Nepal | April 09, 2020

Bureaucracy reforms: Taking Singha Durbar to grassroots

Sangram S Lama

For implementation of federalism, there is a need to expedite the process to take civil bureaucracy to the grassroots; and political parties, government and other non-state actors must work together to promulgate all relevant laws to manage civil servants

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Nepal’s civil bureaucracy is more than six and a half decades old. Nepal’s civil service became more systematic after the establishment of Public Service Commission in June 1951. Its major function is to ensure fair and competitive selection of suitable candidates for various civil service positions. At present, more than 86,000 civil servants are working throughout the country.

A new constitution promulgated in September 2015 has outlined three tiers of collaborative federal democratic republican system of governance. This marks the departure from the earlier existing hierarchical system of governance. Accordingly, the existing unitary structures now need to be restructured and transformed in line with the new political arrangements and division of power, promoting inclusion, transparency and responsiveness in the public administration. In other words, the power and authority of Singha Durbar, the nucleus of bureaucratic institutions, should be remodelled and shifted to provinces, municipalities and rural municipalities.

Civil bureaucracy, working for the federal government at the centre, performs as a strategic core especially at the policy level while those serving at the provinces and local governments will have to focus on implementation and service delivery. However, power shift from Singha Durbar to the grassroots comes with a challenge, which involves dismantling of the existing power structures. For this to materialise, both political and administrative restructuring processes should go hand in hand. But in reality, administrative restructuring and reforms are yet to catch up with political changes in Nepal. For instance, despite local governments in place through elections held from May through September last year, they are not yet fully functional mainly due to the lack of required staff. Also, many key laws and regulations pertaining to the administrative restructuring and reforms namely Federal Civil Service Act, Provincial Civil Service Act, Local Civil Service Act and Regulations are yet to be formulated. So far only the Civil Servant Adjustment Act has been endorsed, but a regulation, which is a must to implement the Act and begin the deployment process of the civil servants, is yet to be introduced.

According to the central government sources, at least 16,000 civil servants are immediately required to make the local governments functional. So far only 1,400 civil servants from the Ministry of General Administration and 10,486 from different line agencies at district level have been deployed to different local units. However, less than one third of the total required number of civil servants have reached their destinations, as those working in the Capital are reluctant to move to provincial and local levels.

Moreover, there are other reasons like a) remoteness of duty stations, b) lack of opportunities for further career enhancement and growth when transferred to rural areas, c) administrative structures and issues related to junior or senior status of the staffers working in the same office, d) lack of appropriate office infrastructure and technological gaps, e) failure of the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and other ministries to establish effective co-ordination and co-operation in preparing required Bills/Acts have further complicated the process of timely adjustment and management of civil servants.

Although the local governments have been entrusted with many responsibilities by the constitution, a majority of them have not been able to begin local development planning yet because of the failure to promulgate the required laws for the deployment of required staff. The Civil Servant Adjustment Act envisages completing civil servants’ management within six months from the date of promulgation, but if the on-going process of civil servants’ management is anything to go by, it is likely that it may take more than a year to fill all the vacant posts in the respective governments.

The role of civil bureaucracy is promoting public welfare and making arrangements for efficient and effective distribution of resources available for service delivery and managing development activities. However, Nepal’s civil bureaucracy is one of the exclusive, weakest and poor performing entities because of many layers in the decision-making process, centralist and self-centric mindset of civil servants, less motivated civil servants and weak system to hold public servants accountable. Rigid bureaucratic behaviours, power and position-oriented culture, unquestioned loyalty to political masters and linkages to parties are other hurdles.

Delivering goods and services to the rural citizens is one of the principal functions of the political and administrative organisations of the state. The legitimacy of the state rests on bureaucracy’s efficiency and effectiveness to deliver services to the citizens. For the proper implementation of federalism, there is a need to expedite the process to take civil bureaucracy to the grassroots. Political parties, the government and other non-state actors must work together to promulgate all relevant laws to manage civil servants from federal to local levels. Moreover, stakeholders need to work on ways to motivate civil servants and make them more accountable. Political interference in bureaucracy must end.

Lama holds PhD in political sociology and governance

A version of this article appears in print on January 30, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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