Ethics Of Political Life
Dev Raj Dahal
The ethics of political life refers to its qualities of being right, honest, non-corrupt, fair and good. It is entrenched in representative, legitimate, transparent and accountable governance which makes bribery a high-risk venture. This ethical life becomes weak if thieves of Nepali society and the state rob citizens of their equitable future. The media daily reveal that both are heavily infected with the toxic elements - corruption, crime, deceit, amorality and abuse of authority. The cardinal virtue of ethics is wisdom. Politics, however, universally unfolds a paradox: combative human nature collides with human rationality and a shared sense of civic responsibility. Political realists hold grim view of human nature. It creates a circle of affective bond around selfish genes. On the opposite side of life, idealists believe in social nature of human beings. The universal human reason feeds prudential rule and breathe the ardour of ultimate values.
Here ethical life seeks a balance between self-interest and care to others. Nepal’s constitution has integrated rights, laws and morality. The invention of human rights aims at taming egoism and lift moral standard for the greater good of citizens. It is a path to cooperation for security, stability and peace among citizens and nation-states. Optimal freedom can shape decent behaviour for the formation of a culture to bind selfish individuals to a common vision. Personal ethics of Nepali leaders can snuff out the malaises of politics and crack the spell of hazy practice imperilling the governing rule.
Certain ideals set politics to ethical edge. First, ethical politics balances the conflicting desires of diverse Nepali citizens without excluding any one from the public good. Good life promised in the Constitution of Nepal cannot be divorced from their abject living condition. Second, ethical politics is not vacuous. It demands virtuous character of leadership capable of innovating good public policies, laws and actions and fulfilling promises, rights, needs and duties underlined in the Constitution. Third, ethical politics seeks the compatibility of means and ends of a welfare state. It treats Nepalis an end in themselves, not means to each other’s benefit. It wires the sanctity of human life which market fans and seditious politicians often miss. Fourth, ethical politics views that liberty of pleasure rests on apt dispensation of political order assuring the integrity and dignity of Nepalis so that they are not vulnerable to violence, insecurity, poverty and scarcity caused by dysfunctional polity. The dignity of Nepalis can be ethically justified and morally defended. It pertains to the integrity of democratic polity. Fifth, ethical politics values human life above other values such as power, authority, legitimacy, position, wealth, etc. fitted to grasp the purpose of life.
Inculcation of ethics allows Nepalis to exercise conscious choice of good over the bad. Nepal has adopted education for all, labour rights, gender equality, abolition of social discrimination and protection of weak and environment. Education can make them better off if institutions and norms of the nation are utilised to erase the pains of everyday life and remove causes of misery. This means economic values must be compatible with educational policies and practices and development gaps do not skew the sharing of commonwealth by all citizens. The social psychology of citizens is that they compare themselves with others. This is why winner-takes-all society is prone to overload of public demands, instability and conflict. Nepal’s constitution has, therefore, stressed on increased social spending, social security and social justice for the poor. Still, unfulfilled electoral promises and rights prick moral conscience of leaders.
Ethics embeds all Nepalis on public spirit to share a sense of civic pride by controlling the lever of power caught in a callous division of spoils of weak statecraft. Nepal’s demand for justice in the global arena can be ethically justified if its internal order is grounded in the frame public decency. This entails the art of governance defined by its positive outcome to all citizens. But corruption dilutes this by an exit of those in authority from the accepted standard in pursuit of illicit profit. Nepal’s recent history is beset with policy corruption, patronage, gifts, kickbacks and theft of international aid. This has swelled the costs of progress in Nepal. The thin line between accepted behaviour and unauthorised personal windfall gain will continue if public policies do not have ownership and relevance.
Controlling the inner virus of Nepali polity is vital for pumping economic efficiency, political accountability and judicial fairness. Vices permeate into individual life when one prefers to live beyond one’s means either through bribery or stealing of public funds. Nepal’s institutional decay is attributed to the deviation of public officials and elected representatives from the fidelity of its goals and indulging in greed. If cultural industries are conscripted to heaping praise for self-indulging corrupts, they echo nothing but an atrophy of civic sense.
The delivery of public goods and services to citizens is the ethical duty of a government. In Nepal, its efficacy necessitates capacity building, result-orientation, public participation and the promotion of national integrity by a right checks and balance of the polity’s institutional poise. This cuts the abuse of authority and leakages of national wealth. Predatory corruption whether minor, based on the survival need of low paid officials or huge ones involving higher authorities at policy level reminds what Prithvi N. Shah said, “bribe takers and givers are enemies of the nation.” Such monetary accretion does not go to productive reinvestment, but to foreign banks or foreign investments, infinite consumption of luxury items and distortion of management practices.
In public sector contracting, the costs of corruption are reflected in the waste of scarce resources, misallocation and bad practices. The economic cost of corruption in Nepal have exhausted political muscle and bred many corrosive practices: procuring high cost goods, tax-evasion, bank defaulting, rent-seeking, selling of profit making state enterprises, decision in favour of fruitless project, rising cost of goods and gradual entrapment of the nation in the odious debt and misery of ordinary Nepalis. Where bureaucratic corruption is institutionalised, officials do not hold their jobs in high esteem. In case of low salary, promotion fails to motivate them. Rather, tendency appears in foreign travel and fake payment. In an oligarchic polity with a multiple source of syndicate, bribery flourishes in revenue branch, law enforcement office, public utility sector and within the same office by superiors where services are slow without bribe.
Nepalis are appalled by the nation ranking high in the firmament of global perception index tormenting ethical life and wrecking public works. When corruption turns out to be systematic, it is hard to check it without reforming the symbiosis of business, bureaucracy and politics, ending impunity for grand offenses against public and national interests and protecting the Nepalis from law breakers--predators, thieves and armed actors. Unless top Nepali leaders imbibe Seven Principles of Public Life invented by Lord Nolan, such as selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership and institutional culture, the ethical political life cannot get robust footing. Public programmes afflicted with bribery require defiant action of CIAA, Auditor General, parliamentary committees and intelligence unit, not tearful confession of lack of laws.
Financial integrity cannot be beefed up without a political will of the government, access to information and a vibrant public sphere to escalate the cost of abusing ethical life. Anti-corruption watchdogs need to probe the fairness of the decisions and the duty of public officials. Ideally, the National Election Commission can deter corrupt and criminals’ participation in the polity and make leaders accountable to the ethical life. Civil societies also have a vested interest in detecting the illicit tricks of public officials and mobilising citizens to cry for justice. They can become effective if judiciary serves as a guardian of the public interest and does not bow down to the executive in withdrawing cases of major offenses. Nepal’s Constitution has included right to information which makes media’s central role in enforcing the accountability of leaders to the public interest and monitoring their deviation from a wide range of policy issues including aid infusion to conditionalised policy and geopolitical plot.
Integrity of Nepal’s political life requires integrated solution - citizens’ abiding defence of public institutions, their mutual checks on power and effective civic bodies, such as media, civil society and anti-corruption watchdogs to align with them in fighting the amorality of life. Constitutionalisation of behaviour of all actors and democratisation of parties can reduce political vices arising out of the deinstitutionalisation of the polity and weakening of civic life. It is feasible to infuse ethics into politics and enforce a moral standard in Nepali society, economy and polity through education, socialisation and strong civic activism. Ethical base of Nepali polity demands the strengthening of criminal justice system. Execution of law through legislature, making binding decisions of public will and enthusing in politics social solidarity and compassion are vital steps so that ill-gotten private wealth does not disrupt moral feeling of noble hearts of family, community and educational institutions to foster the ethical standards of political life.