Bureaucracy: Time to be fastidious

One, two, or even fifty good people cannot bring about the prodigious social, economic and political change needed on their own. There has to be collective growth, which requires a good education system in the country

A decade back, Nepal was embroiled in a political mess where nothing seemed certain, and everything was temporary., rallies could break out and governments change. Now, the country is stable and peaceful, except for the people, who are growing particularly impatient to observe development, and understandably so.

There is a plethora of information available through proactive media as to where we stand as a country and in the world. People have stepped out in foreign lands and have seen immaculate infrastructure; seen how much more efficiently states can work. And so, any policy brought to life, whether thought out carefully or not, is being closely scrutinised by the civil society. The government has no other option than to be fastidious in the way it operates.

The wave of globalisation has made Nepalis aware of what is out there, aware of their own shortcomings, and their ineptitude. Where does the fault lie? The bureaucracy? The political leaders? No. The fault lies in all of us.

Being one of the insiders, I can safely say that there are a few qualified and diligent people at work in the administration. But one, two, or even fifty cannot bring about the prodigious social, economic and political change needed on their own. There has to be collective growth, which requires a good education system in the country. But what is good? I’d say that it is an ethical, time necessitated, skill-based system that contains a comprehensive understanding of who we are, the kind of world we inhabit, and the competition we face.

An increasingly “Us vs. Them” kind of mentality has brewed, where politicians and the general public alike take the administration as a non-cooperative mechanism, or entity, that is merely there for its personal comfort and benefit, while the bureaucrats feel like the system hinders them from reaching their full potential. This problem only goes to show that society at large, rather than any particular entity, lacks an adequate compass. Having said that, the overall picture that the bureaucracy has been painted till now is still a dismal one, and we need to take actions that revolutionise the way the system operates.

First, we need a strong digital system, not the emblematic action of merely putting up computers in every office, but rather a bureaucracy that operates through a digital soul. There must be integrated connections across ministries, departments and local offices that form the spinal nerve to the government. The first step can be online mapping of a file through digitization from “darta-chalaani”, which is the start of any bureaucratic procedure at a government office to its end cycle, that is, at the desk of the high level officials. This will serve as a measure of performance and promote accountability on the government officials’ part. Digital industrialisation is already taking place, and we need to be on par with the way things are moving.

Second, security lapses and online breaches of government websites and e-mails is a serious problem that has to be attended to seriously. In order to do so, development of internal human capital in the area of computer science, cyber security, information technology and cybernetics, amongst others, should be prioritised with the realisation that it is essential not only from a national security perspective but also to produce highly-skilled human resources for the high-paying jobs in the current as well as the forthcoming era. Gender has to be mainstreamed through tangible programmes to achieve this remarkable feat in the employment arena.

With massive technological advancements in artificial intelligence and information technology, where does Nepal’s position lie? From science and engineering, and now even to economics, Nepali students are looking for subjects to secure employment. However with the new ecology that is taking over, such as AI, crypto-currencies, big data analytics and surveillance, we really need to produce a workforce that deeply understands cyber security, biotechnology, big data and computing at a bigger scale at this point. As the Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harrari, puts it, “Be prepared to reskill and upskill your workers”, we need actual capacity building of the older generation of officials and get them acquainted with the digital world that goes beyond mere typing skills. Things are moving fast, and as a government and a nation, we should be well prepared and not be silent observers of transformative change that will be reaching us soon.

Third, developing amenities in the country to attract quality tourism, smart investment and holding a strong hand when it comes to negotiations is vital. Nepal needs to promote its image and foreign policy as a niche one, and for that it has to capitalise on its inherent advantages through refinement.

Whether it is through upgradation in the use of sustainable and cleaner forms of energy available in Nepal, reviving Kathmandu’s beauty and lessening pollution levels, being sensible about its proceedings to avoid trivial debacles, or just being courteous when dealing with service seekers, the administration has to present itself as a strong, refined and an introspective one for important change to occur in the country.

Yadav is a civil servant