Corruption: Itchy Palms and Foreign Aid


Corruption: Itchy palms and Foreign aid

The Nepali Times, in its most-read column, ‘The Ass’, once hilariously remarked that we belong to a nation where most acts in the Nepali vernacular are described as ‘eating’ rather than doing; ‘mwai khanu’ (to kiss), ‘churot khanu’ (to smoke) and ‘jhapad khanu’ (to get slapped) are a few instances. One act among these has become more or less synonymous with living in Nepal; ‘ghus khanu’ (to take bribes).

Nepal is a country only too familiar with the imagery of a government official rubbing two fingers and a thumb together. An itchy palm makes for an expectant bureaucrat. It was really no surprise then that the 2014 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International portrayed Nepal as the third most corrupt country in Asia. Nepal stands at rank 126 out of 175 countries and has a score of 29 out of a 100. The index is calculated by including reports from the Bertelsmann Foundation, World Bank, World Economic Forum, Global Justice Project and Global Insight, who carry out surveys based on a number of elements of good governance.

In recent years, it has come to light that foreign aid in Nepal has done possibly more harm than good; with money from taxpayers abroad helping fund corruption rather than much needed programs, inclusive of hydro power and community development among others. The 2014 report from DFID on its performance overseas proves to be a ‘damning study’ which asserts that “local communities in Nepal have for more than a decade benefited from British-funded support programs which allowed them to implement their own projects for schools, bridges and other needs in a way combining democratic participation with spending procedures that limited opportunities for corruption. It was a success story for British foreign aid, which surely pointed toward an expansion of the scheme. Instead the programs have been cut by more than half, because the Nepalese central government wanted to take over the work, which will now be both more distant from those it is supposed to serve and more open to the corrupt diversion of funds”, as reported by The Guardian.

Newsreaders clucking like chickens about corruption in hydro-power projects in Nepal do little else. The recent revelation of embezzlement worth 540 million at the Chameliya Hydro power project, caused, at most, grandfathers (excuse the generalization) to swear with relish at the prospect of being able to verbally slap these corrupt officials. Money vanished in the name of purchases and salaries and wages. The amount embezzled has been nothing short of ridiculous. Does this mean its time our ‘large’ neighbors (and the rest of the world) should stop throwing bundles of money at us?

Before we get all patriotic and say no, you know that we actually need a few of these bundles. Perhaps more than a few. So we get the money but once it passes through the bureaucratic sieve, you are going to barely get enough to make a good cuppa joe. Government officials ask money for every little transaction and every piece of paperwork. Political pluralism has further deranged much needed projects and supplied the money in areas as dictated by the numerous political parties, constantly breaking up into ‘hyphens’ and ‘sans-hyphens’ as need be. In ‘Corruption, Society and Politics in Nepal’, Thomas Wills identifies political experts who conclude, that ‘as far as corruption is concerned, democracy “has helped to aggravate the situation.” This may in part be down to the sheer multiplicity of parties.’

Democracy is necessary; so is political pluralism. But when the best are among the worst, the system does little good. Foreign aid needs to be cashed better by reducing bureaucratic hurdles and the red-tape. The 2014 ‘Doing Business Report’ by the World Bank places Nepal at 108 out of 189 economies outlining the near infinite bureaucratic obstructions that one needs to go through to conduct business in Nepal. Corruption in public administration has become endemic; systematic. It needs to be questioned and challenged before foreign investors lose hope in our economy before we do.

Labisha Uprety

About Labisha Uprety

Labisha Uprety is a Research and Communications Officer at Samriddhi. She enjoys debating and likes her tea black with a little sugar.

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