Classless utopia

The government Civil Service is to switch over to a system of hierarchy based on levels rather than on classes, after the fashion of most public corporations, according to the newly amended Civil Service Act, 2063 BS. Until the Act was amended, the civil service had four classes for the non-gazetted employees (Classes I to IV in descending order

of seniority), besides an additional group of classless employees, who were recently put into Class I to take the total to five. Similarly, the gazetted officers fell into four classes (from Class III section officers to Special Class secretaries). The classes and the compartments of ‘gazetted’ and ‘non-gazetted’ will wither away soon, in order to ‘implement an integrated civil service system’. The government is reported to be finalising the regulations to make the Act fully operative.

A project working on the conversion from the class-based to level-based system is reported to have recommended the creation of 20 levels, starting from peons (Level One employee) to chief secretary (Level Twenty employee). Whereas in public enterprises the entry point for officer in the administrative service is the Sixth Level, in the civil service it is to be the 12th Level Officer (section officer), the 12th level being the pinnacle of one’s career in a public corporation. Similarly, the creation of five service groups has been recommended. The forthcoming change is being touted as ‘epoch-making’ or as a ‘solid step in the modernisation of the Nepali civil service’. The merits of the new system are being catalogued as capable of ‘creating decentralisation of work, a participatory process and people-oriented employees’. If the existence of so many levels of employee hierarchy were an unqualified virtue, most of the public corporations long organised on this basis would not now be in the pitiable state they are in — for instance, the Nepal Airlines Corporation.

So, an organisational structure based on either classes or levels of employees has nothing special to recommend itself on its own. Either system can work well or badly, depending on how it is run. Many a change in the civil service law and regulations has taken place in the country over the decades, and each time any change was made, bureaucrats and government leaders listed the benefits that would accrue. But where the civil service has headed for all these years is there for all to see. Rather, the formation of so many levels — an employee needs a promotion to go to the next higher level — appears rather to promote overstaffing, as more and more people would have to be found to fill all those tiers of bureaucracy. The posts are often unlikely to be filled because there is a genuine need to do so. The civil service provision of automatic promotion fits this proliferation of levels, as more and more people will have to be promoted to the next level — often to the level of their incompetence, this at a time when the bloated bureaucracy needs to be cut and the work processes streamlined for better results.