Corruption is so endemic in Nepal that bribery is almost to be expected at Kathmandu’s international airport. But now, in a bid to boost tourism, the country’s anti-graft authority has come up with a clever way to deter staff from soliciting “tea money” from hapless travellers: pocketless pants. The bribe-proof trousers will be issued “as soon as possible,” says Ishwori Prasad Paudyal, spokesman for the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). “We believe this will help curb the irregularities.”
Shortly after an investigation by a CIAA observation team confirmed the allegations of bribery, says Paudyal, “we decided that airport officials should be given trousers with no pockets,” so that would-be bribe-takers would have nowhere to hide their spoils.
But the move failed to impress critics, who say that curbing corruption in Nepal will take more than new uniforms. Long before a 10-year Maoist revolution forced an end to the monarchy in 2007, bribery was greasing the wheels of every institution, from schools to courts. As Rabindra Khanal, a political scientist at Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan University, observed at the time, Nepal’s corruption problem is “one of the greatest hindrances to the country’s development effort.”
Last year Nepal scored a dismal 2.5 out of 10 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking at 131 out of 180 countries. Still, the country’s new prime minister, elected on May 23, appears determined to shore up Nepal’s reputation. By 2011, Nepal is aiming to draw a million tourists a year, nearly double last year’s record-setting number.
With that in mind, keeping bribes out of the airport—and the pants pockets of its employees—sounds like a fair place to start.