In a representative democracy, people are the source of power, which is manifested as they choose their delegates through elections. More often than not, however, the officials who receive an electoral mandate from the people then use the power they have been invested with against the interest of the electorate. This rightly angers and frustrates the people, and in the next election they vote out the current party and vote in another party. The entire cycle then repeats itself, and party after party is voted in then out of power. As an example of this process, the recent Constituent Assembly election in Nepal resulted from the failure of the first assembly.
Nepal not only tolerates corruption but actively welcomes it. The very culture of the country is centered around a religion that encourages people to bribe gods. Bribery, nepotism, favoritism, and embezzlement are common everywhere. The country is highly politicized, its social fabric is loosening, and trust is constantly undermined. The Nepali people have lost their trust in public institutions. Interaction between citizens and government is very limited. Financial aid intended to serve the people becomes easy money for politicians and other power-holders to divert, and essentially steal, for their own use. In addition, aid provides incentives for civil society organizations to expand their organizations but gives no incentives for them to expand their vision. Organizations providing funding for aid fail to encourage creativity or the pursuit of sustainable solutions through innovation and risk-taking.
In Nepal, we are still learning about democracy and do not yet have enough practice in making it work—the practice that would help us regulate the behaviors and relationships of individuals participating in a democratic society. Without accountability, Nepal’s new democracy fails to achieve any sense of equality or morality. A simplistic idea of accountability portrays it as merely the presence of transparency and anti-corruption measures, but transparency and anti-corruption measures are not enough: they neither strengthen the democratic foundations of a society, nor do they inspire people to act responsibly.
The most visible result of the absence of accountability is corruption, which especially undermines the development of countries in transition. Many anti-corruption initiatives, however, only deal with the symptoms of problems, such as child mortality, poverty, and disease. The true causes of corruption have gone largely unnoticed because they are deeply rooted in the systems, behaviors, and cultures that encourage individuals to engage in corruption. The European Union spends close to 120 million Euros every year fighting corruption globally, and according to the World Bank, corruption is one of the largest industries, with a scale equal to 3 trillion US dollars every year. Nepal remains the most corrupt country, according to Transparency International: with a score of 31, it was ranked 116th in 2013 out of 176 countries. This statistic shows that Nepal has achieved remarkable improvement as compared to its rank the previous year. Nevertheless, the situation of its governance today is ridiculous. Measuring corruption is useful, but it is not enough to combat it.
A change of perspective: A collective approach to the problems
The only way to succeed in the fight against corruption is to trust the power of grassroots democracy—which we are striving to do at the Accountability Lab. We incubate innovative ideas to create tools that, first, empower ordinary citizens, and second, then build trust and interaction between citizens and people with power. These tools eventually empower citizens to hold government responsible for its actions. It is a two-way process also involving the demand side—that is, the receivers of aid. We need to understand why schools are not built, why the ratio of child mortality is increasing, and so on. These problems are only symptoms, and the causes must be tackled through sustainable action.
In addition, Accountability Lab is pioneering a new paradigm for development: we use collective approaches to the problems within the system, rather than focusing corrupt individuals as problems. These approaches harness the power of creativity, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and integrity and thereby redefine the development paradigms of the past.
Radical transformation is necessary to bring changes in accountability. Collective solutions are needed to solve collective problems through (what we call) Accountapreneurship—the combination of accountability and entrepreneurship. Accountrepreneurship focuses on changing mindsets about development from the top down—to make them creative and demand driven. Accountapreneurs have powerful ideas to attack accountability problems and make sustainable change through a variety of high-, low- and no-technology solutions. Each project does not always succeed in this difficult task, but the Accountapreneurship model embraces failure has an opportunity for learning and corrective action. Accountapreneurs also see youth as critically important agents of change, as they are typically more creative, flexible, and technologically savvy—and less entrenched in corrupt practices.
Globally, we have recently launched Honesty Oscars 2014, a week-long campaign to honor groundbreaking people and creativity that makes our world more transparent and holds our governments and corporations more accountable.
In Nepal, we are using innovation to shift citizens away from traditional aid models centered on risk-averse projects, towards projects that create real, practical change. We’ve helped organizations like Galli Galli develop a popular citizen-navigation portal called Nalibeli on how to access public services, for example; and we’ve created a tool called Speak Up (www.bolaun.org) to help citizens connect with communities of practice. We are also supporting a young filmmaker to train youth to create films that document accountability in their communities, and then use those films to generate discussions on possible solutions. We have developed a tool kit for journalists to use the Right to Information law more effectively. Soon, we are going to launch “Integrity Idol,” a first-of-its-kind television and radio series that highlights and honors Nepali civil service and judiciary bureaucrats from across the country who demonstrate honesty and accountability. The show aims to show that bureaucrats can, and are in fact intended, to do good— to act as the gatekeepers of governance in Nepal.
In order to set a firm foundation of accountability, it really must be a collective effort. Beyond Accountapreneurship, Accountability Lab seeks to set an example to other NGOs of radical transparent in its own operations, as can be seen by reviewing all of our expenses on our website in real-time. After all, the first step to fighting corruption and building and accountability is through personal accountability. After all, the first step to fighting corruption and building transparency and accountability is with personal accountability.
The blog was published by Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)