There is no denying that corruption is the cancer of our society. But this statement must be taken with a pinch of salt. Science has yet to invent medicine to cure cancer, from which people are dying. Whereas corruption can be cured and society will not collapse just due to a single reason of corruption. Therefore corruption and cancer may not be synonymous terms. Examples all over the world have shown that societies could achieve double-digit growth if corruption is efficiently controlled.
It is said that corruption is one of the oldest social evils, which existed from ancient days of human race. Transparency International (TI), the global anti-graft watchdog that looks into corruption cases world over, has yet to find a single country in the world with zero corruption. This means that countries can develop even with certain degree of corruption in the society. In spite of quite uncomfortable level of corruption in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and SAARC countries, they are moving ahead quite fast in socio-economic development compared to Nepal.
We just cannot afford to go slow in nation building activities waiting for corruption level coming down to the level of developed society. As to the highly publicized reports released by TI every year, it is not necessary that foreign experts are always right. There is no harm in re-visiting TI’s data that put Nepal under the list of “most corrupted countries of the world.” And it will be beneficial for the government and Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) to find out the significant determinants that influence TI’s ‘merit list.’ Moreover, it is likely that complex mathematical analysis, which must have been used by TI in mapping corruption pattern in 200 countries of the world, may also have been tempered by experts’ opinions.
Often, Nepali intelligentsia, including media, creates the impression that the biggest reason for slow economic growth in the past few decades is corruption. In fact, a part of the reason for non-performance in economic development of the country is total weaknesses of the past governments in priority-setting and decision-making. Political upheavals and squabbles could be placed in the second position. Corruption could be placed only in third position for the sorry state of affairs in the country. Many may raise eyebrows of placing corruption in the third category in the list of reasons for slow pace of development in almost all sectors in the past few decades. But facts and figures from dozens of developing as well as least developed countries easily prove that most of those countries moved ahead in nation building activities without waiting for degree of corruption to subside to the level of developed society.
Faulty priority-setting, poor decision-making and political instability contribute more to Nepal’s lack of development than corruption.
One serious side-effect of highly publicized corruption scandals and undue importance given to the role of corruption in slow growth of nation building activities, is the dangerously negative and highly pessimistic “Nepal-has-no-future” mentality developing in the vast majority of the population, especially youths. Government and political stalwarts must realize that it will be virtually impossible to develop a society with majority of highly de-motivated, demoralized and pessimistic population. Intelligentsia and media must play a role urgently to stop making our society the most negative-minded population in the world.
However, this is not say we do not need to fight corruption. We must. And there are a number of ways of doing it. One way to deal with corruption is to have a powerful and efficient anti-corruption agency. Second way is to create awareness in the society about ills of corruption. On both accounts, our country is doing fairly well. Of course, there was a serious lapse on the part of governments, including the present one, in failing to appoint the head of CIAA for the past five years. It will be no exaggeration to state that main bottle-neck in corruption control affairs is the neck of the bottle itself, that is political parties and politicians.
They tacitly support corruption because it is a source for them to run their parties and to fiancé elections. Therefore, it is high time that political parties formulate a practical action plan to generate fund, without illegal means, to run parties and to finance election campaigns, which is reported to be in tens of millions of rupees, if not in billions. Civil Society and media should vigorously campaign for exerting pressure on political parties to do something about so-called “political funds.” It is a open secret that major chunk of ‘donations’, mostly illegal ones, collected in the name of parties, goes to personal pockets of leaders and party-workers.
Hence, unless this source of corruption is tackled, it will not be possible to minimize corruption level substantially. Moreover, the presence of corruption in high places will make it difficult for anti-corruption agency to justify and highlight even morally correct anti-corruption actions, which in turn may hamper creation of awareness in the society. Unfortunate controversial statements from highest level eminent personalities regarding recent judgment of Supreme Court in one of the corruption cases is a glowing example. It might be worthwhile to put renowned philosopher Dr Amartya Sen’s question here: “Can there be a satisfactory understanding of ethics in general and of justice in particular that confines its attention to some people and not others, presuming—if only implicitly—that some people are relevant while others simply are not?”
The author is former Executive Chairman, Nepal Airlines Corporation