Young generation is enthusiastic to promote good governance and intolerance against corruption: Khadka

Kedar KhadkaMr. Kedar Khadka is a renowned name in the civil society movement for good governance. He has been involved in the field of promoting good governance for more than two decades. Earlier he was leading Pro-Public, which played an important role on raising awareness in the grass-root level by forming ‘good-governance clubs’ at the local level and through policy advocacy at the national level. Currently he is the president of GoGo foundation, which has been advocating for good governance from local to the national level. Nepalekhabar talked with Mr. Khadka about the various aspects of good governance and accountability. Here are the excerpts:

You have been involved in the field of good governance for a long time. What is your perception about governance in Nepal? Is it progressing or worsening?

Yes, I have been involved in this field for more than two decades. This time period has passed through long political transition and experienced several extraordinary turning points from autocratic regime to multiparty democracy and multiparty democracy to federal republic political system. These turning points are historic events for our generation.

We are the lucky generation that has witnessed all these revolutionary changes. Marginalized people have been made aware of their rights, some governance reforms have taken place and a legal enabling environment has been created. So, we all must feel pride that despite the political bickering, unstable government and rampant corruption, we have harmonized our working zeal with international developmental evolution.

Also many legal systems have been improved, innovative social accountability tools have been developed and adopted and competent human resources trained and exposed with development, rights and responsibilities. Also the federal democratic constitution has been recently promulgated. Despite all these progress, we are heavily lacking in the implementation of all good laws and policies which are very good in writing but underutilized.

Therefore, I don’t have complaints on good governance laws in the country but there is a high demand for proper implementation. So, the situation has not worsened, there is hope that we all can contribute from our levels.

Most of the people have the view that corruption increased in the country following the restoration of democracy in 1990. What is your reaction on it and why?

They are absolutely right; the corruption level has gone up drastically. Every successive Prime Minister has proclaimed, including the so called warrior Comrade Prachanda and Dr Baburam, of adopting policy of “zero tolerance”. But, their commitments have always remained for “public consumption”, not in reality.

Actually, none of them have taken serious efforts to control corruption. However, I don’t just blame the democratic regime for scaling up rampant corruption. International studies like TI perception index has annually been reporting Nepal as having high prevalence of corruption.

One should be clear that corruption exists in all contexts, no matter autocratic or democratic system. During the King’s regime also there were huge corruption scandals, but due to absence of media/Civil society organization freedom, the intensity of media reporting were less.

As the democratic system has guaranteed media freedom, open society and openness, corruption cases are exposed through all these means. So, one can view that after the restoration of democracy in 1990, the corruption level has gone up. This is not an absolute case, but due to media freedom, CSOs activism, the reported cases are seen more. Additionally, I think the prolonged transition period has given ample space to those people who are in power to indulge in corrupt behavior.

What should be the role of stakeholders like common people, social organizations, government organizations, political parties and the CIAA for curbing corruption in the country?

All these stakeholders that you mentioned have a big role to play in curbing corruption. There is a proverb “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It has a big meaning. If people are not vigilant towards those people who are in power, they tend to abuse power and public resources. So, social organizations have a critical role to play in making government officials non-corrupt.

Similarly, oversight agencies like Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), Office of the Auditor General (OAG), National Vigilance Center (NVC) and National Information Commission (NIC) have tremendous role in checking public officials’ integrity by applying laws in place.

Likewise, political parties are major sources to “encourage and protect” corrupts. For a long time, we have been experiencing that corrupts are always protected and injected by the political parties. It is an open secret that major political appointments are sold to those power hungry people who can buy the position. These positions could be for parliament, ambassadors, constitutional body or any other public organizations.

We talk about government employees, political parties and CIAA not being able to end corruption, but don’t you think we are also responsible for it? For example we do not file cases or expose the issue of corruption if our relatives or friends are involved. We just complain about corruption. How we can change this type of attitude and what can be done for encouraging people (commoner) to expose incidents of corruption?

In curbing corruption, only these oversight agencies’ efforts will not be sufficient without wider public support. These oversight agencies are very vulnerable and are facing regular political interference in their work. By law, these agencies seem independent on their function, but it is not the case in practice.

These agencies are controlled by the government through budget and human resources. In case of CIAA, its entire staff is deputed by the government. So, their accountability is in question. The staff’s annual appraisal is done by the concerned ministry secretaries. So, one can easily understand that the staff deputed at the CIAA cannot function independently.

In this backdrop, weaknesses will obviously be seen in these oversight agencies. They are also not maintaining integrity as well. In many instances, media reporting has shown that oversight agencies’ staffs are under nepotism and favoritism. Thus, in Nepal we have systemic loopholes. Nepalese public officials are over protected through several laws and by-laws. Once they enter the government employment system, it is very difficult to remove them from their responsibilities. There are more than 13 agencies that protect them, it is too much.

Also due to over politicization in the bureaucracy, none of the organizations’ heads can mobilize junior officials or take action against their misdeeds. Therefore, time has come to revisit the existing relevant laws to reduce the ‘over protection’ mechanism. In the bureaucracy, there is immediate need for establishing “reasonable fear” among the public employees to do their jobs properly.

What are the barriers for curbing corruption and ensuring good governance in the country and are you optimistic that the country will march towards this goal anytime soon?

The barriers as major hurdles that you are indicating is the “over politicization” in the government system. Political protection to corrupt officials is another big challenge for today. Prolonged political transition has created this kind of situation in Nepal. However, we can see rays of hope because cantonment issues have been amicably settled and a new constitution promulgated. So I see some hope and prosperity in the days to come.

Where do you see Nepal in coming five years in terms of good governance and controlling corruption?

For Nepal, the next five years is very challenging for peaceful transformation from unitary to federal structure. This is a big task. This kind of transformation is not a joke and quick fixing solution. In this crucial period, all spheres of people have to work carefully with dignity. So, I’m very optimistic that the young generation is very enthusiastic to promote good governance and intolerance against corruption. The new generation’s augmented voice against corruption will definitely contribute for corruption mitigation in the country.

There are reports that many development organizations like I/NGOs are also involved in corruption although they always advocate for transparency and good governance so what could be done to bring them on track?

You have rightly pointed out the issues of corruption with I/NGOs. In the past, many such organizations have been charged on corruption and found guilty in many cases as well. If you observe the last 4/5 years of media reporting, there are many so-called national NGOs found misusing donor funds for their private gain and family benefits. Many reports have shown that due to lack of monitoring from donor and government agencies, NGOs are tempted to misuse the public funds. So, NGOs credibility is always in question among the general public.

Earlier CIAA was blamed for not catching the big fishes but when it started investigation on some politicians, there is now debate of impeaching the CIAA chief. How do you see it and what is the role of civilians and social organizations like GoGo Foundation to encourage the CIAA continue action against corrupt people?

Yes, for long time, the CIAA has been blamed that it catches only “small fish”. However, recently it has summoned 29 high officials including 12 ministers, 3 sitting secretaries and other high level officials for queries. This CIAA initiative has “jolted” the Nepalese society. It has also given ample space for media criticism and support from difference sections of society as well. As an anti-corruption activist, I take this is as an obvious and natural discourse. Because, this time the CIAA team has the courage to book those 29 officials and at least kick off the investigation.

The GoGo Foundation, as a civil society organization, is dedicated to fight against corruption. We are always here to voice and support these kinds of courageous initiatives from oversight agencies like the CIAA. We do provide moral support to CIAA and other oversight agencies for their good work. However, we are always vigilant to respect rule of the game to protect and compliance of rule of law.

Could you shed light on ongoing activities of GoGo Foundation for encouraging good governance and ending corruption?

As I mentioned earlier, GoGo Foundation is a national level civil society organization working to promote good governance in the country. To achieve its goal, it has joined hands with the national level oversight agencies as well as international professional organizations. Our strengths lie in anti-corruption advocacy, capacity development, networking, research and the lobbying on anti-corruption issues.

At this stage GoGo Foundation does not believe that we can “end the corruption”, however, with our all efforts, we can reduce the “rampant corruption” that we have been experiencing today.

Do you have any message to the readers?

GoGo Foundation believes in people’s power. Nepalese people had the courage to end 240 years royal autocratic regime and introduce the new federal republic structure in the country. So, I’m optimist that the people now will voice and act to fight corruption to ensure good governance in the country.

(Editor’s Note: How do you find this interview? Please send your comment to editor@nepalekhabar.com)

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