BY D. M. THAPA
It would be like repeating a much used cliché similar as trodding upon a worn out threadbare carpet, to say that, “Nepal is a very corrupt country”. But even such a threadbare carpet has been even more soiled, uncared for and trampled by privileged persons and bureaucrats who came to power along with the political parties in what they reverently call the “Dawn of Democracy” here. The people expected real freedom, and they got something like that in political terms, but nothing else!
Not that corruption did not exist before, it did, but not in such a blatant and almost vulgar manner. Some people in power got very rich during the times of the kings as well and it was during the time of late king Birendra, who appointed a cunning man like Surya Bahadur Thapa as Prime Minister, that ministers and bureaucrats took advantage of the comparatively open situation and corruption started to flourish in the name of protecting the panchayat political system. But the floodgates really opened after the revolution of 1990 when the king was stripped of most of his power and political parties took over the reins of ruling the country. The situation never abated from this time.
People coming from far off villages, just because they belonged to one political party or the other started getting rich first. Naturally, their close family members and supporters also joined in. as did the bureaucrats and also police personnel who were supposed to maintain law and order in the country. As late Girija Prasad Koirala ruled the nation for the longest period after the “ushering in of democracy”, he must be blamed for letting things get out of control. A person who many times said he would “finish off” the communists from Nepal, saw many of his ministers go to jail also, but he was instead almost finished off by the communists, that also communists who had started a ten year old armed insurgency which caused much killing of innocent people and destruction of property. You cannot forget to add the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their original homes, who sought safer havens in the city areas. It is not for nothing that it has taken years for the war to be forgotten and the wounds to heal. But the very people who started the insurgency have not only gotten rich enormously, but they are also in power in the present government. “I am not afraid to go to the Hague, Prachanda, the leader of the insurgency said publicly on different occasions recently. “I will become a bigger hero and the world will recognize me as a harbinger of peace and a person fighting for justice, he further said. Though he seemed to be in a downcast mood, even as made these bold, but unbelievable statements.
Naturally many debates took place but, one person, who tried to talk of what the kings, specially king Prithvi Nrayan Shah and late king Mahendra had done for the country, was rudely cut-off by the anchor of the programme and he started a discussion with his own guest! That is the type of partisan journalism I have written about many times in the past in this very column.
But to come back to corruption, though I have no inside knowledge about these things nor am I connected with powerful agencies, I have come to be aware that corruption seems to be taking place in every government office and elsewhere. I read news about such things in different newspapers and also see the same on TV.
The problem is so rampant that even a stand-up comedian said in one of his jokes how he would buy all open spaces in Kathmandu, including the Airport and the historical Tundikhel, when he became rich. When a person asks him how can he do such a thing like buying government land, he satirically gives the punch-line by saying, “If others can buy land belonging to the Prime Minister’s government owned official residence, why can’t I do the same?”
Accumulating land, no matter in which part of the City, no matter to whom the land belongs to, nor how small it may be, at least compared to the land transaction that has taken place in Baluwatar, where the official residence of the PM is situated, has become a source of huge income for the so called “land mafias”, in cahoots with corrupt officials of the Land Revenue, Land Reforms and Survey Department offices, with constant backing of banks. There is virtually no one who can control, them and many innocents have suffered because of such individual’s greed for even more money. There was a front-page news in a vernacular daily how a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court was involved in buying and selling land that belonged to one of the main culprits of the Baluwatar land scam who runs a highly popular supermarket at Bhatbhateni and in many other parts of the City.
This is just one tiny part of the corrupt practices taking place in the country. As reported in popular newspapers, from businessmen cheating the government billions of rupees in taxes while producing and selling beer, to influential politicians becoming millionaires overnight, policemen from top to bottom taking direct bribes, bureaucrats not agreeing to sign one document or the other unless they get hefty commissions and in the purchase of goods for government institutions, all work is done swiftly when and amount has been agreed upon. But the majority of people with no “source-force”, has to pay through his or her nose just to get a simple service done. He or she has to go through the rigmarole of swindlers, “land mafias” cheating businessmen and government officials involved. In some cases one must also be mentally prepared to pay money and even get insulted or put in jail by the police. Only some “analysts” make very logical and balanced comments about such ethical crimes which may be making a small percent of people richer, but which is virtually squeezing the country dry.
Such a situation cannot go on forever, a time will come when things will snap and innocent people who cannot make ends meet even for day to day survival will take up arms exactly like the Maoists did over a decade back. Heaven forbid that such a time will come again and no Nepali can feel safe in their own country and he or she cannot trust anybody else. We have seen such events taking place in many other parts of the world now, and a person like Donald Trump, the President of USA, many European countries and even India and China are making a play-field of smaller and poorer nations just to get their vested interests fulfilled. The death and destruction we are seeing is really heart wrenching. The thing to be worried about by all, including the corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, greedy businessmen and those willing to dance to foreigners, is that, will Nepal also be pushed into a similar situation? Many may have to perish like in other countries when power, money and land may by of no use to them even if they can flee this otherwise beautiful country and live a hidden life as a “third class” citizen in some other nation!.