Congratulations! Mr PM!

  • The success of any anti-corruption campaign is contingent on Oli’s understanding of causes of corruption
- Naresh Koirala, Kathmandu

Feb 19, 2018-Congratulations, Mr KP Oli, on becoming Prime Minister! You have declared that rapid economic development will be your government’s top priority. But we know from experience that economic development without good governance is a pipe dream. Your first priority must therefore be good governance, which would be impossible without confronting the malady of corruption that permeates the country. The success of any anti-corruption campaign you implement is contingent on your understanding of the causes of corruption.

So, what are the causes of corruption? And how will you fight it? 

Fostering corruption

Political instability is not the primary cause of corruption, as you suggested in your campaign speeches. All dictatorial governments are stable. North Korea’s stability is unquestionable. Yet, it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. China and India are both stable. Their ideological differences notwithstanding, both are known to be hopelessly corrupt. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report of 2016 ranked North Korea 174 out of 176. China and India both stood at 79. Singapore was at 7. 

What made the difference? What made Singapore so clean? The answer is integrity and commitment of political leadership. Singapore started in 1965 as a break away country from Malaysia. At the time, it was a conglomeration of Chinese hamlets with a per capita GDP of US$500 per annum. It is now one of the richest (yearly per capita GDP US$ 57,000) and least corrupt countries in the world. It was Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew’s determination to ensure a clean government and his unassailable personal integrity that made the difference. Malaysia, Singapore’s mother country with stable government, but relatively corrupt leadership infested with pervasive cronyism, is stuck at 55 on the CPI. 

Developing countries such as Bhutan, Botswana and Costa Rica have, over the years, made steady improvement in the CPI. During the 10-year period from 2006 to 2016, Bhutan’s CPI rank rose from 32 to 27; Botswana’s from 37 to 35 and Costa Rica’s from 55 to 41. In the same period, Nepal dropped from 121 to 137. 

In addition to political instability, many argue that the country’s poverty fosters evil. The truth is just the opposite: corruption inhibits economic growth; encourages criminal activity and breed poverty.  Dr Badmus Bidemi, a corruption researcher at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, argues: “corrupt political space is the source of poverty, illiteracy, hunger, violence and bad governance.” Bidemi’s findings are corroborated by reports from Transparency International, UNESCO and the World Bank. 

There are also so called experts who argue that corruption is universal and cannot be stopped. This is a clever subterfuge employed to normalise corruption and induce complacency among anti-corruption fighters. Yes, it may not be possible to completely eliminate corruption, but it can be substantially reduced. Bhutan, Botswana, Costa Rica, Singapore and many others show the way.  

Some scholars see corruption as a necessary trade-off for economic development and cite the economic growth in India and China in spite of massive corruption. Matthews Stephenson, a Professor in Harvard, considers such argument as spurious as justification for smoking, because some smokers live long. 

The Global Financial Integrity reported that India lost $462 billion to illicit money flow within the first 60 years after independence. In 2012/13 alone, India is reported to have lost nearly $6 billion to corruption.  A 2017 Forbes report says China lost up to $3.8 trillion to capital flight in the last decade. 

There should be no argument that corruption has diminished China and India’s capacity for even more growth. The question should be what could they have achieved without corruption; not what they have achieved in spite of corruption. And, there is more that should worry us!

Large economies such as of China and India may be able to absorb large-scale pillage, but the impact of similar plunder on small economies is devastating. Consider tens of countries destabilised by corruption. Afghanistan; Somalia; Yemen; Libya, Venezuela are just a few examples. 


The right choice

Mr Oli! There is no justification for corruption. If you want economic development, you must fight corruption. You must own up to the fact that the political instability that you refer to as the primary cause of corruption was orchestrated by politicians to fuel their oversized egos and lust for money. You and your political colleagues (from all political parties) are responsible for the corruption that has asphyxiated the country. 

You must rein in your political colleagues to fight corruption. Your fight will meet fierce resistance from your own party because your party leaders, like leaders from the other parties, are used to rent seeking from the state and amassing wealth by colluding with businesses. 

But if you show courage and act, the country will support you. Your opponents will be promptly marginalised.  I urge you to immediately take a number of actions, legislative and executive, to demonstrate your earnestness. 

On the legislative side, pass a law(s): to bar legislators from participating in conflict of interest cases; to appoint an independent, non-partisan ethics czar to look into conflict of interest cases of members of parliament; to protect a “whistle blower” (a whistle blower protection law encourages employee policing of criminal activities within an organisation) and to validate the President’s ordinance on medical education. 

On the executive side, declare the end of civil service and constitutional body appointments on the basis of political loyalty; and make merit, and fitness-for-the-job, not party loyalty—the primary requirements for all appointments.  

These initiatives will help you to earn public trust and regain people’s confidence on public institutions. 

Fight corruption and you will be remembered as a transformational leader. Let the status quo continue, and you will go as just another humdrum name in the prime ministerial static. The choice is yours. 


Koirala is a geotechnical engineer residing in Vancouver, Canada

Published: 19-02-2018 08:23

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