Key To Democratic Governance
Corruption derails democratic process and stifles competition, thus downgrading equal opportunity and scorning at the honesty. It also fosters a culture of cronyism, and the prevailing terms of governance degenerate much to the public dismay. Influence-peddling becomes the prized route for the unscrupulous, as demonstrated by corruption cases in various countries where people in high places have been investigated and slapped with punishment prescribed by the law in their respective countries.
At the height of a major scandal involving the Swedish weapons company Bofors in 1989, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi expressed dismay that less than 10 paisa out of each rupee allocated for development activity actually reached the target group. What the late Gandhi commented also portrays the situation in South Asia in general. Transparency International’s annual reports on corruption index have been underscoring this time and again over the years.
Not that corruption is confined to developing countries. Although most developing countries record a higher degree of corruption than elsewhere, it is a fact that economically better-off countries every now and then investigate and unmask corrupt leaders and bureaucrats. A few of such cases in the recent years might be mentioned here for a modest sampling.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to issue a public apology in connection with cronyism scandal. In June 2017, Japan’s education minister pledged to launch a new investigation into documents that allegedly pointed fingers at Abe pressuring bureaucrats for preferential treatment to a school run by a friend. Britons are concerned over statistics showing that only 4 per cent of medical doctors and 6 per cent of trial lawyers come from working-class backgrounds.
South Korea’s first woman Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook served two years in jail on charge of bribery. Its National Assembly in 2016 impeached President Park Geun-hye in connection with misuse of power and other cases. Also in 2016, nine Korean business leaders, including Jay Y. Lee, the vice-chairman of Samsung, and Chung Mong-koo, the Hyundai chairman, appeared at a parliamentary hearing to be questioned about millions of dollars they gave to two foundations controlled by Ms. Choi, Park Geun-hye’s close friend.
In the 1990s, two former Korean presidents Chun Doo-hwan and his military academy day buddy Roh Tae-woo were jailed for amassing wealth not in conformity with their known sources of income. Malaysian two-term Prime Minister Razak Najib, nicknamed by his critics as “Man of Steal”, is being detained and investigated for corruption.
In another scam, the Brazilian construction company Odebrechthad paid off $800 million to officials in various South American countries to secure large public contracts. The scandal involved many former presidents. As Peru continues struggling for the installation of a government that controls corruption firmly, quite a few of its former presidents are either fugitives or serving in jail sentences.
Other Asian countries have also shown a remarkable degree of energetic engagement in investigating and prosecuting political bigwigs, much to the public approval. Israel’s Supreme Court in 2016 slapped on former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a 27- month prison sentence for graft. Investigators have questioned incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for more than a dozen times in connection with suspected malpractice. In January 2017 and after, Israeli police questioned Netanyahu on suspicion of receiving gifts from businessmen in violation his role as a public servant.
South Asia, too, has unflattering records. Pakistan’s Supreme Court in December handed down another jail sentence in December to three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the latter was convicted for owning property whose source was not disclosed. In March 2018, a powerful Indian politician, Laloo Prasad Yadav, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for embezzling $570,000 from Bihar state government’s treasury when he was chief minister from 1990 to 1997. Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been convicted of corruption whereas former Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen is being investigated on corruption charges. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe, in 2017, had to appear before a probe commission in connection with his alleged wrongdoing in the sale of government bonds that opposition lawmakers say led to a loss of about $1 billion.
Nepal’s Auditor General’s report 2018 made revelations that portrayed deep concern over discrepancies in various state institutions. This clearly calls for effective measures to cope with the cancerous trend that eats into the vitals of democratic procedures, resulting in governance that disenchants an average citizen. Democracy, to reiterate, should reflect in practice.
Corruption zones are located at key places economically linked or tied to policy crimes. At a meeting of Parliament’s Development Committee in 2016, Deputy General Secretary of the Federation of Contractors of Nepal (FCAN) Bishnu Budhathoki confessed that, for every project, “We have to provide up to 20 per cent of the total contract amount as commission for the government officials, including even secretaries and ministers.”
If the State is unjust, there is no democracy. The State is equated with the system as far as the general public is concerned. Hence, the late Bharat Mohan Adhikary recommended that action should begin from the top: “First of all, action should be taken against the corrupt among us.” Disgusted by the deep-seated corruption, Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala asked: “How can anti-graft body work if it cannot probe us? If my name figures in the list prepared (in the report of Commission for Investigating Abuse of Authority), I am ready to face the case.”
Footprints of corruption should not crowd a nation’s institutional landscape. Controlling corruption should be checked from being confined to mere notion. Investigate the corrupt, book them and punish the guilty through due legal process. Hence, in Nepal, the presence and significance of the CIAA is considerable. Its daunting task needs to be supported by conscientious public, including civil society leaders and an investigative, non-partisan press.
In the United States, informants are said to be quite active after the introduction of award of bounties to individuals whose information led to tracing corrupt practices. Since its introduction in 2011, the programme has awarded more than $140 million to nearly two scores of whistle-blowers whose tips led to the recovery of no less than $900 million in financial remedies.”
It is also the professional duty of the news media to step up their investigations for in-depth and investigative stories and disclosures that would lead to book culprits for appropriate action. Democracy should be made relevant to all. The New York Times not long ago reminded its readers:
“The truth is hard. The truth is hidden. The truth must be pursued. The truth is hard to hear. The truth is rarely simple. The truth isn’t so obvious. The truth is necessary. The truth can’t be glossed over. The truth has no agenda. The truth can’t be manufactured. The truth doesn’t take sides. The truth isn’t hard to accept. The truth pulls no punches. The truth is powerful. The truth is under attack. The truth is worth defending. The truth requires taking a stand. The truth is more important than ever.”
(Former chief editor of The Rising Nepal, P. Kharel has been writing for this daily since 1973)