Accountability Lab Nepal has recently revealed the top 5 finalists in “Integrity Idol”, its hit TV show, now in its fourth year (read the finalists’ bios below). The show is about honest government officials in Nepal; episodes about the finalists are broadcast to the public who then vote for their favorites. This season, the Lab hosted numerous public forums, youth discussions and online debates on the dynamics of integrity; further to this they received an influx of more than 1000 applications, up around 200 from last year.
The campaign brings Nepalis from across the country into a conversation about what it means to be a person of integrity. It generates support for those civil servants within the system who are serving the public good and provides a platform for these public servants to implement new ideas and build networks for accountability. Integrity Idol allows Nepalis to feel part of a positive movement to build integrity that they themselves can help advance.
Why do we need to celebrate? And why is it important?
Nepal is currently seeing a shift in its political structure with the decentralization of power pursuant to local, provincial and federal elections. We have seen a few new faces running for election, with new commitment and motivation, from both old and new parties. The elections are being seen as a way to transform power, build a new government and ensure social justice through development. However, the shifting of values and norms of the individuals working within the system still has a long way to go. We need honest leaders to win elections and public officials with integrity and citizens with a sense of responsibility. The Integrity Idol campaign builds an ecosystem of integrity and celebrates accountability in a fun and positive way through the creative use of social media, technology, and new media.
The recent earthquake, floods, and subsequent natural disasters have demonstrated that Nepal has minimal resilience to these events from an administrative perspective. A large section of the public sector has been shown to lack the willingness to serve the public. The recent government decision to re-allocate public servants to provincial and local government (serving remote parts of the country) was openly defied by a large number of public servants based in Kathmandu.
The people we are celebrating have been serving in the rural areas which many other officials want to avoid. These idols have gone the extra mile to provide the best service to the citizen in these places where basic facilities are hard to obtain and where no developments are being made to local infrastructure. These are the heroes of our public service and it is critical that we celebrate them as such if we are to shift thinking about what it means to support governance.
This year we have incredible finalists from different parts of the public sector in Nepal. For example Mr. Shes Narayan Poudel, an administrator, who thinks big and doesn’t always wait for an official green light before pursuing solutions to problems. A forester, Ms. Sabanam Pathak, who has worked intensively with the Chepang community (an indigenous group), even learning their language so she could teach them animal husbandry and commercial agriculture. Mr. Shabraj Bam has shown how a simple idea can change lives. A teacher from one of Nepal’s most rural districts, he saw how intimidated his students were by mathematical formulas. Mr. Krishna Dhital is credited with helping hundreds of farmers in Kavre district to dramatically boost their rice production and move away from subsistence farming. Ms. Srijana Tiwari has devoted years to fighting on behalf of Nepalese migrant workers facing injustices abroad by actively engaging migrant’s workers, diplomatic mission, and the companies.
Previous Idols and their continuing impact
In addition to making the public aware of the achievements of previous Idols, Integrity Idol provides a platform for them to continue with their good work and public service projects- and importantly- encourages them to work collectively to bring about changes in attitudes in the public sector. For example, Pradip Kanel, a district administrator, and Integrity Idol Nepal 2015 winner puts the public first and wants to hear what they have to say as a matter of priority. He translated the citizen’s charter in Sarlahi District into the Maithali language. He understands local history and culture, recognizes local needs, and does his work with a smile. Too often bureaucracy becomes an exercise in paperwork instead of an exercise in “people-work.”
A health worker wakes up in the middle of the night to deliver medicine to a patient’s house in Dhankuta district. That selfless person is Tara Subedi, one of the top 5 finalists of Integrity Idol Nepal 2016. Be it raising the student pass rate from 14% to 60% in a remote area of Panchthar, as Gyanmani Nepal (Integrity Idol Winner 2014) has done or fighting tirelessly against violence against women in the traditional society of Banke as Binud (integrity idol 2016) has done), these Idols have done it all.
So, when people vote, they are voting to encourage people like Tara Subedi, to bring reforms in the educational sector, to create safer societies for women and to improve public expenditures. They are paving the way for people like our Idols to do more impactful work. And most importantly, they are voting to create the next generation of public servants with accountability.
Shifting norms through Integrity Idol
This is more than just a TV show – it is getting the public talking about the dynamics of integrity. Key themes which have come up in the discussion so far this year include: integrity as a value; integrity through delivery; integrity as incentives; integrity through humility and integrity through role models (read a blog about that here). These are all issues that we need to explore and discuss further, together. We need to generate a movement to change the public service system through the collective effort of these idols who are already champions of integrity and accountability.
These are the people who are working to give citizens the ability and opportunity to exercise their equal rights; they will encourage other officials to do the same. This is the movement that is bringing a cultural reform in Nepal, addressing the public’s mood of indifference towards government officials. If Nepal is to achieve what is envisioned by the recent decentralization of power, it needs people with integrity and accountability.
The people have yet again embraced the competition and are casting their votes by SMS and online for their favorites. The 5 finalists were selected by a panel of judges (consisting of Mr. Suryanath Upadhyaya, the former Chief of Nepal’s anti-corruption agency; Miss Jivan Prabha Lama, Former Secretary; Mr. Ganesh Shah the former Minister of Science and Technology; and Mr. Purna Prasad Neupany, executive director of Nepal Administrative Staff College) after a rigorous 7-phase selection process. Accountability Lab will celebrate all of the Integrity Idols and announce the winner on December 18th 2017 at a national ceremony. The general public and media are invited to attend. Email to [email protected] for details.
- SHESH NARAYAN POUDEL- Assistant CDO
Mr. Poudel thinks big and doesn’t always wait for an official green light before pursuing solutions to problems. “You never know what will happen if we wait for consent. If the work is honest and necessary, then the risk is worthwhile” he says. Early in his career as the Chief District Officer of Baglung, Mr. Shesh noticed that residents of a remote hamlet had to endure a costly and perilous journey to obtain citizenship papers or a passport. So he decided to bring those services to the people. More recently, he won praise for managing the emergency response to last year’s floods in Nepal. As Morang’s Chief District Officer, he dispatched public workers to go door to door visiting victims and set up a system to disseminate information to citizens and the media.
- SABANAM PATHAK- Assistant Forestry Officer
When Ms. Pathak joined the forest service in 1991, few believed a woman would have the smarts or tenacity to help communities threatened by deforestation. During her long career as a forest ranger, she has proved her skeptics wrong, engaging rural women and other marginalized people to protect wildlife and bring forests back to life. She has worked intensively with the Chepang ethnic group, even learning their language so she could teach them animal husbandry and commercial agriculture. Her guiding belief: if people see that the forest is theirs, they will feel responsible to protect it.
- SHABRAJ BAM – Teacher
Mr. Bam has shown how a simple idea can change lives. A teacher from one of Nepal’s most rural districts, he saw how intimidated his students were by mathematical formulas. So he decided to turn math lessons into poems and stories, even setting them to tunes. His book “Maths Literature” is now used widely in Kalikot’s school system. Mr. Shabraj trains other teachers and hosts a radio program each year to help students prepare for their final high school exams. As a result, thousands of students who once found math scary now see it as fun. Shabraj has also taken a hard line against a culture of cheating on exams, a stance that has cost him dear with some of his colleagues.
- KRISHNA DHITAL- Agriculture Extension Officer
Mr. Dhital is credited with helping hundreds of farmers in Kavre district to dramatically boost their rice production and shift away from subsistence farming. Farmers were at first skeptical when he tried to introduce a new technology for growing the local crop. So he rented land and showed them how it could double their output. Now farmers are producing enough to sell their crops. Mr. Krishna believes in visiting farmers to learn about their challenges. He’s a familiar sight walking beside Kavre’s farms in his blue trousers and white shirt. He has created a Facebook page named “Hello Farmers” in order to handle grievances from the farmers and to provide tips and information on farming.
- SRIJANA TIWARI- Under Secretary
Ms. Tiwari has devoted years to fighting on behalf of Nepalese migrant workers facing injustices abroad. She observed the mistreatment of such migrants up close while working in Nepal’s embassy in Kuwait. In that job, she persuaded officials of various companies in Kuwait to stop abuses and resolve problems. Later, her efforts to publicize the exploitation of Nepalese housemaids working in Gulf countries led Nepal to ban women from migrating to these places for such work. She is known for providing fresh ideas and working to hold her own ministry to a higher standard. “If I work only for the sake of doing a job then who will help bring change? When will the system improvement take place? The change starts with you!” Ms. Srijana says.