Nepal Democracy, Citizenship & Corruption.

A few days ago I had an email from a Nepali student, I will call him KD. He wrote to me about my article on leadership in Nepal’s politics and said that he was touched and encouraged by my writing to contribute more for his country. This made me feel both proud and incredibly humble that a young man would be so motivated by my words, firstly to write a response to me, and secondly to want to do more for his country.

He is currently studying abroad after having given up on his education three years ago because of the way the political parties were manipulating and using gangs of students for their own ends. This was a complete abuse of the education system that I’m sure many of you will remember.

At the end of his email KD asked for my help and advice which at first I was reluctant to give. Such a responsibility, but my Nepali wife has again persuaded me! So, here are the main parts of what I wrote, which I hope KD doesn’t mind my sharing with a few other people:

First of all KD you must complete your education, your country needs educated people whether they be farmers better educated in soil erosion and deforestation, or scientists and medical people educated to help people directly. Of course on completion of your studies I would therefore urge you to return to Nepal.

Second, I ask you to become questioning about everything a politician says or does. This is not because you may distrust them but it is a healthy part of the democratic process. Ask how they will do things, as for their policy on health, education, caste discrimination etc, ask about their party’s internal structure, how people get jobs/positions in the party and so on.

Third I ask you to think about and understand three important principles: The first principal concerns democracy and what this really means in terms of “freedoms”, especially freedom of speech, religious practise, political views, ethnicity. There are many different forms of democracy, but people power is a common theme which means the power of the vote; if you don’t like what your political leaders are doing you vote them out!

The second principle goes hand-in-hand with democracy and it is the principle of citizenship. This is not a word I use very often preferring to use the word “obligations” which is the other side of the democracy coin. If as a citizen in a democracy you have certain rights and expect certain freedoms, then likewise you have to give certain obligations BACK to your society and these often include paying taxes, serving in the country’s armed forces when called upon, obeying the laws, demonstrating commitment and loyalty to the democratic political community and state, constructively criticizing the conditions of political and civic life, participating to improve the quality of political and civic life, respecting the rights of others, defending one’s own rights and the rights of others against those who would abuse them.

The third principle I want to mention is corruption, defined as the act of impairing integrity, virtue, or moral principle. When we think of Nepal we tend to think mostly of political corruption which in broad terms is the misuse by government officials of their governmental powers for illegitimate private gain. I’m sure most Nepalis can identify with this definition! However at this point in my reply I want you to go back and read my words about citizenship and think very carefully about corruption too.

What I am about to say next probably runs the risk of getting lots of abusive emails and/or losing many of my Nepali friends! Consider this: A European Aid Agency donates billions of dollars to clean up Nepal’s rivers around Kathmandu. The government minister responsible creams off several million rupees as do the contractors and engineers. Is this corruption? Next, my brother-in-law turns the wrong way down a Kathmandu street and is immediately confronted by a policeman who is nearby. The policeman is about to book him until my brother gives him 100Rs. Is this corruption? Next, my wife and I are leaving Kathmandu tomorrow so we visit Swayambhu one last time and decide to buy a few last minute presents. My wife chooses a Buddha head from a stall and (in English) asks the merchant the price. He turns to his partner and seeks advice, in Newari. The partner says that 500Rs would be a good price, then, the other man turns to my wife and says 2000Rs! Is this corruption? Some tourists need a taxi from the airport to Thamel, the normal price is 800Rs but the taxi driver says his meter isn’t working and decides to charge them 1500Rs. Is this corruption? My answer to all of these questions is YES! In each case the person is attempting to increase his personal gain at the expense of someone else. Of course it is understandable when that person may be desperate to feed his family, but it doesn’t excuse the act. I believe that in each case it is not good citizenship to act in this way.

So, KD my friend, I urge you to return to your country and to follow whatever career calls you whether it be business or politics, but to be a good citizen and to spread the word of good citizenship to everyone.

This is my reply to KD. And now a word to my readers; many of you read my words yet don’t comment. Do you agree with them or disagree? I have no fear of disagreement, after all I am a citizen of what I believe to be the greatest democracy in the world!

Dr. Brian Metters is the Chairman of Trustees and Co-Founder of Nepal Schools Aid, a UK registered charity supporting education development in Nepal. His role is to develop and implement the overall strategy from fundraising to the creation of strategic partnerships to improve the quality of education in Kathmandu primary schools.