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Rudra Pandey

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That’s Why We Are Poor

“A minister’s son killed someone but the court acquitted him. The minister was charged with bribery but he was set free because the court could not gather enough evidence to put him behind bars despite being caught red-handed. The chief secretary of a political party was convicted of murder and he served jail for three years but now he is back and is serving as the general secretary. A poor fellow was beaten to death because he stood up against a minister’s son who also happens to be the ring leader of a criminal gang.
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A politician claims he inherited his multi-million property from his father-in-law but the fact, on the contrary, is that his father-in-law was in a wretched condition and starved to death a few years back. A man was fired from his job because he was standing against the powerful ruling party member. A promiscuous minister has been sleeping with several women and one of them is his personal secretary. And the prime minister has just nominated his nephew to a prime post in his party. The prime minister’s daughter was found involved in making illegitimate deals and embezzling funds from the national treasury but no action was taken against her. Several people have lost their lives to the reckless driving of a drunken prince only to find the system dead mute failing to give any justice to the innocent lives lost. The head of the police department built his house in a public property but the neighbors stood there in silence.”

More often than not, we hear these statements in poor third-world countries. The courts of law in these countries are not independent. They treat people on the basis of their social status and not on the basis of evidence. Money is the only language the court speaks day in and day out. They write the best laws based on the laws prevailing in the developed world but seldom do they emerge beyond the shelves where they are stacked away gathering nothing but dirt. On the other hand, in the more affluent first world countries, the courts of law ensure that everyone gets a fair trial, the guilty, irrespective of who he/she is, gets punished and no one is guilty until proven so.

We know that a perfect rule of law does not exist in any country. There is no system in the world which is impeccable and free of loopholes. The rich people can always employ these loopholes for their benefit while the poor people just sit, watch and often become victims. Even in the countries with a strong rule of law, the rich people can always buy smarter lawyers. In the countries with a weak rule of law, rich people can go further – they can not only buy smart lawyers but also the judges. In fact, in some countries, the rule of law is what the rich and powerful wants it to be.

We all wonder and discuss why we Nepalese are poor. Is it because we are lazy? Is it because we lack enough resources? Is it because of our neighboring countries? Is it because we lack good leaders? Or is it because we are inherently incapable? My answer to all these questions is a ‘No’. I would rather say that we are poor because we do not have a strong rule of law, which is the foundation of any civilized and responsible society. In this regard, we are still at a barbaric stage and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Here, I have casually, without doing any research, selected some countries and divided them into two groups: the first group with acceptable level of compliance with law and order and the second group with unacceptable level of compliance. Countries like USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, France, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Israel can be considered to be in the first group and countries like India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand, Nigeria, Jordan, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Nepal, Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, and Ukraine can fall into the second group.

Why do we have a high level of compliance with law and order in one group of countries and not in the other group? What are the root causes? Is it because of religion? Is it because of prosperity? Is it because of the level of education? Or is it because of race? I personally do not know but I have jotted down a few probable answers. The correct answer could be a combination of all of them.

Religion: Mostly, the countries with Christian majority are found to have the best compliance with law and order. Countries with Buddhist majority come second, Hindu third and Muslim at the bottom. This ranking, though debatable, sort of makes us wonder if the prevailing religion in a country determines the level of rule of law in that country. However, we also cannot ignore the fact that pre-dominantly Christian countries like Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile have weak law and order but a Buddhist country like Japan has one of the strongest law and order. The religion hypothesis, therefore, does not always hold true.

Prosperity: Is the level of compliance with law and order high because a country is prosperous? Or do countries become prosperous because the compliance with law and order is high? Or do the levels of prosperity and law and order work in parallel with each other? This question makes me think about the legal system in America 100 years ago. Was it in par with the level of prosperity or better? Can we state that the rule of law preceded the prosperity in western countries? Are they prosperous today because the rule of law existed in their land for hundreds of years? The answer to the question, whether prosperity leads rule of law or vice versa, cannot be answered by citing examples of just a couple of countries. More thorough research and study will be required, which is not the scope of this brief article.

Education: We generally find that the level of compliance with law and order is low in countries where the level of education is below average but, of course, some of the current and ex-communist countries are exceptions to this rule. Cuba and ex-USSR states have a highly questionable rule of law despite having a considerably high level of literacy. In Nepal, particularly, most leaders and thinkers blame the low literacy rate for the weak legal system. Sadly, it is the illiterate and poor people who are the victims of the broken system. This kind of legal system fails to ensure a fair distribution of state resources; thereby, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The haves continue to step up in the ladders as they get better education while the have-nots end up getting poorer as they get either sub-par education or no education at all. Nevertheless, I am inclined to believe that increasing level of education generally pushes countries towards higher level of compliance with law and order.

Race: Does the Caucasian white majority in a country have something to do with the compliance with existing law and order? This could be a highly debatable question. The western countries have Caucasian white majority and they are the group of countries having the highest level of compliance with law and order. Again, ex-communist countries come as exceptions to this rule. Despite having a Caucasian white majority, those countries lack a strong legal system. Hence, just being a Caucasian white majority country does not guarantee a high level of compliance and there are certainly many other factors involved in the determination of the level of compliance with law and order.

This article just raises some questions regarding the compliance with law and order, and is not directed at attempting to answer those questions. It merely touches a macro level social science topic that many Ph.D. theses might have been written on. Academicians may have answered these questions but I am sure they have not been able to give a clear and undisputed answer. We commoners can brainstorm through blogging and try to answer these questions.

If, by any chance, I am misunderstood, let me clarify that I am not questioning here the written legal system but only the compliance with it. In general, all countries have a fair legal system. Discriminations, in writing, are rare and the ones that exist are mostly insignificant. However, the fair practice of the written laws is a whole different matter.

I would put my note in the form of the following expression:
[Compliance with Law and Order] = [c + c1*religion + c2*prosperity +c3*education + c4*race].

Let us debate!

Note: Thanks to Pramod K Rai and Shreeya Shakya for editing support and Dovan Rai for illustration.