Nepal | July 08, 2020

Reforming bureaucracy: Managerial civil service

Madhukar SJB Rana
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You can imagine the fragility of our bureaucracy when even this 1% of planning is donor-initiated and not endogenously inspired. In fact, I subscribe to the then additional notion that an excellent policy will come to naught with bad institutions

Bureaucracy, Civil service,

The term managerial civil service is not new. It came into notice in the late 1970s when East Asian Tigers were being born with the brilliant statesmanship of Lew Kwan Yew, who is strategic thinking par excellence and is known to have guided Deng Tsiao Ping’s own economic miracle : even more miraculous than that innovated by the Japanese and East Asian Tigers.

They all sought to make it an administrative bureaucracy into a technocratic one, endowed with a sense of highest professional and scientific knowledge, through a meritorious system: and the adoption of a leader manager style as is common in business houses.

But the fundamental difference being that these leader mangers serve and not as feudal lords so common to underdeveloped countries .

And the other fundamental difference lies in their seeking minimization of costs and not maximization of profit over citizens while being cost effective through the minimum government and maximum governance aided and abetted by a judiciously state crafted and regulated market as a vital institution of the state.

It’s only with a managerial attitude will it be easy of doing business particularly a la the much beneficial 4P rather than 3P modality.

In fact, even the private sector can learn from the technocrat’s budgeting tools Programme, Performance and Social Impact Budgets to get to know how best to share risks within the partnership.

Ideally, no more should the political parties be nearly-above the law of the land as creators of the constitution, with very weak legal provisions regarding their constitutional duties.

Notwithstanding this grave lacunae, that offers a kaleidoscope of opportunities for graft and abuse of power, we can still create the right climate promoting and safeguarding the role of the current civil service in the government with a small innovation.

Namely, to make them accountable, as a duty, to parliament for the execution of plans and safeguarding the rule of law.

This should be required by all line executives in bureaucracy comprising Secretary and Director Generals.

The above proposal is a call for double accountability system by the Minister for policy formulation; and line bureaucrats for implementation and rule of law.

Why not if it is true that both are executive arms of the government. It is especially a must in a political environment where a PM lasts 6-9 months only with new ones pursuing all manner of populism to acquire votes and constantly changing line executives for the party’s gains.

If political stability is a must for a conducive business environment then so it is a must to have administrative cum institutional stability along with macro economic stability.

The East Asians have a beautiful saying, “ Planning is 1% and Implementation is 99%”. You can imagine the fragility of our bureaucracy when even this 1% of planning is donor-initiated and not endogenously inspired.

In fact, I subscribe to the then additional notion that an excellent policy will come to naught with bad institutions and even a bad policy will gain space with good institutions.

One can imagine the plight of the bureaucracy in the wake of this year’s budget having to grapple with all manner of new policies of the UML specifically seeking a self reliant economy.

So what is to be done? I suggest that the constitution recognize the market mechanism as one of 5 core arms of it like Judiciary, Executive, Legislature, Press.

It should also recognize that the National Election Commission, as an independent institution, is empowered to state dates for elections and not be treated as a prerogative of the PM in power worse based on party consensus.

It should also have a budget for full five years committed once, and further have its own human resource management rules and regulations free from Public Service Commission (PSC).

As a prelude to building a technocracy, I suggest that we have all vacancies in line positions fielded from within only but subject to the candidates submitting an Action Plan on how s/he will benefit the organization if chosen.

The winner, selected by a PSC Panel on merit draws up a MOU with the line executives laying down his or her Performance Plan and Accountability Criteria.

This was already introduced in the case of the appointments of CEOs of a select larger state enterprise when I was Senior Economic Adviser in MoFA. So there is nothing new to it being widely used in France and India.

And last but not least, each Ministry must be required to make suitable sector plans and programmes as technocrats which may vary from 7 to 30 years as infrastructure.

Planning divisions of each Ministry should use the services of national universities and colleges to do basic research for them. This way we can have national think tanks for each sector that will fully utilize the brainpower available in the country and ignite a new spasm of national creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Self reliance is, after all, doing things according to one’s history, culture, geography and as needed by current time and challenges. Once time management takes center stage there will be a revolutionary change in our mindset.

If the above ideas are accepted, preferably wholly, we may expect the dream of economic revolution happening.

Or as the Japanese saying goes: a vision without action is merely a dream, but action without the capacity to execute could be a virtual nightmare for the nation where statecraft spills into anarchy.

Rana is Professor at SAIM and former Finance Minister.


A version of this article appears in print on June 16, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.


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