Kathmandu: In Nepal, successive governments have failed to ensure accountability and transparency. In some cases, governments have backtracked from the established practices toward transparency and accountability.
Like any government in its initial term, the new government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has also promised to work as per the people’s expectations through efficient service delivery and by becoming accountable to the people.
Translating the promises of accountability into action, however, is not easy. But there is an opportunity for the new government this time.
To that end, the government must start the initiatives from within. If ingrained anomalies and rooted corruption exist in the system, the government must put efforts to root out those anomalies.
Observers are of the view that the Prime Minister and other government ministers should start with some basic measures. Disclosing property details is one such measure.
Cabinet members of the erstwhile government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba had not disclosed their property details. “This reeks of their attitude that ‘we are the masters and people are the servants’ instead of the other way round,” said Prateek Pradhan, the Editor-in-Chief of 12khari.com, who also served as the advisor to the Sushil Koirala-led government. “They forgot the fact that they should be accountable to people.”
The reason why property details were not disclosed, according to Pradhan, is that our multiparty democracy has been undermined by a handful of leaders. “A handful of established leaders have taken people for granted. They have developed the feeling that people will ultimately choose them even if they do not disclose their property details,” said Pradhan.
Apart from compliance to making property details public, the current government can also take a leaf out of the book from some good practices the governments in the past had tried to institutionalize.
Take the move of proactive disclosure in terms of public expenditure initiated by the government led by the late Sushil Koirala back in 2014. His government had decided to make public expenditure above Rs 5000 public. The government had mandated all state agencies to keep a record of any transaction above Rs 5000 and upload the information on the website.
However, like many good initiatives, this too could not get institutionalized.
According to Pradhan, the government must be accountable and transparent and it is people’s right to know the details of public expenditure because all the money spent in public expenditure is people’s money. Public money should not be spent haphazardly. The government should maintain discipline while spending. “Considering all these aspects, the Sushil Koirala-led government had taken the initiative of making details of public expenditure public,” Pradhan further explained.
So why did Koirala’s successors not follow into his footsteps in this regard? And what does it indicate?
“It shows they wanted to spend haphazardly. They were not accountable to the people. Their act of hiding the public expenditure details also indicates the high chances of nepotism, favoritism, and corruption. Politicians awarded tenders to their near and dear ones. They wanted to hide the details of unnecessary expenditure from the public,” he said. “That is why they backtracked from the practice set by the Koirala government.”
Pradhan argues that if any government can maintain the public finance details transparently, they will be close to the standards of morality and commitment to accountability that Sushil Koirala had set.
The support from the president of Rashtriya Prajatantra Party Rajendra Lingden to the government and the entry of Rabi Lamichhane, chairperson of Rashtriya Swatantra Party, a new political force, in the cabinet has created a new hope among people given their repeated commitment toward ending corruption.
Soon after swearing-in, newly appointed Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane, who was a host of a popular television program until a few months ago, said that he would play the role of opposition within the government.
Many people criticized his statement saying that it goes against the spirit of the parliamentary system in which ministers cannot go against the decision of the Prime Minister. But many others opined that he should be given a chance to deliver on his promises. For Prateek Pradhan, Rabi Lamichhane’s statement should be understood in two ways.
Positively, we can understand it as his commitment to providing critical feedback in cabinet meetings and oppose if the cabinet makes wrong decisions. “We have heard that ministers cannot express their views in front of the Prime Minister in the cabinet meetings,” said Pradhan. “There should be a vibrant and thoughtful discussion on the issues of public importance in the cabinet. Also, cabinet members should provide the right advice to the Prime Minister. If the ministers fear to provide the right advice, it does not help the cause of good governance,” he said. “Therefore, if the spirit of Rabi Lamichhane is to challenge the status quo, if he wants to clearly express his view and perspective during the meeting, it should not be taken in a wrong way,” said Pradhan.
That said, Pradhan also admits whether a sitting Home Minister can say that he would play a role of opposition within the government is a matter of debate. “He can be a critic within the cabinet. But he does not get that privilege outside the cabinet because he himself is now a main part of the government,” said Pradhan. “He should clarify what he meant to say.”
Rajendra Lingden, the president of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, has also repeatedly advocated for good governance. A few days ago, he used a metaphor that resorting to corruption is as sinful as drinking his mother’s blood to express his abhorrence for corruption.
“Lingden is not in the government. So his metaphor may be taken as a political stunt until he is tested. Other leaders also make similar types of promises. But they fail at the time of delivery,” Pradhan said.
As government ministers, including the Prime Minister himself, are issuing one after other directives to authorities to ensure effective service delivery and good governance, experts are of the opinion that mere directives do not help.
“Start with small initiatives that actually make people feel the difference,” said Taranath Dahala, Right to Information (RTI) activist and commentator. “The government must start from small initiatives instead of making big promises,” he added. According to him, there should be a time-bound grievance redressal mechanism, a kind of platform like fully functioning Hello Sarkar that also addresses public grievances. Service delivery in public institutions such as land measurement offices, land revenue offices, courts, and transportation offices, where cases of corruption tend to be high, should be made more effective without any delay.
“To start off, the government should work by implementing the recommendations of the agencies working for good governance and accountability. “The government can start work on the basis of the reports and recommendations of the anti-graft body [CIAA], Office of Auditor General, National Vigilance Center, and others,” he said. “Besides, proactive disclosure of cabinet decisions and any other information of public interest should be developed as a culture.” According to him, such disclosure can be made by making public cabinet decisions through regular press briefs. “Eventually, we need to adopt an open government partnership model,” said Dahal.