Public Smugness  and systemic collapse


GB ThapaBY Gopal Thapa, Nepal’s Former Chief of Protocol – We Nepalese have always been good performers abroad. We have made name and fame, earned respect and credibility as honest, well-meaning and hard working people abroad.  A beautiful country interwoven among high alpine mountains on the north, rolling  green and spectacular hills in the middle   and green and fertile flatland on the south, each offering  a  distinct taste from extreme cold, temperate to hot tropical  climate is our added benefits. The perennially  smiling faces, the breath-taking  sights of the majestic  mountains  are perhaps what captures  the  heart and minds of  visitors to come back  to Nepal again and again. Yet, despite well-wishers everywhere, and our own unbound zeal and enthusiasm for hard work,  why is it that  for us even a modicum of prosperity has always remained  a dream unfulfilled. What is galling, in the last six plus decades, many of the countries who were even worse than us at one time have flourished beyond our imagination!


A deep introspection reveals everything.  We have to admit it.  A good country and honest people that we are, we have been nonetheless the victims of third class governance, many of us think thus, and sigh with a note of resignation. We often rue saying, we have neither good leaders nor good bureaucrats, but fail to peep through ourselves for answers. We are the epitome of everything that is smug and complacent. Complacency, not creativity is our character. We are reactive, not proactive.  We always want someone else to act on our behalf and as our liberators. For over a century, we endured the atrocities of the Ranas without demur. Then again, we tolerated with equal smugness three decades of rule under active Monarchy. The post-90 periods to date, and democracy, or no democracy, we have always been taken for a ride by our so-called leaders masqueraded as Prajatantrbadi or Ganatantrabadi.  Perhaps, as much as  politics and bureaucracy, we the people and our smug and complacent demeanor, in the main, have to take a lion’s share of the blame for what is Nepal known for one of these days.


 Systemic collapse

Our tacit and tolerant attitudes have, to some extent, encouraged to flourish the bonds between greedy decision makers and  decision implementers.  The implications of such collusion have become catastrophic for the country. We have witnessed, as a result, how  the systems  are being demolished  block by block  by  the personal greed of those supposedly intelligent but dishonest people running the systems. Normally, systemic dysfunction occurs when the smart and intelligent  “decision makers” and the “decision implementers” operate in tandem and with bad motives. For this, they will apply all their knowledge, intelligence and experience trying to circumvent the law for personal and political vested interest.  In such a well-calculated and intelligently executed breach of a system, it is impossible to accuse, let alone penalize, the offenders. Indeed, in our case, the manifest “systemic failure” is largely the result of intellectual dishonesty perpetrated with impunity by the many bad-motive decision makers and the decision implementers.  There may be systems in place with well provisions for check and balance. These alone may not ensure organizational efficiency, justice and prompt service delivery to the service seekers.   This would call for conscientious decision-makers and decision-implementers, one who must not only be persons of high moral integrity imbued with the deep sense of accountability but also be seen in action as being so.

Intelligence and integrity

It is said intelligence and integrity are two important qualities for running a system effectively. However, these two are mutually exclusive concepts. Integrity, is said to flow directly from the heart, whereas intelligence is largely associated with brain. No wonder, the heart and brain always work for cross purposes, never in tandem. Integrity listens but to the heart.   Integrity is, therefore considered to be close to empathy, compassion and self -discipline. It is self-imposed and self-practiced. There is a saying, “to reduce weight, one has to practice self-denial in the dining table.” In the same way, a man of high moral integrity when in a position of power and influence always practices self-denial, in the face of temptation. But the dearth of individuals and leaders  possessed of such virtues is the biggest dilemma with every system, including with our system, too.  Little wonder, therefore, many of the decision makers and implementers assumed to be intelligent and knowledgeable to run the system effectively, are often found at the end of the day, utterly wanting in moral integrity. Again,  another dilemma is the impossibility of a  concrete yardstick, or benchmark with which to measure these elements objectively, as they are purely subjective. This creates a big question- mark in terms of making a reasoned and informed opinion, as to who is, and is not, intelligent and possessed of high moral integrity. The famous thinker and philosopher, Bertrand Russell always saw a marked difference in virtues between the two.  Wisdom, he said  was  always guided by a sense of proportion and equity, whereas  knowledge is passionate and relentless  in  the pursuit  of  its goal,  without regard to the cost  and  benefit . He thought, therefore that   only the knowledge tempered with wisdom can be of real service to humanity.

 Oversight needed

It is not implied that every decision maker and decision implementer is dishonest and deceitful. Many of them may have possessed intelligence and integrity, and   pious intents and purposes. There is no doubt about that.  Many of them, honest and intelligent, having to work amidst overwhelmingly corrupt and insincere people within a system may have found themselves helpless.   Others, with times and in power, have conveniently blended with the evils of the system.  Or, perhaps, the callousness of the system may have corrupted their honesty and integrity.   They thus may  have  failed to prove that they were different kettle of fish.  Similarly,  we have seen the many institutional oversight mechanisms have also been found ineffective in preventing systemic corruption and collapse. This brings into sharp focus the need for putting in place  “collective and spontaneous  public oversight   mechanism”. Otherwise, the system sanitization is impossible as long as   we the   people remain smug and complacent.   A collective public oversight mechanism composed of, among others, informed public media, conscientious parliamentarians, members of civil society,   intellectuals and academics is absolutely necessary. That alone can help a gradual systemic turn around and bring about systemic correction.  Eternal vigilance is said to be the price of democracy. Inability to prevent gradual systemic failure may ultimately impinge upon democracy and democratic governance. We all, therefore, have to become “smart , watchful  and  wise, to  spot the possible  wolves in our systems  in a lamb’s guise”.


Gopal thapa is Former Chief of Protocol of Nepal Government 

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