In 2018, when Biswa Thakuri* was appointed headmaster of a higher secondary school in one of Nepal’s western districts, one of his first tasks was to review the school’s financial files.
Thakuri quickly noticed several suspicious expenses, with miscalculations and missing or incomplete documents. These transactions had taken place during the tenure of the previous headmaster and a school accountant, whom the headmaster had eventually fired.
With 850 students to educate, Thakuri was determined to find out more. Examining the files closely, he realised that nearly 1.2 million rupees (US$10,700) were missing from the school’s Employees Provident Fund, which held pension contributions. Money should have been paid into the fund every four months, but the deposits had not been made. It seemed the accountant had diverted the money.
Serious corruption problems
Sadly, such cases of embezzlement are common in Nepal’s rural areas and throughout its private sector.
According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Asia, which surveyed more than 20,000 people in 17 nations about their day-to-day experiences of corruption, 38 per cent of Asians think corruption increased during the previous 12 months. In Nepal, the figure is 58 per cent – higher than any other country in the region – with many citizens affected even while they’re still infants and schoolchildren.
To find out more, Thakuri tried to contact both the former headmaster and the ex-accountant, but received no response. Fortunately, he knew how to get help. He contacted Transparency International Nepal’s local affiliate for support.
Digging deeper to expose wrongdoing
The local affiliate advised Thakuri to inform the government’s Education Development and Coordination Unit about the missing funds. He wrote to the Unit in February 2019, but didn’t receive a response from it either.
Determined not to give up, he went back to the local affiliate, who contacted Transparency International Nepal’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) in Kathmandu.
ALACs across the world provide a confidential way for victims and witnesses to report corruption, offering expert advice, free of charge. The ALAC staff in Nepal guided Thakuri in checking publicly available documents, enabling him to make contact with the former headmaster.
Building a picture of corruption in action
After hearing from Thakuri, the former headmaster wrote back to clear the matter. He explained that as soon as he had suspected the ex-accountant was not depositing the funds, he asked for the school’s financial records. When the accountant failed to provide them, the headmaster sacked him, with the backing of the school management committee.
The former headmaster also contacted the ex-accountant, urging him to write back to Thakuri. But the accountant only responded when TI-Nepal’s local affiliate told him they had proof of the missing funds and incomplete book-keeping, and that teachers from the school had submitted a complaint to Nepal’s Anti-Corruption Agency.
Hope for the future
Under mounting pressure and fearful of prosecution by the agency, the ex-accountant eventually returned the missing funds to the school in instalments. Thakuri was able to deposit the stolen money into the Employees Provident Fund on behalf of the school in March 2019, and the accountant paid the fine incurred for the late deposit. In response, the Anti-Corruption Agency closed the complaint.
Thakuri’s determination to challenge suspected fraud achieved a victory not only for his school, but for Nepalese society, helping develop a culture of honesty and openness. Transparency International Nepal is working hard to raise people’s awareness of their right to seek help when faced with corruption – and is providing safe, accessible support through the ALAC.
Fortunately, Thakuri is not alone. The GCB shows that 68 per cent of Nepalis think ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. By speaking up like Thakuri, Nepal’s people can help ensure they receive the fully funded services they’re entitled to.
Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) provide free and confidential legal advice to witnesses and victims of corruption. With more than 100 offices in more than 60 countries, ALACs provide an accessible, effectiveway for people to report corrupt and demand action. Learn more: https://www.transparency.org/en/alacs
This article was written as part of the Global Corruption Barometer – Asia 2020, the largest, most detailed survey of citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in Asia.