A whimsical look at how the Nepali state uses corruption to spread the cash around
Nepalis in general are wealthier than ever before in our history. The reason is that over the past 70 years, successive governments have tried to redistribute wealth through the annual budget.
It always turns out that politicians benefit the most and end up being wealthier because they use the budget process to enrich themselves with salaries, allowances and perks of all kinds. Civil servants, as we saw in the recent report of the auditor general, drink Rs7 billion worth of tea annually, and pay themselves Rs22 billion in allowances beyond their basic salaries.
If Nepal produces so much tea, a lot of that tea money is going to estates, their staff, and the people who package the tea, distribute it and also sell it all over Nepal and globally.
When we see a government employee adding a floor to the house or sending children to expensive schools here and around the world, we see how wealth gets re-distributed to the teachers and brick and cement industries. Corruption has a multiplier effect in real estate, and many non-profits and charities rent the houses they built on graft – further redistributing the wealth. The downstream benefits also go to hardware stores, liquor and meat shops. However, when we need to upgrade the Jorpati road, or the 36km of the Mugling to Narayanghat highway artery , it takes decades.
If the road was paid for by Nepali taxpayers, we could say that the government is doing a good job re-distributing wealth because over 100,000 people use the Mugling Highway every day, and the eateries and shops along the way all benefit.
The current 33kg gold scam also needs to be understood in the context of wealth re-distribution. Many Nepalis believe that in an emergency, gold is the best investment. The joke in the USA is that someone made a spelling mistake while printing the US dollar. It should have read, ‘In gold we trust’.
Nepalis wholeheartedly trust gold, and so do Indians. Hence the huge upsurge in demand for the metal after demonetisation. The problem with gold is that you buy it, lock it up and there is no redistribution of wealth. You see the gold occasionally at wedding banquets. The gold may not do much, but party palaces help re-distribute wealth by creating jobs for waiters, drivers, the food and alcohol industries.
In a country that depends so much on foreign aid, the cynics will tell you that ‘aid is taking money from poor in rich countries and giving it to the rich in poor countries’. And that is just another way of re-distributing wealth on a global scale. The prime minister has just pronounced that Nepal will be ‘heaven’ in ten years. Nepalis will probably have to die first before they can go to heaven, yet there are enough who are applauding the heaven-making process because it will involve redistribution of wealth.
There are nearly 4 million Nepalis working overseas, and their absence has created many jobs for foreigners ensuring that wealth distribution in Nepal is a truly transnational affair. If communists believe in wealth redistribution, then China is a shining example because it has the world’s largest number of billionaires. On the other hand in capitalist America, Seattle is home to Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon, yet it has a huge problem with homelessness.
The number one reason for bankruptcy in the US and the world is medical bills. However, here in Nepal the elderly and their illnesses create a huge potential for wealth distribution, job creation and many are already getting their slice of this new economic pie.
A wealth of meaning, Anil Chitrakar