June 12, 2023 Sujeev Shakya

Proliferating impunity

Local ward leaders are lectured on how federalism has destroyed Nepal.

Nepalis are watching how the Bhutanese refugee scam will unfold as so many people have been taken into custody. Will some or all of them be indicted? This is the question that people keep asking. Of course, the top three leaders are allegedly tainted, but they have been able to cover each other very well. However, the way people were bowing down to alleged criminals and celebrating the release of someone convicted of murder and how corruption scams or severe crimes have just disappeared from the public eye is always fascinating. Does society ape the top leaders, or does having refined skills in corruption and crime make you a top leader? To understand this, I look back at my last weekend. 

We have been having some issues relating to drainage in the neighbourhood, perhaps the biggest problem in every urban centre in Nepal. Maps are just being marked, and then, with a dozen agencies involved, dig-fill-dig-fill becomes our contemporary landscape architecture. When problems arise, it is a show of connection. It is about getting people, including ministers, to call up local-level contractors or officials to toe the line. So if you have a tenant that is a media agency, then it’s a super bonus. Then you can have random reporters call up the local ward chair and harass that person. It is about how you can drop names until you can silence your opponents. And if your opponents are older adults, it’s even better to go for it—threaten. Local ward leaders are lectured on how federalism has destroyed Nepal. If you have family members connected to politics, that is a bonus.

Muscle power

Then it is about muscle power—carrying scores of people with you and getting into a shouting match. It is having those young people—your children, grandchildren and their friends—who can punch you. It can get into threats of physical assault that make you retreat to your home and wonder what happens when you travel next. And every aggrieved Nepali party knows that there is nobody to go against the mighty when push comes to shove. I have personally faced this, including a former editor telling me how running my columns in this paper is becoming difficult. Then you think maybe it’s fine to let it go. But your rational self wants to fight it out, go and get a lawyer, go to the authorities, do what the law says, and abide by it. Despite the fact that the judiciary has become less inspiring in the country, perhaps for law-abiding folks, that is the only hope. 

Is this a story of a neighbourhood or many neighbourhoods or the country? Does not the above story apply to national scams as well? We see finance ministers get away with having outsiders work on the final version of the budget at the last minute. We have people whose names are listed in money laundering cases, and the governor taking action gets fired and has to be reinstated by the Supreme Court. From the Rana and Panchayat eras, there have been cases that have been hushed away; it could be people getting under your vehicle and dying or artefacts being stolen from temples that do not even get reported. We live in a country where a clown can be a star reporter, flouting all decency, rules and etiquette, but every leader wants to be in his show! When a leader is arrested, enough people are willing to rally around him, knowing very well that he has committed a crime. 

Living on hope

Like many times before, an incident like this shakes you and asks why you still live in this country. However, we have to live on hope. We have people like Swarnim Wagle in Parliament who will change how parliamentarians should speak. To question corruption, you have to have no skeletons in the cupboard. That is a tough one in Nepal and in many other countries. Swarnim brings a rare breed of articulate leader who can be questioned in front of a public court. In an orderly manner, he can lambast somebody in chaste Nepali. Hopefully, more parliamentarians will learn this and more young people will become parliamentarians. We hope the old guard will be routed in the next elections, so it is only a matter of a few years. 

We see more corruption cases being brought to Parliament and more people questioning the leaders in public. The hope is about ensuring an end to the culture of impunity where leaders, business people, civil society leaders, NGO leaders and cooperative leaders are brought to justice. And more voices need to come out and talk about it. More people write and tell their own stories of suffering. Despite the many things being said against the media, a small group still allows voices like this to come out. I am always grateful for the space I get, even if, at times, it is just a rant born out of frustration. I also continue to see the silver lining. 

Read the full article on The Kathmandu Post: https://kathmandupost.com/columns/2023/06/12/proliferating-impunity