By: Priyanka Gurung. This article was originally published by Republica.

What sets the likes of the Integrity Idol nominees on the right path but the majority on a different one?

For once, the standing ovation and the thunderous applause following the end of a government officials’ speech was justified. The crowd gathered at the Nepal tourism board continued to pour their appreciation of Gulmi’s garlanded Chief District Officer (CDO) as he held his Integrity Idol trophy and for once, the accolade seemed fitting. Of late we, as a nation, have had every right to complain, vex and agonize over the current state of affairs. But contrary to overwhelming evidence, it might not be time to allow ourselves to sink into a bottomless pit of hopelessness yet.
The winner of Integrity Idol 2016, Pradip Raj Kandel as a CDO may be representative of the government but refreshingly he doesn’t mince his words when it comes to pointing out their inefficiency. It tends to stand in the way of this own job so every single day he is working to rectify it.
“Let me give you an instance, when I was posted in Danauli, the village there had one transformer but it never worked. The head of the community’s electricity department reasoned that since the District Development Committee had bought the transformer, they were responsible for it. The District Development Committee on the other hand, threw the blame back and claimed it was the electrical department’s duties. The village had waited about seven years for the transformer to run. With a little coordination I was able to bring electricity to their homes in half an hour,” shares Kandel.
He doesn’t cite this as one of his achievements but rather as a failure of the system. Today he is the recipient of the Integrity Idol title for this kind of commitment towards improvement of public service, community development, including reduction of littering, citizen’s rights and literacy. What’s more, he is not the only one using his government post to bring positive change and development. This is the second year that Integrity Idol, with the help of public’s votes, has bought forth five such capable individuals and their efforts into the limelight.
So maybe we don’t have to be driven to despair just yet. Even though Nepal does have dismal reputation in the corruption perception index, being ranked 126th among 175 countries, we would be wrong to presume that our country does not have any honest and accountable civil servants.
Ram Narayan Shah was another nominee for Integrity Idol because of his contribution towards bettering the quality of education including public education by actively advocating updated technologies for training, regular monitoring, and evaluation. He works as a resource person at Mahendra Boudha Higher Secondary Resource Center and draws one conclusion.
“It can be done. We can make an impact. I believe the choice is always the individuals. One can report to work from 10-5, fill a couple of reports, drink tea and call it work or one can put in sincere and necessary effort. It depends on your conscience. I still have naysayers, those who think I am over reaching for wanting to bring these changes in the education sector, nevertheless I choose to continue. So do the other nominees here,” says Shah.
It is perhaps the most curious of all questions, why doesn’t each government official feel this same responsibility? What sets the likes of the Integrity Idol nominees on the right path but the majority on a different one? All five nominees agree that for most part it is an individual’s choice. Most importantly, they share that being honest alone isn’t enough, one must have the willingness to take action as well. Though the nominees are quick to assure that they are not the only ones, there are many other model civil servants scattered across the country.
Of course, nobody can argue that they are comparatively less in number. It’s not been smooth sailing for the nominees either and they point out Nepal’s toxic workplace culture as one of the biggest factors behind employees not giving their best at work.
“It seems almost all Nepalis have their priorities wrong. Their designation is of utmost importance. Their abilities, ideas and effort for some strange reason, don’t rank that high. This attitude, I believe, has proven to be very detrimental to the work environment. If only we could adopt this attitude, I bet we would see vast improvements in the system,” explains Kandel.
Bhuwan Kumari Rai, a women development inspector from Khotang and another nominee, works extensively to teach women in the rural parts of our country about their rights. She has earned much acclaim for her work to fight against crimes from rape to polygamy. Though her almost two decade experience in the area has been fulfilling, much to her dismay she too, as Kandel puts it, has had to deal with unhealthy environment in the workplace.
“I can’t understand the culture of unhealthy competition in offices. If somebody is rising up the posts or taking big strides to accomplish something, there tend to be strategies to bring them down. Such practices are rampant especially in government offices. I have had to deal with so many transfers. It doesn’t help that politics too has its grip here. All your energy is focused on bringing the person down than performing their own duties,” states Rai.
The others nod in agreement. One can only imagine the progress that has been stalled because of such toxic culture. They have all been there at one point or the other and sadly predict such problems of unhealthy competition to crop up in the future as well. But again as Shah puts it, they choose this uphill road and they are determined to continue in the morally right path.
However, positive impact on a large scale can’t be made solely on a couple of people’s attempts alone. It’s apparent that enabling community inclusion and mobilization has been all of the nominees’ forte. Ramesh Kumar Thapa, in particular, Assistant Management Officer at the Bardiya national park and wildlife conservation, remembers how difficult it was to run development plans when the community, and youth in particular, thought of the government officers as the enemy.
“We had around 40 youths in jail on poaching charges. Our youths were committing the crime but they were being egged and funded by outsiders. We knew it had to stop so we consciously organized many discussion and awareness sessions. We listened to them and we talked to them too. On the side, we also made provisions to help the locals who had suffered losses from the attacks of wild animals. First step is to always build trust,” explains Thapa.
Today with 2,500 youth volunteers and a six year tradition of marking March 3 as a day to celebrate the success that they have had in preserving the wildlife of Bardiya, Thapa’s plan has certainly panned out beautifully. With the help of these youths, he and his officers have caught around 40 poachers and dramatically improved conditions at the reserve. His biggest achievement, he believes, was in making the locals feel invested in the wildlife.
“At the end of the day, it is all about inspiring and motivating the stakeholders. As government bodies this should one of our main agendas,” adds Deepak Shrestha. The school principal of Beni Community Higher Secondary School in Myagdi has catapulted his public school to the best of his locality. It is actually giving tough competition to private schools of the area and he largely praises parents’ and teachers’ involvement as the reason for the school’s success.
“Every week we have a teachers meeting where they discuss their achievements of the week as well as the challenges they face, so there are a lot of ideas and advices floating around. I have seen this mentally stimulate and genuinely inspire the teachers. We have similar discussions with the parents and they too feel invested in the school. In return, the school gives both what it promises: no compromise where it comes to salary and education quality. It’s a win- win situation for all involved,” elaborates Shrestha.
So let the debate around the idea of integrity and accountability rage. Even though many of us may have thought otherwise, we clearly haven’t reached the point of resignation yet. If the likes of Kanel, Shah, Rai, Thapa and Shrestha are still at work and as they claim, there is a good spatter of others who too emphasize on fulfilling their duties and earnestly serving the public from their government posts, perhaps, it isn’t all doom and gloom.