Building an efficient civil service will largely depend on attracting the most competent people from a pool of alents

Following the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, the country has become a federal state, with seven provinces, 77 districts and 753 local levels. Although the 2015 constitution has divested the central government of many of its powers and given them to the provincial and local levels, this has not taken place in practice even though the local polls were held in 2017. While one of the reasons for this impasse could be the bureaucracy's unwillingness to give up its prerogatives on many fronts, the bigger reason seems to be the presumed ineptitude of the local level officials to take on the new challenges posed by federalism. Thus, a 10-year strategic plan (2020/21-2030/31), formulated by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, to create a capable, efficient and people-responsive public administration so as to strengthen federalism in the country is laudable. In line with the strategic plan, the ministry will formulate or amend those polices, laws and standards related to the operation of the federal civil service and other government services.

The plan hopes to provide quality public service delivery by strengthening the local levels, develop an ethical and motivated bureaucracy, and promote effective inter-relations among the different tiers of the government. Other priority areas of the plan include development of human resource capacity in public service, use and exchange of best practices among the local levels, sustainable local infrastructure development, use of innovative technologies, good governance, social inclusion, and research and development.

With its priority set on sustainable and balanced economic and social development of the local units, there is provision for performance-based grants to them. The employees will be assigned work responsibilities based on their capacity, efficiency and professionalism while the transfer and promotion of civil servants will be made transparent, impartial and predictable to boost their morale, reads the plan.

On paper, the plan, which has already entered the implementation phase, looks sound and encouraging.

But like so many similar plans and policies of the past, whether it will achieve its goals and objectives remains to be seen. One of the factors inhibiting progress in any sector is the excessive politicisation of everything, including the civil service. Building an efficient civil service will, thus, largely depend on attracting the most capable and competent people from a pool of talents through a rigorous process and not based on party connections. There is plenty to learn from our neighbours on this score. A positive aspect of the 10-year strategic plan is its focus on attracting the youth to public service by incorporating the subject of civil service in the university curricula.

The local levels today receive a lot of grants, much more than they can handle. But these grants will dry up sooner than later, and they will need to generate their own resources to meet their needs. Only an efficient and strengthened local level will be in a position to judiciously use these resources for the socio-economic and sustainable development of the local level.

Railway service

The first section of the 34-km-long railway line between Jayanagar in India and Bardibas of Mahottari district in Nepal will come into operation by mid- May, according to officials at the Department of Railways.

The total length of the route is 69-km from Jayanagar to Kurtha in Dhanusha district. The second phase of the railway operation will start soon.

For the time being, technical manpower has been hired from India to operate the only railway in the country. The government has already procured new engines and bogie parts. However, the government has yet to hire the required human resources for the smooth operation of the short distance railway route.

As many as 26,000 people had applied for a few dozen seats in the service when the government invited applications from Nepali citizens. An Indian firm had built the railway track and handed it over to the government about one-and-a-half years ago. But it could not be operated due to lack of skilled human resources. Learning lessons from it, the Department of Railways needs to train Nepali citizens in advance so that railway service can be operated without delay.

Laying railway tracks is important, but operating it smoothly is even more important.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.