Nepalese Bureaucracy: Need For Reform
Hari Prasad Shrestha
Nepalese bureaucracy is a mixture of traditional and modern features, with the traditional forces comparatively stronger than the modern ones. The latest example of the election of the civil service trade union affiliated to the different political parties has pushed back our bureaucracy yet again on the traditional challenging path of a divided mentality.
Nepalese bureaucracy is one of the weakest and non-performing systems in the world because of the lengthy decision-making process, sluggish implementation and inefficient service delivery system.
The word ‘tomorrow’ has special importance in Nepalese bureaucracy, and it is not surprising that the service seekers have to visit an office many times for one job to get done. People from the villages and remote locations have to spend much time and resources to get service at the headquarters. Waiting for hours in long queues at the public relations offices by the service seekers is an ordinary occurrence here.
It is common to witness many experienced competent senior officials become juniors to their previous subordinates due to the faulty promotion system, which is not found in other countries. Consequently, senior positions are not manned by suitable, experienced and capable persons who can upgrade the administrative machinery in line with the requirements of the nation.
The bureaucratic behaviour is also very rigid, which strictly follows the rules with long procedures, explicit obedience and unquestioned loyalty to the authority.
The Nepalese civil service, up to a great extent, is not development or result-oriented, it is power and position-oriented. Because of declining risk-taking attitudes, decreasing competency and capability, the development projects lag behind targets and capital expenditures are not spent in considerable amount.
There are many other reasons why the bureaucracy is inefficient. They are low level of motivation, unnecessary expansion, lack of reward and punishment, over politicisation, too many layers in the decision-making process, a weak mechanism to make individual officials accountable and difficulty in adopting new technology effectively.
It is the responsibility of the government to keep the bureaucracy intact. The political leadership in the government is more responsible for breaking the system than the civil service through transfers, promotions, rewards and punishment. It has been observed that some elites and trade unions are also responsible for making the bureaucracy weak and non-performing.
The bureaucracy is said to make a U-turn according to the changed leadership. It has been an arduous task modernising and reforming the bureaucracy and establishing a system in it. Politics and administration, in our perspective, look like two sides of a coin. Who is performing whose jobs is difficult to distinguish.
The Nepalese bureaucracy is a composition of civil servants, teachers, employees of public corporations, medical profession and the like. Civil servants are, however, the strongest component. The employees of public corporation and teachers are more responsible for delivering better service to the general public and quality education to the students. But they seem to be weak in rendering their services, while being highly politically motivated and difficult to control.
To instill high moral values with a goal-oriented mind set in the bureaucracy, the development of a proper system and non-interference by the political leaders are the primary requirements. Moreover, there should be optimal use of technology to simplify and make credible the process of the flow of services.
Human resource development, time-bound promotion, career development, scientific transfer, financial incentive and proper evaluation are some important elements to support the bureaucracy become goal-oriented. Networking and collaboration with the private sector and civil society will further benefit the service seekers.
Capacity building through proper training and education enhances responsibility bearing capacity.
Good governance is the demand of time and expectation of the general public. The entire machinery of the government is responsible for good governance, and it should not be limited to administrative reforms. People’s participation is a must to design the administrative service. It is necessary to reform the electoral and political system, the judiciary and police along with the civil service. Political will and commitment are the first step towards bringing about bureaucratic reforms and placing the right person in the right place.
(The author is former Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Finance and was associated with the United Nations Development Programme in Sierra Leone and South Sudan)