EDITORIAL: Fixing bureaucracy

It is high time bureaucracy went through some substantive reforms to make it more robust and effective

One of the reports that is frequently reported by the media is government staffers’ non-compliance with the mandatory rule which calls for furnishing property details. Government employees, as per the rule, need to furnish their property details within 60 days from the completion of each fiscal year. This should have been a regular procedure. But the National Vigilance Centre (NVC), a government entity established to ensure good governance, financial discipline and transparency, frequently keeps calling on government employees to furnish property details. A recent report says the NVC has recommended action against 19,000 government staffers for their failure to furnish property details on time. If a government staffer fails to abide by the mandatory rule of submitting property details, s/he is liable to a fine of Rs 5,000 and subject to an investigation into his/her property by the concerned authorities.

Non-compliance with the rule of furnishing property details is only the tip of the iceberg. A plethora of problems is afflicting Nepal’s bureaucracy. For many, what comes to their mind when we talk of bureaucracy and government employees is corruption. Government staffers are often perceived as the untamed and unaccountable lot. That said, it will be wrong to make a sweeping statement that all government staffers are unresponsive and corrupt. The root of the problem lies at failure to maintain accountability at all levels. In a country like Nepal where political instability has been the order of the day for many years, the over-reliance of political leaders on government staffers at times has knowingly or unknowingly allowed bureaucrats extra leeway to take advantage, which sometimes results in non-compliance with and non-implementation of rules and regulations. And there are arguments that bureaucracy has been overly politicised. But in a system where governments are elected through elections fought among political parties, influence of the party in the government or bureaucracy cannot be ruled out. We need to a way to make bureaucracy robust within the set-up it has to function.

Bureaucracy is a permanent government and bureaucrats act as the custodians. Government employees while need to be accountable to the elected government, their primary duty is to ensure effective service delivery to the people, while maintaining financial discipline and transparency. Maybe it is high time Nepal’s bureaucracy went through some substantive reforms to make it more robust and effective and less lethargic. It can be a good idea to have a thorough study to find the problems that have been afflicting bureaucracy. There is a need to send a strong message that performance and efficiency should be the norm, that non-compliance with the rules can have profound consequences on career development of government staffers. There is a need to identify why government employees are often nonchalant when it comes to compliance with rules. If there is a need of attitudinal fix, it must be done pronto. It becomes even so important when we have a new federal set-up with three tiers of government functioning at the local, provincial and federal levels.

Set up banks

Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) invited chief executive officers of all banks and asked them to open up branches in all 753 local level units on June 12, 2017. The central bank had asked them to open their branches there to ensure that all financial transactions of the local units are carried out through banking channels. It may also be noted that even the then Parliamentary Development Committee had also directed the government to make sure that all rural municipalities avail with banking facility soon after the local level elections.

It has been nine months since the first phase of local level elections was held. But there are several rural municipalities where banks have yet to set up their branches. A report from Siraha reveals that as many as eight rural municipalities still have to travel to the district headquarters or nearby municipalities to deposit money. This is a serious problem the government, NRB and private banks need to resolve. Disbursement of employees’ salary and social security allowance has been hampered due to the absence of financial institutions. Service seekers have also been hit hard. The rule is that financial transactions should be carried out through banking channels.