Peter Tobin updates us on the latest from Nepal. Nepal seems to be a complete mess. One wonders if any Hindu or Hinduized society can function in any way at all. The corruption of the Maoists of all people is particularly appalling. Prachanda, leader of the Maoists, has completely sold out to global neoliberalism and India and is now a multimillionaire with a mansion and a helicopter. A Maoist of all people!
Paap Dhuribaata Karauchha (Sin Shouts from the Roof)
The Nepalese Election – November 2013
By Peter Tobin
That the political and financial circumstances which led to this election process are politically circumspect and financially unsavory will be argued in the following. To begin; this not a general election but one for a second Constitutional Assembly – an unheard of and ludicrous situation as it being called for and organized by the same forces that rendered the first one ineffective.
Marx’s off-quoted epigram was never more apposite; with the first as tragedy and the second as farce. Because they intend to use the election as a mandate to write their own constitution is why the Maoists are not getting caught in this particular snare. They have said they will tear-up any such constitution which will have been written in New Delhi anyway and, as Kiran said, make one: “in the streets”. Many are aware, not just the Maoists, that the proceedings were therefore triggered as a stratagem of Prachanda’s to exclude them and their allies and so clear the way for such an outcome.
That is why the High Level Political Committee was set up earlier this year, which under the conniving of Prachanda was a carve-up between the four parties. Similarly Chief Justice Regmi is Prachanda’s placeman appointed as Prime Minister to give an apolitical gloss to these electoral machinations and, if necessary, carry the responsibility for employment of force majeure.
Against declining socioeconomic conditions these political games have intensified a palpable general cynicism covering a wide spectrum of Nepali society. But not precisely measurable as opinion polls are banned in run-ups to elections. One commentator summed it up:
“This has thrown the country into a marsh of four-party dictatorship. Because of the four parties’ bullying, 33 political parties say they have to boycott the forthcoming elections.”
(Bhagirath Basnet, Republica. October 9th.)
It is accepted therefore that the new CA will be no different in composition and that people are not being offered a real choice as the four-party syndicate has rigged the system to ensure they come out on top. The party leaders in this respect have ensured their survival by standing in multiple constituencies and putting forward nonentities in each other’s electoral areas. Thus greasy pacts and greased palms are the reality behind the espousal of ‘democratic’ values and practices and the grandiose, but empty manifestos.
It signifies the continuation of the status quo as it keeps control of the major parties in the hands of the upper castes, and the hegemony of Brahmanism over all political and administrative institutions. Hence Dalits – who make up 20% of the civil population – Muslims – who make up 10% and the Janjatis – who add a further 37%; along with other, smaller marginalized groups are excluded from the corridors of power and influence by this ongoing fix.
For the Dalits particularly, because despite the repeal of the Rana’s 1854 muliki ain – which codified discrimination against them – by King Mahendra in 1963, like the noble Ambedkar’s similar attempt in the 1949 Indian Constitution, have proved only words on paper and in reality discrimination against them is still rife in Indian and Nepalese society.
The occasional token Dalit or Muslim candidate/delegate might be touted by the parties but the predominant power elites remain Brahmins and Chetris, who combined comprise just over 25% of the population, and whose monopoly of power over the majority marginalized; politically, culturally and economically, continue the unresolved tensions that produced the People’s War. It is one important reason why the CPN – Maoists have retained overwhelming support among these historically marginalized groups.
It is pretty clear that the present political cartel is pushing this electoral extravaganza as a means of political self-preservation and monetary aggrandizement; as the weekly magazine Nepali Times put it in an editorial:
“If this was a truly fair and independent election and if the (pre-election) surveys are the true pulse of the people, most of the disgraced leaders of the past four years should be voted out.”
(Nepali Times, 11-17 October, 2013)
The Big Steal
So much for political chicanery but it is also in the allocated costs of the so-called election that reveals the rotten heart and open pockets of the system’s carpet-bagging politicos and their numerous hangers-on. The Rs.14 billion plus for employing the state’s security apparatus has been mentioned; this includes the Nepal Police receiving Rs.5 billion, the paramilitary APF a further Rs.4 billion and the army Rs.3.14 billion. The rest of this budget being allocated principally for employing the 50,000 temporary police personnel deemed necessary to beef-up an already swollen military/paramilitary/police establishment.
On top of these costs the Election Committee is funded to the tune of over Rs.8 billion which with other incidental provisions will bring the total expenditure in excess of Rs.30 billion. This is nearly twice the Rs.16 billion allocated in this year’s budget announced as recently as July. There are two staggering comparisons in this colossal sum; firstly it is more than ten times the amount spent on the 2008 election, which took place in the middle of an economic crisis and came in at only Rs. 2.81 billion.
Even allowing for rampant inflation, running between 8% and 10%, which would allow for an increase of around 60/70%, it does not justify an increase of over 1000%. Neither do the requirements justify it; as one commentator, honing in on security expenditure, has pointed out that police and military personnel only required extra travel and daily allowances with expenditure.
In relation to equipment the Army has in fact used to situation to get monies expedited making the excuse that there is limited time available and therefore costs are a secondary consideration. There are also questions as to what happened to all the ballot boxes, vehicles and communication tools left over and supposedly stored from the last election. But instead huge new contracts have been handed out to favored business cronies.
The Electoral Commission itself stands accused of favoritism having handed the contract for partially printing voter ID cards to the A-Roll Printing Company which, contrary to the commitments to ‘honest and open competition’, was the second lowest bidder. SIMCO Business Systems Pvt Ltd., the lowest bidder’s proprietor, Ashok Simkhada, bitterly complained that the EC had reneged on an earlier assurance that the job would go to the lowest tender saying:
“This decision is unfair and against all the norms of fair play.”
(Himalayan, October 24th, 2013)
It is hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for Mr. Simkahada, however naïve, as he gives expression to the utopian, Smithian ideal of ‘free and fair competition’ which, if it ever really was dominant, in the modern world is crushed between corruption on the one hand and monopoly-cartelization on the other. The former flourishes in Nepal and is generally rife in the developing world, whereas the latter is what defines the present multinational globalization, following the tendency noted by Marx, and Smith indirectly before him, of Capital to concentrate into fewer and fewer hands.
But it is not just a windfall for crony business, huge sums are also provided for NGOs to conduct workshops, seminars, conferences and ‘electoral education’. Given that there are approximately 48,000 foreign and domestic NGOs in Nepal, one for every 850 Nepalese citizens, many of whom will jump with alacrity at this chance to promote ‘democratic’ modalities and ideology in return for wedges of money. The Five-Star hotels are consequently doing a roaring trade. One election insider has already complained to a former Foreign Secretary, B Basnet, that money is being spent like “looted booty”.
“Corrupt politicians make the other ten per cent look bad.”
This financial bonanza is an egregious example of a useless, corrupt and, the Maoists argue, irreparable system. Often the term ‘corrupt’ is bandied about as populist suspicion but in the case of Nepal modern polling methods support the rhetoric. The 2013 report of Transparency International (TI) states that Nepal’s political parties are the most corrupt according to a survey conducted by Nepal Division at 1,000 houses in 58 different municipalities, based on experience and perception of 70% of interviewees.
The index also covers access to information, kickbacks on public contracts, bribery of officials and enforcement of anti-corruption laws. One of the additional weightings relate to, appropriately enough ‘transparency’; i.e. how open are processes of government in terms of procurement, appointment of officials, existence of public’s ‘Right to Know’, anti-corruption legislation and enforcement thereof.
Here a caveat needs to be entered relating to the ranking system which the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) places Nepal at 139th out 174 countries. This gives you the least corrupt as Denmark, Finland, e.g. with scores of 90 – 100 being perfection and the most corrupt with; e.g. as North Korea, Somalia with scores of 8. Nepal in this context scored 27.
It is believable because it used sophisticated polling techniques based upon personal interviews and questionnaires allocated through random selection. I myself worked for the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) for a short period and saw how refined these methods have become in measuring the subjective and anecdotal and extracting valid data that is trusted by governments, international organizations and private companies in the planning of policies or investment decisions. The face-to-face technique over a large a sample as possible is the accepted basis for all present-day market research.
The difficulty arises for TI is that it to be wholly dependable it must be internally consistent; i.e. that the modalities used to establish ranking must be uniformly applied to all those in the measure. In the case of North Korea there would have been no access to its citizens and therefore no information collected as elsewhere. This ergo places all the weighting and subsequent score on lack of ‘transparency’, placing the DPRK, and similar ‘closed’ regimes like it, under the rubric of: “institutionalized state corruption”. This is more a political/ideological bias and renders TI’s judgment in these examples worthless given its self-proclaimed remit.
It is quite difficult to establish how they apply these weightings as, although I may have missed something, they are not very forthcoming (transparent even) as to their precise methodology in my trawl through their websites. It is almost as though they’ve been prodded, or indeed ‘grant-aided’ to arrive at a prognostication that most reasonable people would see as counter-intuitive; whatever else they may think about that state, good, bad or indifferent, corruption would not figure largely, if at all, in their thinking.
It is even more suspect where it claims that this austere, embattled command economy is more corrupt than India, which is not so much a functioning state as much as a organized Brahminical kleptocracy and where the criminalization of electoral politics accordingly is that unfortunate failed state’s most salient feature.
The economist Arun Kumar in A Study of Corruption in India estimated that its ‘black economy’ accounts for as much as 50% of GDP. That would make it approximately $500 billion per annum. For Nepal it was calculated in 2006 as being over 50% and worth $4 billion from a GDP of $7 billion. However, despite these reservations as to the modalities of precise ranking it would be safe to say that in the case of Nepal and its homologues where the bedrock of the survey rests on data from personal interaction, the TI report does highlight and quantify a glaring anomaly that has only worsened over the last twenty years with the advent of bourgeois ‘democracy’.
As the report indicates the politicos’ are the worst of a bad bunch; from the ‘Prada/Pajero’ years of the post-first Andolan nineties, where parliamentarians awarded themselves a choice of either four x fours, and where leading members of the short-lived Adikhari’s 1996 first ‘communist’ government enriched themselves from bribes taken from Indian interests over the Mahakali River Project. (So outrageous it was opined that they had given away more in one treaty than in all the others since Sugali in 1816.)
To the present where many of the leaders of the four parties, like the UML’s Oli and MJN’s Gachhadar are part politician, part don. In fact each party has its own underworld connections and in return for enforcement and similar ‘dirty work’ often rewards the gang bosses with safe seats; in this way known criminal dons like Ganesh Lama (just out of prison and cheerfully described by the Kathmandu Post, October 23rd. 2013, in the libel-free atmosphere of Nepal as a “gangster”, ) and Dinesh Chari will become lawmakers in the new CA. Even the UCPN (M) rump leadership although late to jump on this gravy train have quickly enriched themselves.
Prachanda is the most outstanding example, coming from a lower income background to being a multi-millionaire today, complete with mansion, helicopter, owner of a radio station, part-owner of Republica and Nagarik, respectively English and Nepali language daily papers, are among some of his interests. He even has his own ‘enforcer/fixer’ – Kali Bahadur Kham (Bibidh).
Bhatterai though can affect honesty as he became a millionaire through urban planning for Arab oil oligarchs and used his wealth to fund a life-style choice of entering politics to ‘save his country’. He even kept his hands clean during the PW by concentrating on United Front work, unlike Dahal who was Supreme Commander of the PLA and party chairman and for whom the UN International Criminal Court has already set the wheels in motion to ensnare and indict him for ‘crimes against humanity’.
Dahal then has joined an active rogues gallery, along with the previously mentioned, including; MK Nepal and JN Khanal (UML), SB Deuba (jailed by Gyanendra’s Royal Commission for Corruption Control – RCCC) and RB Yadav (NC) and Mahanta Thakur (MJN), to name a few of the godfathers.
However, if you need to understand the pervasive nature of corruption in Nepal there is no better example than that of Khum Bahadur Khadka. He was a high-flying NC leader and a former Minister of the Interior during the 1990s. He was convicted in 2012 of several counts of corruption when in that position and other high-ranking posts such as Home Minister and local development Minister and was sentenced to 18 months prison and given a large fine for huge levels of malfeasance.
The picture above shows his release amidst huge fanfare where he was festooned with a 110 kg garland ordered especially from Kolkata and greeted by thousands who marched from Dillibazar via Ratna Park to his home in Sanepa, all wearing t-shirts bearing his image and chanting: “Long live Khumbahadur Dai! Long live Nepali Congress!”
As one critic put it:
“One could easily mistake Khadka for a national hero, a freedom fighter, or people’s savior.”
(M Paudyal, Republica, 21st October, 2013)
The reason for his popularity is that, like many of the leaders/dons, he spread his proceeds around, providing many jobs and lavish treats for supporters. Along with rigging their seats, figures like Khadka, Dahal, Gadachhaar et al invest wisely in their potential voters. What this indicates is a fragmented class only conscious of sectional or caste location and incapable of recognizing that its general interest depends on good governance and observance of the rule of law. A ruling-class requires unity of purpose to ensure political, economic and ideological hegemony.
Where crony capitalism flourishes in a ‘black economy’ this cannot happen. At the political level it equates the leading players of the parties as no different from gangland bosses, who sometimes squabble, sometimes cooperate over the carve-up of territory and spoils. Elections become under their aegis; a chance to further raid the public purse, to provide bread and circuses for the apparatchiks and validation of a status quo, anything but a desire to serve the people and strengthen the nation. The mask of democracy waved uncertainly trying to hide the face of a peculating oligarchy.
This specific election as set out represents political and financial larceny on a grand scale – Biplev put it that in more ways than one: “It is a criminal conspiracy against the Nepalese working class.”
An astute commentator has described the evolution of corruption in Nepal from the Ranas where it was primarily extractive, draining the state’s exchequer in order to enrich the clan. The Ranas, who ruled from 1846 to 1951, were like the Boyars but more successful. The talkative Chief of Staff, SJB Rana, alluded to previously, is therefore continuing a family tradition in squeezing over Rs.3 billion for hiring out the army for the election.
Under the monarchy from 1951 to 1990, especially under Mahenedra’s Panchayat regime from 1990, it was distributive and the state’s revenues were used to spread largesse among supporters and for buying off opponents. From 1990 to the present day corruption was democratized and increasingly institutionalized to the extent that it is difficult to demarcate between malfeasance and politics, as Kadkha’s case illustrates so tellingly. He goes on to say:
“The problem with corruption is not that of picking one or two rotten eggs to prevent the lot from spoiling. The problem is the entire crate of eggs is rotten…and that corruption is institutionalized and deeply entrenched in our systems.”
(N. Manandhar, Kathmandu Post, October 23rd. 2013)
Costs in Perspective
The colossal sum of Rs.30 billion is even more startling when you consider that it represents approximately 6% of the government’s 2013 budget of Rs.517.24 billion. If you consider the UK’s 2013 budget of an estimated 720 billion pounds it would require a comparable amount for an election spend of a 43 billion plus! If that is unimaginable in a rich country like Britain why should it be accepted with such equanimity for a poor country like Nepal?
And Nepal is poor, ranked the world’s 166 poorest out of 183 countries measured by the International Monetary Fund Economic Outlook Database for 2013. In fact many observers have noted the disparity; in a country where many go to bed hungry, millions of children suffer from malnutrition and are deprived of primary education (with the corollary – child labor), where a quarter of the population of just under 30 million exist below the poverty level, where 60% have no electricity and 53% no access to clean tap water.
It’s not even as if the last 20 years of bourgeois ‘democracy’ has been a period of economic improvement; to the contrary the conditions of the poorest have worsened while the rich have got richer.
Again the statistics bear this out; according to the Gini-coefficient, which measures the gap between the rich and poor (vertical economic inequality) in all countries, showing the devastation brought about by the imposition of neoliberal, laissez faire policies, through such mechanisms as the Structural Adjustment Programs, privatization and general economic deregulation promoted by the IMF, WTO and World Bank. Taking the decile data first shows that in 1985 the poorest 10% garnered 4.04% of the national income whereas in 2010/11 this had plummeted to 1.5%.
While the richest, at the other end, which shared 25% of national income in 1985 saw this share increase to 39.5 in 2011. Similarly with the poorest 20% who shared 9.1% in 1985 saw that fall to 4.1% in 2011, while the richest 20% saw a rise in same period from 39.5% to 56.2%. The inequality is measured by how close a country is to 100, in 1985 the Gini coefficient showed Nepal at 29.55% but by 2011 it had marched towards 49.54% and has accelerated within the last ten years according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Report 2011.
Along with many other mechanisms, such a Kuznet’s ratio and the Human Poverty Index, the figures incontrovertibly show that only 20% of the population have profited from neoliberal economics with the remaining 80% suffering even greater levels of immiseration and deprivation.
That this has happened in every country of the world subject to western neoliberal economics is gainsaid, working peoples everywhere are being hammered whether in the UK or Nepal, but in the former and all developing third world countries poverty and exploitation are more naked and absolute. Far from being the answer – the once progressive and dynamic wealth-creating capitalist system, as described by Marx in the Communist Manifesto is now the problem and why Maoists in Nepal argue that there is no alternative but revolution.
The facts support this contention and where Lenin once said that the capitalist will sell you the rope you hang him with; similarly the global institutions of capitalism provide the empirical data that make the case for revolution. Rhetoric is superfluous.
In the last analysis this so-called election will not address these systemic problems, only further illustrating the uselessness of imported western models of governance. The ‘democratic’ modalities form only a thin carapace over the edifice of a system driven by and striven for a corrupted, compromised and comprador ruling class/caste.
The lofty ideals touted do not represent ‘universal and eternal human values’ but are historical contingencies whereby one class – the bourgeoisie – during the course of an epoch established it supremacy – in modes of production, ideology and polity – over its feudal predecessor. The peoples of Nepal, SE Asia and all the third world have made and will make their own forms of democracy and government in their struggle for freedom and class supremacy over the bourgeoisie in their turn.