The toll a difficult transition takes on the governance of a nation is amply evident in Nepal. Weak and ineffective governance, in turn, makes the transition even more difficult. In this scenario when increasing impediments are delaying the end to this transition, dangers of social anomy become ever more pertinent. ‘Corruption’ as a manifestation of the anomic behavior is rife in societies during periods of both conflict and transition. Joseph Nye’s (1967) distilled version of definition of corruption (abuse of public office for private gain) is more common in the corruption parlance.
Indeed, the ‘greed’—resulting in both the misadministration of the state and the malevolence of the non-state actors—as a corresponding motivation of civil conflict instead of the sole rationale of ‘grievances’ has been discussed in a research paper (Collier and Hoefler, 2001), triggering a chain of academic discussions. A rejoinder (Addison and Murshed, 2003) moves beyond “greed versus grievances” and establishes various formations of conflict that essentially boil down to need for better governance.
However, there is need to look beyond the narrowly economic perception of corruption into a range of governance related issues, which provide clarity for scrutinizing it from different panes of the rule of law. Some experts argue that given the futility of applying value based judgments on as pervasive a social variable as corruption, the managerialistic approach of anti-corruption as a sanitizing task is prone to failure. This is evident given the prevalence of corruption despite a host of legislative, executive and judicial functions directed at checking it. They argue for moving beyond managerialism into the organizational integrity system—a holistic approach that makes the system functionally check corruption.
The discussion on corruption has evolved from the traditional definition of an exception to the rule to the one tied to basics of individual existential prerogative in the contemporary world—human rights. There are fresh insights into the inquiry of corruption as an affront on human rights, which has been assiduously connected by unpacking the values inherent in democracy and the associated developmental objective of the contemporary state as set of rights—the breeching of which by corruption amounts to the abuse of human rights. This takes us back to the discussion earlier on corruption as the cause of conflict, with the argument now being that corruption amounts to human rights violations, which in turn acts as an instigator for movements demanding a regime change to redress the situation.
Corruption is pervasive across the world, in both developing and developed countries; with some of the biggest corruption cases grabbing headlines in the latter. These countries are not under the perennial threat of conflict or violent regime change unlike developing countries. Nevertheless, the causes and effects of corruption vary from one country to another Given that developing countries generally have weak and fragile governance system, the toll corruption could have on the country is amplified. Corruption features prominently in the list of state ‘ills’ to be cured when rebellion starts. In Nepal too, corruption was the key issue in the list of demands presented to the then government by the Maoists before they launched their armed movement.
However, corruption as a cause, prompting the need for regime change, has been an easy route for claimants and usurpers of political power. Corruption has a convenient ammunition against opponents. But a clear correlation between rise in corruption, decline in rule of law and crumbling governance is apparent in all pre-conflict, conflict ridden and post-conflict states. The rapid increase in the incidences of corruption at the time of crisis has severe political consequences, including the downfall of the regime as it loses people’s support. A similar argument could be made on Nepal’s regime change in 2006 when corruption became rife towards the end of the royal rule. In fact, civil conflicts have been found to fester even more corruption. It makes the argument cyclical; from corruption instigating civil conflict to the civil conflict aggravating corruption. It is a downward helix, with one necessitating the other; further entrenching corruption in the process.
Fragile states like Nepal still reeling under the effects of an active civil war are particularly affected by the culture of entrenched corruption. The adverse effects of corruption on the economy are almost tautological; with the consequences including low investment rate, diminishing tax revenues, anomaly in government expenditure and poor service delivery. And these are precisely the conditions that make the country in a post-conflict situation vulnerable to a renewed conflict.
The social cost of corruption is particularly debilitating for a country like Nepal with widening inequalities exacerbated by scarcity of resources for investment in basic social and physical infrastructure like health, education, nutrition and housing. That it is these very socio-economic conditions that largely led to the civil conflict in Nepal is adequately discussed in different literature. The extent of corruption is a key determinant of the legitimacy enjoyed by the government in democracies. In Nepal, a series of high profile corruption cases against the incumbents in the post-1990 period eroded the legitimacy of the democratic system, further fuelling the civil conflict.
Corruption instigates civil conflict, which in turn aggravates corruption. It is a downward helix, with one necessitating the other and deeply entrenching corruption in the process.
Because the legitimacy of a regime is more crucial during periods of transition, as in current-day Nepal, the government’s untainted image becomes a pre-requisite for the success of the peace process. However, the confusion during transition provides opportunities for the entrenched corrupt elements, particularly the established business interests, to collude with the bureaucracy. Uncertain of their future in the new regime, with new political groups, these elements devise a syndicated scheme of rapid and opaque business transactions at a grand scale that consequently transfers state wealth into private hands. Hellman et al. (2000), from their studies of Eastern Europe’s abrupt transformation, have termed this as ‘state capture’—the transfer of the parastatal industries and natural resources to a clique of influential individuals, the ‘oligarchs’.
In Nepal, the equivalent would be the essential capture of all large public service and utility companies by politicians. Political patronage of illicit trade and leakages in the mostly assembling industries of Nepal, which form a major chunk of Nepal’s tiny industrial activity, also proves to be a breeding ground for corruption. The continuous shortage of fuel and power can be attributed to massive corruption as well.
Nepal Airlines has been literally stripped bare by immense political interference over the last two decades. These ‘grand corruptions’ are closely entwined with ‘administrative corruption’ involving various government interfaces, where people have to pay bribes for even basic entitlements. These challenges undermine the transitional government’s limited legitimacy post 2006 April uprising. After all corruption has been a key casus belli for every political transformation in Nepal, like everywhere.