Nepal district chief wins 'Integrity Idol'

KATHMANDU - Nepali bureaucrat Pradip Raj Kandel on Sunday clinched the title of Integrity Idol, a televised talent show-styled initiative that awards honest civil servants.

The contest, in its second year, saw over 50,000 people cast their votes via text message and social media in a bid to encourage honesty in the corruption-ridden Himalayan nation, where many citizens are forced to pay bribes for essential services.

The chief district officer of Gulmi in mid-eastern Nepal, Kandel won votes for his people-centric approach to bring positive changes in the district "I feel proud today and feel that I am representing many hard-working civil servants of Nepal," Kandel said after winning the title, which does not come with any prizes.

"Initiatives such as this inspire us to be responsible and accountable." Kandel has run several successful campaigns in Gulmi to improve literacy, promote hygiene and cleanliness and ensure the efficiency of his office.

He beat four other finalists - a women rights worker, a conservation officer, and two educators - who were shortlisted after non-profit group Accountability Lab Nepal launched a nationwide campaign last April.

As the nominations were underway, a devastating earthquake hit the country, killing nearly 8,900 people and leaving thousands homeless.

"A lot of money has been directed towards earthquake response, and we hope to see officials who have used those funds correctly to benefit the quake victims among the next finalists," the charity's Nepal representative Narayan Adhikari told AFP.

Gyan Mani Nepal, an education official in eastern Panchthar district, was crowned the first Integrity Idol last year.

"We want to organise this every year. This initiative aims to reward honest individuals and inspire others to join the civil service," Adhikari added.

Nepal is ranked 126th out of 175 countries in anti-graft watchdog Transparency International's global corruption perception index.

Liberia also held the contest this year, with Jugbeh Tarpleh Kekula, a government nurse, taking home the title.