Corruption can be seen in any society throughout the world, often alongside power and following war.
While researching challenges to peacebuilding for two weeks in Nepal in a group, I learned a significant amount about various subjects, but after witnessing grassroots corruption outside Pokhara early on, I began to focus on corruption. After a long day of traveling, our bus stopped in a long line of traffic in a small town. A short while later, we found out that a car ran a motorcycle off the road, injuring the driver, who had fled the scene. Members of the community stopped traffic in both directions for hours demanding reparations, maybe half of which would go to the family.
Corruption disperses through Nepali structures and society like a disease. The starting point is at the top, in the national government, where it is most rampant. From there it spreads downward to the lower levels of authority such as the local Village Development Committees and the police. Finally, it spreads down again to people on the ground. This happens because corruption at the top makes people wealthy and powerful, creating the imitation effect.In interviews, I heard about corruption hampering development efforts in Nepal, a statement proven true through observation. I would often hear people in rural NGOs or local government agencies telling about funds for development or wartime reparations being siphoned off along the way. The infrastructure of Nepal is clearly lacking due to minimal funds as roads, schools, and buildings are often never finished, much less started. While visiting a school in a rural village with significantly more students than seats, the group was informed that they were lucky to have more than just a school on paper even if it is too small, dark, and covered in graffiti.
A major focus around the discussion of corruption in Nepal had to do with power. Which then raises a number of questions. I believe that the most important question is in regards to the constitution writing process. Once the CPN(M) leads the CA to a complete constitution, will they be re-elected and what will happen to corruption based on these results? A second question is: how long will development continue to suffer because of corruption and can the Nepali people rise up and demand a change? Based on what I observed, the practice of corruption and a lack of development are issues that have been around since long before the war and thus are not destined to change any time soon. This civil war was one early step towards beginning to reform the country; ending the massive disconnect that is apparent throughout Nepal and removing the tendency towards isolation both internationally and domestically are far off still.
A third question is whether or not the international community will get involved in the situation in Nepal. The Nepali government is pushing the international community and the UN away refusing their help during this period of transition. Nepal has a history of dealing with its own issues because of the barriers to entry and lack of colonization. Even now, sandwiched between India and China, Nepal chooses to deal with its issues on its own. Therefore, considering corruption is having such a negative effect on development in Nepal, will they allow the international community or regional neighbors to play a role? I believe that, in the long run, Nepal will take a role of joining with one of their neighbors and playing it against the other in order to gain some help domestically and regional power. As a small but well-endowed country, Nepal is holding plenty of cards should the government choose to use them positively, such as the beautiful Himalayas and the second-highest hydroelectric potential globally.
In the end, Nepal still has a long way to go in the battle against corruption. That is not to say that the country is not making progress however. As mentioned, corruption is a staple of humanity - it is present in all societies and particularly in post-war societies. Nepal is not an exception, but is at the beginning of its fight. There are mechanisms in place such as the Commission of the Investigation for the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) even if it is not being utilized and the leadership positions are not being filled currently. Also, few high level indictments have taken place recently. There are questions as to whether these indictments were done in the name of moving forward against corruption or eliminating some competition in the CA, but at least an example is being made.
It is important to keep in perspective that, although corruption is a major challenge for Nepal, all it takes is one person or group of people to make a positive move against corruption, or perhaps enough discontent to create an opportunity to rise up from the bottom level. Nepal is a democracy, but this will only remain relevant if the people remain active and civil society takes hold.
Alex Free was in Nepal for a two-week field course titled “Challenges to Peacebuilding in Nepal” led by Dr. Pushpa Iyer of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Alex’s blog is part of a series of reflections by Dr. Iyer and her students on the challenges to building peace in this country after a decade long war. -Ed.
About the author: Alex Free is a graduate student of International Policy Studies with a focus on Conflict Resolution at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He received his Bachelor's in International Affairs from The University of Colorado in 2009 and his interests include post-war development and governance.