What did I learn from the coalface?

  • • In spite of situations where villagers had had funds stolen from them, there were very few instances where villages wanted to confront government officials. The usual tactic was to make sure that the government officials knew that the villagers knew what they had done and that they would not keep quiet next time.
  • • When given the opportunity to do role plays or simulations, villagers were very accurate in portraying the illegal activities of the government officials.
  • • Villagers had a strong level of trust that senior government officials would understand their problems and would side with them against local government officials.
  • • In Nepal, corruption for personal income was less common than corruption for income for your political party (from which, of course, you would get some benefit).
  • • It takes two years for a social accountability programme dealing with government budgets to come to fruition. In the first year the corruption is researched and exposed, and the second year provides an opportunity for people to practise some countermeasures to stop it.

• Although corruption in Nepal, and particularly party political corruption, was an open secret, very few donors were prepared to address it. The three pieces of research that dealt with corruption at the grassroots are listed in note 8.

What happened to it all?

  • • The World Bank’s PRAN was the first donor-funded social accountability programme in Nepal. It was followed by ActionAid, Integrity Action and Partnership Transparency Fund, and a few more.
  • • The complexities of political rivalry and political parties continued long after I left Nepal. This remained the basis for continued corruption, as political parties had no other source of income.
  • • A massive earthquake destroyed many parts of Nepal in 2014. There was a huge international response with funding, but because the corrupt practices were still endemic in the country, a lot of the aid was stolen.

Looking back from a personal perspective, Nepal, like Ethiopia, is an amazing place for trekking. My children and their friends — all university students by this time and pretty fit - trekked to Everest Base Camp and were astonished to discover that a quarter of their number had to go back downhill fast because of altitude sickness.

My wife and I, and one daughter, with guides, travelled north-east of Kathmandu to see the huge indigenous rhododendron forests. They were fabulous, but the trekking was also very hard work - and risky. On one path we followed, the mountainside just in front of us split off and crashed like a locomotive into the valley below. It was a near thing.

Part of the joy of Kathmandu is the grey-haired hippies left over from the hippie trail of the Sixties and Seventies. They make a thin living by offering bed and breakfast and by growing and selling organic food. They are easily outnumbered by the aid workers, and by a new breed, the voluntourists, who come to work in orphanages or with children. While I was there, a researcher held a workshop on the history of the hippies — they had become the subject of sociological research.

But forget the foreigners — Nepal is a staggeringly beautiful place and its people are very interesting, including retired Gurkhas who have built houses for themselves that look like Aidershot, and old sadhus who just look out of it all the time.

What were we thinking at the time?

The World Bank had “discovered” social accountability in 2004 and had written many sourcebooks on the subject - and continues to do so. Its first deliberate project was in Cambodia, and this was well written up. What was interesting in Nepal was to discover the close correlation between social accountability and corruption and the ways in which the funds for public services for citizens were disguised and used for other purposes. As I have already said, there were good laws and directives in place for social accountability measures to be applied by government offices: the problem was that they were not well implemented.

We added to the literature on social accountability and introduced the training videos:

Holloway, Richard. 2013. Social Accountability in Action: Illustrations of PRAN’s work in Nepal 2009-2012. World Bank and PR AN, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Khadka, Kedar and Bhatterai, Chianjibi. 2013. Source Book for 21 Social Accountability Tools. World Bank and PRAN, Kathmandu, Nepal.

In 2010, PRAN Nepal produced 11 15-minute animated cartoons in Nepali with English subtitles (available at www.richardholloway. org/non-print-materials/social-accountability-training-videos):

  • • Social Accountability Tools (general)
  • • Public Hearings
  • • Citizens Charters
  • • Right to Information
  • • Public Expenditure Tracking
  • • Budgets of Local Bodies
  • • Public Audits
  • • Community Scorecards
  • • Civic Education
  • • Checklists of Standards and Indicators
  • • Checklists of Entitlements.

These added to the useful materials on social accountability from the World Bank, Action Aid, UNDP and others:

World Bank. 2006. Social Accountability Sourcebook. World Bank, Washington DC, USA.

Malena, Carmen, Forster, Reiner and Singh, Janmejay. 2004. Social Accountability: An introduction to the concept and emerging practice. World Bank Social Development Papers, Washington DC, USA.

World Bank. 2010. Opening the Black Box: Contextual drivers of social accountability effectiveness. World Bank, Washington DC, USA.

UNDP. 2008. Fostering Social Accountability: From principle to practice: guidance. UNDP, Oslo, Norway.

In ActionAid’s “Just and Democratic Local Governance” series:

ActionAid. 2011. Accountability: Quality and equity in public service provision. ActionAid International Governance Team (no place of publication).

ActionAid. 2011. Budgets: Revenues and financing public senrice provision. ActionAid International Governance Team.

ActionAid. 2012. Democracy: Justice and accountability at the local level. ActionAid International Governance Team.

ActionAid. 2012. Power: Elite capture and hidden influence. ActionAid International Governance Team.

ActionAid. 2010. Using Evidence to Establish Accountability: A sourcebook on democratic accountability for development practitioners and learning facilitators. MS ActionAid-Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The World Bank has subsequently enlarged its interest in social accountability by initiating a programme called ANSA (Affiliated Networks in Social Accountability) and GPSA (Global Partnership in Social Accountability).


  • 1 Social accountability is, unfortunately, difficult to explain. Tty “Why is the government not doing what has been agreed by law? And what can we do to make this happen?”
  • 2 The Big Push Forward conference was “trying to reconcile messy, unpredictable and risky pathways of societal transformation with bureaucracy driven protocols” (September 2016).
  • 3 KPMG is one of the Big Four accounting firms.
  • 4 “In Nepal political and economic power was consolidated by interlinking it with the Hindu caste system” (World Bank and DFID. 2006. Unequal Citizens: Gender, caste and ethnic exclusion in Nepal. World Bank and DFID Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal). Dalits were the caste, formerly called “untouchables”, that undertook “impure” occupations.
  • 5 The way this worked was as follows: a local authority would be responsible for building needed local infrastructure, such as local schools or clinics. They would issue calls for tenders and decide which bids would be awarded the contracts. Although there were rules for such practices, it was well known that bids were inflated and awarded to contractor friends of the local administration, who, by this method, received extra income and paid kickbacks to their friends in local government.
  • 6 This was the terminology of the World Bank in Nepal at this time.
  • 7 The Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) was a government body.
  • 8 There are a number of reference books on corruption in Nepal: Asia Foundation. 2014. Political Economy Analysis of Local Governance in Nepal. Asia Foundation, Kathmandu, Nepal; Dix, Sarah. 2011. Corruption and Anti-corruption in Nepal: Lessons learned and possible future initiatives. Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), Oslo, Norway; and the National Planning Commission’s study on corruption in social security payments: National Planning Commission. 2012. Assessment of Social Security Allowance Program in Nepal, Government of Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • 9 Written instructions on how to use social accountability tools can be found in: PRAN. 2011. Sourcebook of 21 Social Accountability Tools in Nepal. PRAN, Kathmandu, Nepal; World Bank. 1995. Sourcebook of Social Accountability. World Bank, Washington DC, USA; UNDP. 2008. Handbook on Social Accountability. UNDP, New York, USA.
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