of inter and intra-institutional communication, coordination, control, regulation and collective action leaving the poor pale into trickle-down, not fair justice. The reasons is the mismatch between moribund economy and huge rights and expectation of Nepalis from the weak state, demand-stoking multiple inclination of civil society, NGOs, federations and advocacy agencies corroding public trust on governance. Institutional atrophy has mounted the cost on governance especially in the delivery of public goods and services at optimal level to minimise the scale of discontents and agitations thus turning the nation into a noisy hub of brawl and geopolitics.
The policy science aims to improve the art of governance to set right contextual policies and institutions in action in order to reduce its costs in policy implementation. In Nepal, governance is defined by the constellation of the state, market and civil society beyond the circuit of legislature, executive and judiciary of the political system. The patronage character of Nepali politics has, however, failed to set the boundaries among them which is central to effective governance, a governance that stands fair chance of providing legitimate order, essential public goods for its citizens to rescue them from fear and necessity and expand civic sphere of freedom. The sprawl of party politics in every sphere of life has weakened the writ of democracy to become impersonal, left it unprotected from its spoilers and radical and conservative foes and failed to build a mechanism to reduce the cost of voice, visibility, participation and leadership of ordinary citizens.
The representative link of Nepalis with the polity and the legitimacy derived from the strength of their interface with public authorities and the autonomous functions of the state institutions have to be bolstered to improve the scale of their credibility and performance in the empowerment of citizens. Ironically, the penetration of political parties into all these realms has enabled them to control politics, law and policy outcome, despite opening the polity and the state to various perspectives and actors. The fluidity of the boundaries among Nepali political parties has turned them de-ideologised and caused their rationality deficits for separate existence and self-accountability. This is why high density of elites, interest groups, business, professionals, civil society, NGOs and international regimes exerts autonomous influence on political and policy decisions, sometimes exploit each other’s fragility and provide invisible rewards to their members thus depriving governance benefits for the weak.
In a fledgling democracy, addressing patronage, cronyism, corruption and impunity of human rights abuses from the public life of Nepal is the policy goal for transforming informal to formal governance for it creates economic surplus necessary for society to invest in priority areas and generate enough political will to reduce the cost of security and law-enforcement. Nepali politics offers options and possibilities to see the problem and issues from a variety of perspectives and contributes to framing public policy implementable in the society. The policy irony of Nepal is disciplinary nature of knowledge to address non-disciplinary nature of problems where the interest of hidden, potential and left out forces are often ignored by the mainstream political leaders governed by the logic of power equation, not civic culture of democracy.
It thus leaves the space outside the equation for the disgruntled, system-smashing and parochial forces bent on flagging the institutional and constitutional boundaries of Nepali governance. Today, all policies of Nepal are imported and their analysis is determined by economic rationality of market, not the reality of the nation. Leaders find less incentive to work out mutually satisfying solution that can unburden the courts and future generations. The market view of Nepali society by planners and politicians as aggregation of egoist individuals does not hold ground for it disconnects the values of ecology, culture, religion, tradition and social genes of reciprocity upon which community life of Nepal is grounded.
The public belief of Nepali authorities is that if they do not skim off economic surplus their families suffer thus offering no incentive for them to maintain integrity of public life. The Nepali citizenship defines the rights and duties and enables them to participate in the political process of multi-level governance balancing personal, public, national and enlightened human interests shared with global community.
The potential rationality deficit of Nepali governance, however, lies in three gaps: disjuncture between constitutional vision and political behaviour of leaders, fusion of politics, bureaucracy and business and constitutional spirit of power balance, separation and devolution and national vision and internationally crafted development goals. Nepali politics thus casts incoherence between the rule of law and political process posing structural challenge in attaining public goods to all. This deficit is permeating all political relationships, constitutional bodies, public institutions and practices. As a result, the passion of Nepalis for politics drives them to demand needs and rights fulfilment for a life of dignity.
But when political power is freed from its responsibilities to represent citizens, formulate broad-based public policy and address their rights and legitimate needs then political leaders’ promise-act and discourse become only rhetorical in style draining social capital essential for eliciting voluntary participation of citizens. It increases costs for human solidarity and a common set of legal and moral principles binding to all. The policy questions of freedom, justice, solidarity and peace in Nepal can be resolved through electoral and political struggles as they make leaders accountable to their promises.
The culture of Nepali society cannot be explained by scientific reason but by the view of life rituals, beliefs, feelings, emotion, attachment and solidarity which allows its members to celebrate together. Each sub-culture has its own rationality but shares with Nepali culture many things conforming its norms and codes without which it may be difficult to construct and maintain national identity. Scientific tools are used in many of its classical lore and projection of ideal life-histories of heroes and builders to socialise, politicise and mobilise Nepalis. Nepali social system is maintained by its caste, class and gender structures, norms of reciprocity, rules and practices pertinent to environmental and technological adaptation.
It is changing with rights-based discourse, sustainable economy, inclusive polity, modernity-driven aspirations and capacity of its critical mass to dynamise various subcultures of society. They are also critical factors to social conformity with the law, keep social cohesion and organise effective collective action aiming to reduce opportunity differential for citizens and enhance national identity and acceptability abroad. Window of political possibility is opening with the welfare state of Nepal which demands systematic framework of public policy and elicits the loyalty of the poor through redistributive governance. But it must generate sufficient revenue to maintain sustainable economic development by harnessing natural resources, real economy and human potential and compensate the loss from tourism, remittance and service sector inflicted by misplaced fantasy that financial capitalism can pull Nepalis out of poverty and the need of lockdown now.
Democracy has offered scope for the poor Nepalis to struggle to realise their constitutional rights and move from the margin to the mainstream of governance debate. The vibrant cultural industries of the nation are highlighting the areas of governance reforms and provide choice for multitude of Nepalis whose struggle for an egalitarian society remains unfinished. The locality has captured the centrality of politics now. It is the only sphere where the management of local common resources, infrastructures, communication, association and productive enterprises helps to build nation from below and gain resilience against disruptive forces that increases the costs for governance. Nepal has enough possibility to rebound by restoring the integrity of public life, ethics of responsibility and public trust in the improvement of governance performance.

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