Nepal will hold local elections for the first time in 20 years. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Nepal will hold local elections for the first time in 20 years. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nepal is my adopted country and I like to hope that it has adopted me, too, for the greater part of my life has been invested in this wondrous land of amazing people.

It sickens me to see it suffer from corruption, the one disease that permeates both the public and political spheres alike, crippling its economic and social progress.

It is like a healthy man suffering from self-imposed emphysema, his lungs struggling to breathe and though fully aware of the problem, is psychologically unable or unwilling to seek a remedy.

I make no bones about it, this destructive mindset is deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

Both civil servants and politicians shamelessly pursue their selfish objectives at the expense of the nation. The virus takes hold at the top and the contagion has run, unchecked, throughout the body politic.

The republic has had a constitutional anti-graft body, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), since 2007, but that too is embroiled in controversy with its now suspended chief, Lokman Singh Karki, under parliamentary investigation from an impeachment motion. If even a portion of the allegations against him are found to be true, rather than the fearless crime-buster image he has fostered for himself, he appears to have had something of the night about his activities.

In January this year, in response to a campaign fought by a fearless doctor, the Supreme Court annulled Karkiʼs 2013 appointment to the CIAA. It  said he lacked the “high moral character,” and did not meet the criteria, for the position.

As with so much that goes on in Nepal, the rumour mill subscribes to the theory that legitimate doubts raised over his suitability to take up the appointment were suppressed by Indian influences.

Nepal is a country of tremendous potential. Its rivers have the capacity to generate sufficient electricity not only for the country itself, but enough to sell to its power-hungry neighbors, India and China.

My investment in run-of-the-river hydroelectricity since 2011 has seen our 2.4 megawatt (MW) project feed into the national grid for almost two years.

These hydroelectric projects all require foreign direct investment, but until the recent appointment of Kulman Ghising as managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority, it was mired in corrupt practice.

The long-suffering residents of Kathmandu have become wholly inured to what is euphemistically called “load shedding,” aka power cuts, of as much as 11 hours a day.

The reason turned out to be a cosy relationship between the authority and the suppliers of oil and gas, whose generators and gas-fired equipment were used to supplement what was presented as an inadequate power supply.

Ghising severed these relations and as a result the capital now enjoys uninterrupted electricity. It saddens me to hear of a thoroughly honest industrialistʼs comment on Ghising: “But a good person has no place in Nepal, so itʼs just a matter of time when he will be replaced, since corruption has become a religion.”

As a beneficiary of an incorruptible, independent judiciary both in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, I know it to be an irreplaceable necessity for the rule of law.

Sadly, the Nepali judiciary has a mixed record, with some judges upholding the highest of moral values, while others have the lowest integrity quotient one can imagine.

In the years when I practised as the first foreign lawyer in Kathmandu from 1965 to 1968, the Supreme Court was relatively uncorrupt. The current legal profession, however, is riddled with flexible standards.

I know of one instance that seems to illustrate how the administration of justice in Nepal has descended into a Mad Hatterʼs Tea Party.

Mindful of the political persuasion of the judges assigned to hear a case, lawyers for one party advised that the litigant be represented by a legal representative from each of the major political parties.

Justice is meant to be blind – and politically color blind.

One of the greatest ironies in Nepal is Indiaʼs attitude to its northern neighbor whose people it regards as backward. Yet it is the graft and stultifying delays of the Indian judicial system that have been adopted and emulated in Nepal.

So much is achievable with a competent, independent and incorruptible judiciary whose ethical horizon reaches far beyond India.

For evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men do nothing.

The corollary to this must be that if good men do something, evil men will be thwarted in their purpose. Which is why I believe that to broadcast the positive effect of an honest man in a position of influence has the chance of persuading other honest men to follow suit.

In the 1980s, I convinced Dragonair and Qatar Airways to start flights to Kathmandu. Largely independent of government and as such insulated against corrupt practice, the company of which I was chairman, operated the general sales agency for both airlines and made a significant contribution to the development of the tourist industry.

But one man’s crusade can only go so far.

Tempting though it is to tar all of Nepalʼs politicians and senior bureaucrats with the same brush of corruption, I believe there are men and women of integrity within the system, but they need to feel that they are not alone.

The media must play a critically important part in supporting and encouraging the whistle-blowers and those courageous souls who are prepared to stand up for honest governance.

I know no Nepali who is not fiercely proud of their country. This fierce pride has to be channeled into wiping out corrupt practices. It only takes a few more Kulman Ghisings to start a cauterizing fire that will burn out this destructive cancer.

Local elections in Nepal on May 14 – the first in 20 years – will bring 36,000 new politicians into the system. Many of whom are likely to be women and they know how well a new broom sweeps.

Could this be the start of an evolutionary change that would transform Nepal into the outstanding country that its people richly deserve and so earnestly desire? Only time will tell.

Neville Sarony

Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

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