When a nation is in the midst of uncertainty, corruption and pillage of public properties skyrocket. The uncertainty affects every high ranking government official, including the judiciary, who are beset by insecurity because they have no idea what is going to happen next. So, to secure their futures, they start amassing more wealth by hook or by crook. Bribery, corruption, and the systematic siphoning off of national wealth remain the most common methods they adopt. Wealth amassed by such methods start crossing the national borders as these people do not trust local banks and institutions.
The influence of these corrupt officials goes beyond their immediate circle. They affect businesses first. Businesses collude with corrupt officials and illegally benefit. As businesses get tainted and business owners get scared, they too start feeling the same insecurities. They understand that the wealth they have earned by illegal means will be questioned as soon as the unstable regime under which they have been privileged to do illegal activities is toppled. In turn, they too start sending money beyond the nation’s borders. This creates a massive capital outflow and brings the nation on the verge of an economic collapse.
As soon as the rapid outflow of capital gets noticed and serious financial crisis become apparent, nervous and insecure people close to the bad regime begin looking for an exit strategy. However, their ego does not easily let them do so, and they are torn by internal conflict. One part of them says – “let us maintain the status quo, we know what we are doing and we are doing the right thing and things are in good shape.” The other part of them says – “we have done bad things and people are not going to let us go unpunished; we already have so much wealth, so let us give up political power and find a way to come out clean.” Some clever ones find a good excuse to give up and stay reasonably secured for the rest of their life, while stupid ones wait till it is too late and end up losing everything and suffer a dog’s death (please remember, no one except the owner cries when a dog dies).
Nepal is passing through the same situation right now. I was in Nepal from March 21, 2006 to April 1, 2006. I met several of my colleagues and friends and asked them about the future of the country and the intentions of the King and his puppets. No one seems to know for sure. Guesses are random and many of them have stopped guessing as things have gotten worse than they ever imagined and contributing factors have become more complex than ever before.
Whereas once the conflict was between the King and the Maoists, the involvement of international powers and the Seven Party Alliance has rendered the situation more complex. No one can quite predict which of the warring side will eventually win. Speculations range from a complete takeover by the Maoists to coup-de-et by the military. All these political uncertainties have created coordinated looting in Nepal by those involved in the government in a massive scale. There are no checks and balances to stop this from happening. Ministers are grabbing all they can because this is a life-time opportunity for them and they do not know if they will hold any powerful position ever again. They can operate with impunity as long as they keep their boss, the King, happy.
In any institution, in any family, and in any nation, when power is in the hands of only one person, things start getting in disarray because people find ways to fool the person and bend the rules to their benefit. That’s the fundamental reason why dictatorships fail. All the high ranking officials in the Nepalese government these days are trying to please the King, which gives them the immunity to do whatever they want. These people know how shaky the King’s current situation is and how uncertain his power base is. All they really want to do in this situation is loot and secure their futures. And that’s exactly what they have been doing.
Can these looters stay safe and secured? Communications has made things open and transparent. Bank accounts are more easily accessible than ever before, and can be searched for illegally accumulated wealth. Furthermore, international agencies are pushing for global initiatives to punish those who loot a country and send money across border lines. A good example is Amnesty International’s recent proposal to go after the properties of dictators who have pillaged the national treasury and sent money abroad.
There are dictators in the world who have looted their nation and stayed safe. That was because they opted for a safe landing and they acted before it was too late. For example, Indonesia’s Suharto was one of the cruel dictators who acted wisely before it was too late. He amassed massive wealth during his era and brutally suppressed his opponents. But in the end, he master-planned a good exit and found a way to stay in Indonesia enjoying his wealth in and out of the country. Philippine’s Marcos is an example of the contrary case. He waited till it was too late and he died a dog’s death. Nepal’s King Birendra depicted wisdom before it was too late. He had a good life and earned immense respect even after his unfortunate death. It seems that the current King Gyanendra is taking a huge risk. He has been pushing the country to the brink of a collapse. It is still not late for him to give up and earn back the respect his brother once enjoyed. King Gyanendra is making the same mistake that Philippines’ autocrat Marcos and Romanian dictator Ceauşescu did. The King perhaps thinks that the so-called royalists that he is protecting now will join his hands at the last moment. He cannot be more wrong. He is surrounded by opportunists and all of them will change the party line if it comes between securing their illegally amassed wealth and supporting the kingship.
The bottom line is – political uncertainty brings corruption and the corrupt will not go unpunished. The regime and the corrupt people who are courting the King will soon have to make the tough decision – a dog’s death or a dignified exit. Furthermore, with the restoration of democracy, we have to make sure that we have the right institutions to protect from rampant corruption by maintaining checks and balances.
Edited by: Daulat Jha