Integrity Idol 2014: Voting for the Most Honest Officials in Nepal

Integrity IdolBy: Narayan Adhikari, South Asia Representative

Ironically, the government of Nepal did not recognize its top civil servants as part of Civil Service Day this year, because the evaluation mechanism itself was deemed dysfunctional. The Chief Secretary of the country not only pointed to the need to improve the public system but also urged civil society and citizens to celebrate honest government officials themselves. This is no small feat, as the public sector in Nepal is highly politicized, corruption is rampant and trust is generally low. Bureaucrats with integrity are often shunned, largely under-appreciated and rarely recognized.  

Integrity Idol is a national citizens’ campaign to highlight and honor Nepal’s honest government officials. This unique campaign aims to generate debate around the idea of integrity; demonstrate the importance of honesty, personal responsibility and accountability; and inspire a new generation of Nepalis to be effective public servants.

The campaign uses a variety of media outlets, including a television show on the national channel, social media and SMS outreach, to engage Nepalis in voting for their “Integrity Idol”. The campaign team has also traveled around the country hosting public forums to generate a national discourse around the need for public officials with integrity.

Over 300 nominations for potential winners were submitted from 33 districts, from District officers to road sweepers. Twenty of these nominations were investigated in depth; and five were chosen by a selection panel as finalists. Each finalist was filmed talking about their ideas, challenges and successes. People across the country have viewed these video profiles are now voting by phone, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and even letter for their “Integrity Idol”. So far over 3,800 votes have been cast by SMS alone! In combination with the public voting, a panel of experts will chose the winner on December 13th.

Meet the Finalists:

Two of the top five candidates hail from the education sector; two from the health sector; and one from general administration. These are people who not only set an example in public, but who also behave with integrity in their personal lives.

  1. Bhuvan Kumari Dangol

Active in the education sector since 1990, Bhuvan is the first woman to serve as Principal of a medical college and to involve the local community. She has executed administrative norms and values during her tenure regardless of the pressure from her colleagues, other organizations and even politicians. Many colleges accept payments for admissions, rather than judging on merit, but Bhuvan challenged these unethical practices to break a chain of corruption. As a result, she has gained widespread respect by students and the community. She believes in hard work and always prioritizes the future of her students.

  1. Gyan Mani Nepal

 Gyan is a District Education Officer in Panchthar district who has shown how rapid improvements can be made in the system when efforts focus on bolstering accountability. He introduced ways to report challenges and communicate about initiatives via mobile phone and social media. He visited every single school in the 41 village development committees, interacted with students and listened to parents. He shared his personal mobile number with students and parents, who now often contact him if teachers are absent, arrive late, or leave early. At first, many laughed at him and opposed his reform efforts, and teachers unions even demanded his transfer from the district—but today, his efforts are actively supported. Teacher attendance is over 90%, and schools in the district run regularly despite frequent political protests, and a lack of resources and/or government support. Pass rates in the district have risen from 14% to over 60%. His action has created citizen trust in public schools, and as a result, many parents are taking their kids out of private schools and sending them to his public schools.

  1. Lila Bhattarai

 Lila serves as a social worker in one of the remotest districts in Rukum, passionately serving poor and underprivileged girls and women. She has helped girls who dropped out of school re-enroll and receive their School Leaving Certificate. She has helped poor girls and women to form support groups in villages, start savings schemes, and send their daughters to school. She also encourages illiterate adults to continue to pursue educational opportunities. Her colleagues report her remarkable commitment to her work, demonstrated as spends several days of her personal time traveling to extremely remote rural villages to help those in need. In her own words: “if every women social worker in the country does their duty [by] being responsible and accountable, the day is not far that our daughters, sisters and mothers will get equal respect and dignity in society.”

  1. Pawan Kumar Mandal

 Pawan has served as a Health Supervisor for more than 14 years. He provides invaluable health services to the people of remote villages who are deprived of basic health facilities. He is personally driven by the fact that many have been losing their families and friends due to a lack of access to basic medicine like oral rehydration salts. An oath, which he took prior to starting his service, is the mantra that always drives him to serve the marginalized and the disempowered among Nepal’s population. He strives to be accountable to all his patients, regardless of linguistic and cultural barriers, and community members report that he only takes leave on very major holidays.

  1. Prem Bahadur Khadka

 Prem has done remarkable work, as the Principal of Araniko Higher Secondary School, to raise the school’s standards in this economically disadvantaged and marginalized community. By organizing various events, he raised more than 20 million Nepali Rupees locally to support the +2 higher secondary education program in his school and to ensure easy access to higher education for the local community. He initiated year-long extra coaching classes for students and various kinds of scholarships for underserved students through memorial trust funds. In addition, he shows his personal dedication by also offering scholarships from his personal funds. Due to this exemplary work, the school is renowned as one of the nation’s top public schools.

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