Call for protection to good people

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The current initiative of the newly-appointed managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), Kulman Ghising, ended hours of load shedding in Kathmandu Valley simply by discouraging electricity theft and minor upgrade and proper management of distribution network revealing how common people are suffering in developing countries like Nepal due to collusion among the elites, politicians and the vested interest groups in almost every walk of life. People like Ghising, who work on ethical principles, are threat for these groups, and hence bore the risk of being thrown out or even assassinated as evident from the past incident of mysterious death of politician Madan Bhandari and a few humanizing figures. So, there is a need to save invaluable people like Ghising who want to do the right thing for the country and the people.

According to Electricity Crisis (Load Shedding) in Nepal, Its Manifestations and Ramifications, the last electricity crisis was felt in 1999 and it was averted until 2005 with the commissioning of Khimti Hydroelectric Project in 2000. However, It started again beginning from 2006 in the absence of proper long-term planning. Even at the time of load shedding, NEA has been spilling energy due to mismatch of system as well as transmission congestion despite sufficient water level. The plants are also found to be poorly maintained generating at much lower than full capacity even during the rainy season. Such loss of electricity including loss due to pilferage has inflicted net losses worth billions of rupees every year on the state-owned power utility.

In the recent raid at different locations in the capital Kathmandu, the Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD), Teku, arrested 16 people, including an NEA supervisor on charges of electricity theft immediately following Kulman Ghising’s promotion to the post of managing director. In return for kickbacks, the culprits were involved in tampering electricity meters to show low electric consumption and punching less units than the actual meter reading. Under Ghising’s direction, NEA also resorted to the biggest employee reshuffle in its history with the transfer of around 2,480 staffs on suspicion of their involvement in electricity meter tampering so as to break their existing complicity with consumers involved in electricity theft. Ghising has also announced the long-term plans to gradually eradicate load shedding altogether across the country, and has called for support from the government and citizens.

It is not at all unusual to find NEA staffers engaged in such illegal practices when the nation itself is climbing the crooked ladder toward top of the most corrupt countries in the World. Corruption has become social, economic, and political culture in Nepal which ranked 131st in transparency among 175 countries, according to the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.

It is understandable that when salary is not enough to meet family needs due to poor public facilities - education, drinking water, electricity, and other basic services, people definitely need to look for alternative sources of income. Besides, the culture of showing off has pushed the people toward trying to earn by hook or by crook. Almost everyone knows and talks about lucrative jobs in places like Tribhuvan International Airport customs office  where staffers in every level hits the jackpot. The honest ones instead of getting rewarded for selfless service become the obstacle there and get transferred to remote areas.  

Corruption is so rampant that even in places where you can get fair services like passport service from Department of Passport, people would rather bribe the officials than wait in a line for about 30 minutes. Moreover, the privileged ones use their connections to get their passport without feeling any qualms about other people waiting in the line. They don’t succumb to the law and violates the basic tenet of democracy. The same set of people are found to be incessantly talking about ethics and principles before shamelessly bending them for their personal benefit often making excuses of the inefficient system. Still, there are a few who brag about it and get recognition from society as astute and prestigious people.

Maoist leader and the current Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal had showed commitment to support NEA in whatever way possible, and asked its director, Kulman Ghising, to create an environment for the prompt completion of the existing projects, initiation of long-term projects, reduction of electricity thefts, and rigorous punishment to those failing to pay dues. When such action from hopeless government made people raise their eyebrows in disbelief, the rival parties, CPN-UML and Nepali Congress, a coalition partner in the current government, are trying to foil it by engaging their respective NEA trade unions - the NEA Employees' Union and NEA Employees' Association - besides the case against Ghising’s  promotion filed by managing directors of NEA.

The special interest groups, making money through the business of alternative sources of energy - candles, emergency lights, inverters, generators, and others, are even inclined to cause damage to NEA transmission system for their personal gains without considering the big picture of how load shedding has been economically besetting the nation for years. The inverters as inefficient mediums to store energy are further exacerbating load shedding problems. Growth of factories and industries were suppressed by lack of electricity as the use of generators would not only cost more but contribute to environmental pollution.

Politicians and special interest groups are also mobilizing goons from criminal networks which are the result of unstable politics, deteriorating economy, and failing democracy. The past involvement of UML politicians including Chairman KP Oli for the protection of the notorious gangster “Chari” who was killed in a police encounter is the blatant evidence. Hence, people who stand against their interests are found to be threatened; the apparent violation of freedom of speech and right to protest in a democratic country. These gangsters are also engaged in vandalism and criminal activities in an attempt to destabilize the government so as to gain the power to appoint their relatives, acquaintances, and yes-men in important government portfolios, supporting special interest groups. This has created a rich band of people in one of the poorest countries in the world.

The obvious question is can we look at improving the process in every government service to make the lives easier for commoners which will extricate them from the culture of bribery establishing the virtuous cycle of prosperity for all. In fact, more than half of the problems will disappear immediately if people strive to become responsible citizens. It is also crucial not only to provide protection to rare people like Kulman Ghising but also support them irrespective of differences in ideologies. Such culture encourages many more to come to the field creating domino effect.

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