Jun 5, 2011

The elusive quest for a liveable Nepal

-Surath Giri

With the extension of the CA deadline for another three months, our quest of getting a constitution has once again eluded us. Political parties that surprised us with coming together for a common cause of extending the deadline have reconfirmed our misgivings by resuming their bickering and fighting from the very next day. With the continuing political instability and uncertainty, our quest for a constitution seems even more elusive. Meanwhile, the lives of general citizens continue to be as difficult as ever, inflation remains in double digit, economy is stagnant and the lives and properties of citizens continue to be threatened and forced strikes and shutdowns are creating havoc in daily lives. In such a context, it is not surprising that every Nepalese is looking at the upcoming constitution as the panacea to all the hardship.

However, having a constitution itself wouldn’t solve anything. Having a good constitution is equally essential (if not more). Constitution being the supreme law of any country guides all the subsequent laws and policies as well as the government and hence plays a huge role in the realization of the dreams of its citizens.  It would be a tragedy if after such a long and elusive quest we end up with a constitution that cannot guarantee equal rights to all of its citizens and an environment where everyone can pursue their dreams freely.

An Ideal Constitution

For any constitution to be conducive for the prosperity of a country, it is essential that it treats every single individual of the country equally. It should be based on the fact that an individual is the most important unit as well as the tiniest minority in a society. If a constitution fails to protect this minority from the aggression of majority forces, then it fails to achieve its primary objective. Our new constitution should realize that free individuals are the cornerstones of human progress and prosperity. 

At its very core, our new constitution should make sure that the powers of the government and politicians are kept to a minimum and individual freedom is guaranteed. Even with the constitution making, we have seen the hazards of giving unlimited powers to the government and politicians. Two extensions of deadlines and still an unfinished constitution lay before us as a proof to the saying, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The new constitution should make sure that the ongoing irresponsibility and corruption doesn’t become a perpetual ritual of our politics by limiting the power of the government and providing check and balances to every institution of the government.

The new constitution should also make sure that the state doesn’t become (in the words of Bastiat) “the great fiction through which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.” So, it should refrain from creating provisions that allow a certain group of citizens to benefit at the expense of another group. Such provisions not only disrupt the harmony of a society by turning social interactions into zero sum games, but also empower politicians to patronize their supporters by granting them with favors whose cost is borne by another group of citizens. 

The new constitution should free the economy from the clutches of the state and politicians. As examples around the world have shown, when business becomes the business of the government, the economy rarely progresses. A deeper look at the economic history of Nepal also drives home the point that intermingling of the politics and economy has so far been the greatest impediment to the economic development of Nepal.

Finally above everything else, the new constitution should be based on the fact that freedom is not only a means to prosperity and progress but also the highest desirable political goal in itself. Countries whose constitutions have prioritized freedom as their highest goal such as New Zealand, United States, Australia, Estonia, and Lichtenstein enjoy not only the most vibrant of the economies of the world but also very high living standards. Nepal could learn a lot from these countries.

A Liveable Nepal

As the constitution making is being constantly delayed, the worsening transition period is taking its toll on the living standards of general citizens of Nepal. Not only the security situation of the country is deteriorating with prevailing anarchy and impunity, Nepal is slowing into a country where surviving is hard and making a living is next to impossible.  Last year alone we had 125 days of bandas in a period of 365 days whereas we have already witnessed more than 90 bandas so far during 2011. The sporadic eruptions of anti-banda protests, hoarding boards covered with slogans such as “Gari Khana Deu”, pressure groups surrounding CA hall and countless social networking groups demanding better protection of our lives and properties clearly indicate the level of frustration of general public at the deteriorating condition of the country. Continuation of such deterioration could easily lead Nepal into a failed state such as Somalia.

It is essential that the upcoming constitution as well as the government ensure an environment where every Nepalese can have their lives and properties secured from aggression of others and are allowed to peacefully engage in a profession or enterprise of their choice. To achieve a society fit for living, it is imperative that rule of law is properly maintained and coercive forces are eliminated. Government institutions that were designed so that citizens could be protected from being harmed by each other or by any foreign forces are being proven next to useless with the ever increasing criminal activities. Proper maintenance of rule and order is essential to the well being of the citizens of the country at these times.

If the ruling forces keep failing to provide even the minimum requirements for a livable society, it is more than likely that the sporadic protests of citizens may turn into a new people’s movement!

(Published in The Himalayan Times-Perspectives of 5th June 2011)