TOPICS : Challenge of transforming the bureaucracy

A government is no better than what its civil service permits it to be. This is evident from the success stories of many developed as well as developing countries. Recognising the importance of civil service, which is the mechanism to implement and formulate states’ policies, leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair and from Al Gore to Mahathir Mohammad have led the reform process in human resource management.

In Nepal too, there have already been five high-level commissions headed by ministers/prime ministers to make civil service efficient and economical. Unfortunately, even after five decades of reforms, Nepali civil service is retrograding in terms of motivation, innovation and service delivery.

“Civil service is a place for rejected brains” an imminent scholar has said. The reality is that bureaucracy is a place where brilliant brains can be dulled in no time. This is proven by the fact that a person whose performance level is below par in bureaucracy excels when posted in other organisations. This is one of the reasons why civil service has not been the first choice for the intelligent ones. Moreover, the emergence of other lucrative employers has caused the dearth of brains in the bureaucracy. This shows either the system is inefficient or the employees lack motivation. Both the cases demand serious attention.

The 80,000-plus civil servants instrumental in shaping the country’s destiny have been working without a proper act or regulation for more than a year. Dozens of ministries are run in an ad hoc manner. Uncertainty and confusion reign. Moreover, the motivating factors in rewards and fringe benefits are minimal, inadequate even to meet the basic necessities of the employees.

The world has come a long way from the practice of traditional public administration to ultra-modern responsive governance where customers’ satisfaction is the ultimate goal. We talk about responsive governance but do not even adhere to the basic premises of traditional public administration like neutrality, meritocracy and impartiality.

Definitely, the role of the government has changed with the wave of liberalisation and globalisation in the country. Now the government mechanism needs to be efficient at making things happen. It demands even higher expertise from the employees. But at present, civil service is going nowhere. The traditional administration-politics dichotomy seems to have been blurred with the role reversal of bureaucrats and politicians. After all, bureaucrats are also influenced by the socio-economics as they are a part of it. Hence transforming bureaucratic culture implies transforming the whole system.

With Nepal on its way to being a modern and prosperous country, it is high time to think about transforming bureaucracy into an efficient and effective organ. For this, the country can focus on materialising Maslow’s Need Theory in bureaucracy for starters. In the long run, laws should be enacted to prohibit unwanted role reversal of politicians and bureaucrats.