Interview Shree Hari Aryal
Nov 27, 2017-The patterns of election campaigns this year have given rise to consternation that corruption levels could be on the rise with numerous candidates of questionable backgrounds and vested interests “buying” tickets by financing party campaigns and sending electoral spending through the roof.

The Election Commission has proven largely toothless in curbing such activities, (due to resource constraints, among others) and political leaders have done little to curb expenses.

Mukul Humagain spoke with the President of Transparency International Nepal and senior advocate Shree Hari Aryal about the reason behind the ballooning campaign costs and the grave consequences Nepali democracy would face if they are not curbed.

As the President of Transparency International Nepal, you’ve been a key player in monitoring corruption in the country. Now there are reports that huge amounts of money are being thrown behind candidates and parties. If these campaigns are financed by various interest groups, according to this reasoning, they will extract their share of returns once their candidates are elected.

Indeed, millions of rupees have been spent on election campaigns. The fact that provincial assembly and federal parliamentary elections are being held at the same time, albeit in two different phases, has meant that the spending is less than it would have been if they were held separately.

But regardless, the spending levels are still unprecedented. In the current scenario, political parties need money to function and they need money to appease their cadres and to win votes. They no longer rely on their ideologies alone to win them constituencies.

The Election Commission (EC) has set ceilings for electoral spending and they have also stated that parties must identify a valid source of their funds. Yet they have been summarily ignored. There is no transparency or accountability regarding the money used for campaigns.

And because there is no way to enforce the EC’s mandate, both the ceilings and the call for transparency have proven to be completely toothless.

Nepal is suffering from policy corruption, where our constitutional mandates and various rules and regulations are not being enforced to the degree necessary.

To what extent are political parties to blame for such corruption? What has fuelled these fraudulent practices?

Transparency International conducted a world-wide survey and calculated the corruption levels of 175 countries around the globe. Nepal was pegged as the 131st least corrupt nation.

Transparency International also stated that 70 percent of the political parties in Nepal are involved in corrupt practices. It is because of these overwhelming levels of corruption that the state of our country has been sorely compromised. Our constitution states that political parties should promote democratic practices, both within the parties as well as in running the state.

But it is obvious that political parties do not follow this constitutional mandate; none are truly democratic. The reason behind this lack of democracy is corruption.

We have had the same political leaders at the helm for decades now. They refuse to relinquish their power. Names like Sher Bahadur Deuba and KP Oli have featured in Nepal’s political landscape for a long time, and yet they refuse to let others have a shot at state leadership.

Nepal is stuck with the same old faces. By now, the public are well aware of the behavioural characteristics of the tired-old political leaders, but because they do not have better alternatives, they believe that their vote has to go to the same timeworn parties.

Now, political parties need to redefine themselves. They have to practice democracy, both within their parties as well as in state dealings. If they promote such a change, developments will arise.

Campaign expenses are steadily increasing. Given that the periodic elections are repeated every five years, there is a justifiable fear that this spending could spiral out of control. How can this be managed better?

By setting a ceiling of Rs2.5million for federal polls and Rs1.5million for provincial polls as per the Election Code of Conduct, the EC set themselves up for failure and lost considerable credibility.

The EC was well aware that the levels of spending by parties and candidates would be higher than the ceilings it set, and it also was aware that it in no way could enforce the spending limits.

This particular move by the EC was not well thought out and only proved detrimental to the credibility of the commission. Instead, they should have aimed for a goal that was more within their reach.

For example, they could have put a limit on the amount of electoral materials—pamphlets, posters, etc.—that political parties disseminated. Such a move would have been much more achievable.

Numerous ‘dons’, 20 business contractors, 10 candidates from the lucrative education sector, and one billionaire with extensive business holding are contesting the current elections. There is widespread fear that the new elected bodies will see further erosion of value-based politics and could even lead to direct of conflicts of interest.

There will definitely be possibilities of conflicts of interest. The EC should have enacted measures to make sure such issues would not arise. The EC needs to state that any and all candidates running for elections should provide their detailed background.

Thorough background checks should be conducted and the business history of candidates should be studied. Business interests have to be identified to make sure that conflicts of interest do not arise.

If these checks reveal that certain candidates do have vested interests in specific areas, they should be prohibited from sitting in committees that address these areas. Candidates should also understand the reason behind such a move, and excuse themselves from participation in such cases.

Those people you mentioned above who are contesting the elections are essentially paying for their tickets. They are funding campaigns because they see that they can benefit if elected to power.

Funding campaigns will ultimately pay off for them. Political parties are complicit to this exchange, because of which they will be bound to these candidates. Those who are deserving of the candidacy as a result of their moral character are not given tickets to run because they do not have the money to pay for it.

Instead, gangsters have been chosen. In such a condition, how can we expect corruption to be stemmed? It has gotten to the stage where people who are morally upright are refusing to participate in the elections and choose to stay away because they believe politics is dirty.