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Opinion | Systemic dysfunction

Dinkar Nepal

Dinkar Nepal

Opinion | Systemic dysfunction

Nepal’s youth have to brace up to rectify the country’s institutional failure, brick by brick, an institution at a time

Nepal has long been surviving on the edge, miraculously saving itself from falling off the precipice of a failed nation. As one sits to ponder over the developments in the country, one can’t miss how we have become a perfect test case for what theorists describe as countries with failing institutions. 

Some years back, Lokman Singh Karki, the chief of the anti-corruption body, had almost brought all the powers to their knees. Appointed by political consensus as the head of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Karki slowly started to concentrate power around him. 

It is widely accepted that our institutions are inherently corrupt, and thus, if scrutinised properly, it is difficult for any officer to come out clean. This fact has created a general perception that such anti-corruption bodies are to be managed through illegal means and not confronted. This mass fear among all government bodies made the head of ‘Akhtiyar’ extremely powerful. One officer then working in the same office testified that Karki had created a power gang of close relatives and confidantes, and through them he terrorized all major power centres in the country. 

The same officer relates an incident when Karki once called the then IGP to his office at 9 in the morning for a meeting, and kept him waiting outside till 5pm, and then left his office without meeting the Chief of Police. All this while LSK was making fun of the head cop who was being beamed on his CCTV screen. Such sadistic behaviour is possible only in a country with no institutional accountability. Nepal merits one of the top positions in that category. 

Also read: Race to stupidity

Recently, former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Ranjit Rae, has revealed in his book that not only have Nepal’s political leaders been inviting the embassy in Kathmandu to micromanage internal matters, members of other institutions have also been continuously involving the embassy in undue interference. He writes that while in office in Kathmandu, he was consulted by the Home Minister regarding the appointment of the new chief of police. And, unsurprisingly, he says all four prospective candidates lined up in his office to convince him of their willingness to work in close cooperation with their Indian counterparts.

A small incident in the complex geopolitical juxtaposition, this shameful but not surprising revelation has shown that Nepal, as a nation, has a very fragile institutional framework to support statecraft in this difficult time and terrain. And our political leaders, in their penchant for continuous uncertainty, have made it worse.

After the LSK nightmare, the country recently faced a disastrous dismantling of a strong political arrangement led by Prachanda and Oli, the ‘communist’ leaders giving slogans for a communist unity. As the country is in desperate need of stability, the cloud wisdom of people favored their promise for stability and the united coalition got a nearly two-thirds majority. But in three years, the powerful government became a symbol of the greatest failure in Nepal’s political history. 

This failure opened the door for the judiciary to also get involved in brinkmanship and power brokering, as recent news headlines suggest. These developments point to yet another era of utter failure, and the aspirations of Nepal’s youth to see a state that supports a level playing field and encourages investments in new technologies and skills, making the ecosystem more conducive to economic growth, is far from sight.

Also read: Kathmandu: City of Garbage

To aptly theorize such a shameful dysfunction, we refer to “Why Nations Fail” published in 2012, Co-authored by the M.I.T. economist Daron Acemoglu and the Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson again and again. The book’s main argument is that countries thrive when they develop “inclusive” political and economic institutions, and they fail when those institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of a few.

“Sustained economic growth requires innovation,” the authors write, “and innovation cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics.”

“Inclusive economic institutions, are in turn supported by, and support, inclusive political institutions,” which “distribute political power widely in a pluralistic manner and are able to achieve some amount of political centralization so as to establish law and order, the foundations of secure property rights, and an inclusive market economy.” Conversely, extractive political institutions that concentrate power in the hands of a few reinforce extractive economic institutions to hold power.

The lesson of history is that you can’t get your economics right if you don’t get your politics right. And, the youth of this country should brace up for this long struggle to set things right, right at the grassroots. Nation-building has to be approached brick by brick, an institution at a time.