Published On: December 14, 2018 10:05 AM NPT By: Gunjan Upadhyay
There are a lot of peculiarities that contribute to making us ‘quintessentially Nepali’. Among the more stranger of these quirks, as I realized midway through a conversation last week, is our love for records. Apparently, we love our records because it gives us a sense of achievement and pride, both individual and collective that we perhaps lack from other spheres in life, say sports or science.
Just at the start of this year in January 2018, we had the biggest recital of Buddhist messages for the world record. The country’s favorite journalist of the moment, Rabi Lamichhane, etched himself onto the national consciousness when he hosted the longest-ever television talk show broadcast on News24 in April 2013. A Nepali journalist talking endlessly for hours on television – there’s certainly a joke there but that’s for another day.
Anyway, this conversation of records was precipitated by the news that the CIAA had filed a case against ex-minister Bikram Pandey and a host of other people for irregularities related to the Sikta Irrigation Project. It’s allegedly a scam of ‘record’ proportions and, while the news isn’t exactly earth-shattering in its novelty, the numbers involved are mind-boggling with some media outlets calling it the biggest ever scam so far. It’s very touching to know that we are not entirely consumed by breaking obscure international records and have time to spare for our own domestic ones too. The hashtag used to promote domestic tourism #pahiledeshanibidesh seems wholly appropriate for our scamsters.
There are, of course, a lot of uncertainties and doubts as to the feasibility of previous soil studies and tests, the guilt of the accused and even the will of the CIAA to prosecute any of the parties but as far as news go it is pretty big. After all, someone had to come up and do one better than Chudamani Sharma and the entire Tax Settlement Commission scam. Even he was simply attempting to better Gopal Khadka and the Nepal Oil Corporation land scam. I suspect the NOC for their part were trying to up the record after the gold smuggling scam.
If you’re taking votes for the biggest scam award, my money is on the disturbingly named Pappu Construction to win it, if all of their schemes and projects are unearthed. I know there’s not a lot in a name but Pappu Construction sounds like the sort of people who do the temporary ‘mela’ construction in Pashupati during Shivaratri, not some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure. And just like those ubiquitous award shows there’s also a newcomer/promising category that would most likely go to the Nepal Airlines Corporation and the deal for the new Airbus.
Truth be told, we should really hold an award show for these people because where would we, as a nation, be without this cycle of one-upmanship, continuous improvement and self-enrichment from our cops, bureaucrats, and politicians. The sad thing is that while scams and scandals seem to be getting bigger and more audacious, no one seems to be batting an eyelid. Given the amounts involved and the size of our country’s infrastructure budgets, the stakes involved are huge but today’s scams will have already been relegated to the back pages tomorrow.
A big reason for this is also that general public interest in these cases wanes after a while because we all know nothing is going to come of it. While the headlines will be sensational for a few days, the legal procedures will keep going round in circles while backstage negotiations are made simultaneously in the corridors of power to ensure that the issue gets tangled in perpetuity and the parties are free to continue life as they please.
This ‘perpetual limbo’ tactic is not too dissimilar to what happens with a lot of unfinished projects that are ‘legally challenged’ in Nepal. We can call them ‘scams in progress’ because they never finish – just go on bleeding the taxpayer dry every year. Just witness the plethora of construction projects that were started decades ago (Melamchi, TIA Runway Extension etc.) and you get a sense of the timelines involved.
While a lot of these perpetual projects were inherited, the government could have done a lot with the stable government card than just shout about it. We are not only losing huge amounts of money from state coffers but economic development – which our leaders like to shout about at every opportunity they get – is stalled due to this. This short-term mentality, culture of passing the buck, frequent re-shuffles and reassignments and an all-permeating lack of accountability is an ugly legacy of the transition period and as long as these persist, we will be breaking the wrong sorts of records for years to come.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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