Revamping Bureaucracy

 

 Mukti Rijal

The civil bureaucracy is in for big transition in Nepal.  Since the country has braced for restructuring of the state institutions to conform to the provisions in the new constitution, the existing unitary structures have to be transformed into the federal set-up.  This entails a major shakeup and overhauling in the bureaucratic institutions with various ramifications on their structural, functional and accountability relationships.

Transfers

The Singhadurbar-centric bureaucratic organisation will be unbundled, if not dismantled. The government officials and personnel will be required to transfer and serve in the agencies and organisations under provinces, Gaunpalikas and Nagarpalikas at the province and local level.  The federal government keeps, according to the constitution, the functions and responsibilities that are mainly concerned with federal policies, strategies and plans with federation wide import, application and significance.

 The constitution has entrusted and fixed competencies and functions to the federal government, but they tend to be of the greater strategic significance, role and meaning. The civil bureaucracy, working for the federal government at the centre, will, therefore, perform as a strategic core especially at the policy level while those serving at the provinces and local government will have to be focused on implementation and service delivery.  However, it does not mean the provinces and local governments would no longer do any thing on legislating policies.  These sub-national level governments will also legislate policies on the subjects of their jurisdictional competencies save that these policies should not contradict with those legislated by the federal government.  

 Since the constitution limits the number of ministries at the federal level, the size of bureaucracy would also be rationalised and right sized.  It is thus clear that the bulging and top heavy bureaucracy will be cut to size, and a significant morsel of civil bureaucracy will be excised off and deputed to the sub-national levels.  The government is working on devising a scheme for it and gradually this will have to come into implementation.  

However, the implementation of the administrative restructuring scheme is likely to face obstacles on many counts.  The first difficulty will be encountered in leading and managing this thoroughgoing and radical transformation as the human resources embedded and working for the central bureaucracy shall not opt for joining in as part of the sub-national government with massive shift in their hierarchic and accountability structures and relationships.  The motivational incentives and career promotional prospects need to be entwined with it.  Moreover, certain elements of compulsion and obligation need to be mixed in the package of civil bureaucracy reshuffling as the optional and persuasive methodology might not work effectively.

The second important challenge to face will be the lack of resource needed to implement the administrative reshuffling scheme. New institutional and infrastructural facilities have to be put in place that is likely to consume a huge amount of resources.  The third challenge from the standpoint of service delivery has been the corresponding change and transformation in the culture and behaviour of the civil bureaucracy which is not easy to come by.  

Nepal’s bureaucracy is yet to adapt and develop itself into the Max Weberian parameters characterised by legal-rational authority system. The legal rational authority system encompasses the fundamentals such as defined competence of each office and officials, selection of officials by merit and achievement, universalism and impersonal operations, separation of public funds from private use and so on.  Conversely, it is more or less based on nepotism and favouritism, personalised norms in official behaviour, widespread official corruption and so on. The bureaucracy is beholden to party politics and fragmented along the partisan lines.  

It is found that the civil bureaucracy is organised along the political parties operating at the national level and this is indicated by the elections held for the civil servants organisations not very long back. Even more interesting, but also dismaying to note, has been the fact that the civil servants organisations are tied to the factions within the political parties. The partisan-based affiliation of the civil servants has been so strong and entrenched that the prime minister and ministers cannot enforce and implement their instructions because of the tacit resistance and non-cooperation on the part of the bureaucracy.  Incumbent Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has complained time and again for not mustering sufficient cooperation from the civil servants to implement the development schemes efficiently and effectively.

 In fact the Prime Minister announced several schemes for implementation a few months ago during his tenure, but none of them seem being initiated for implementation.  Irked by the bureaucratic inertia, the prime minister has remained critical of the administrative and public service delivery mechanism for turning deaf ear to the grievances of the people on the pretext of lack of resources and several other flimsy grounds.  In fact, in terms of number and strength, the size of bureaucracy has grown bigger and its reach expanded to the nook and corner of the country, it is not effective to deliver services and satisfy the needs of the people.

Challenge

 The civil bureaucracy is said to be swallowing the bigger chunk of the national revenue, but it has failed miserably to perform according to the expectations of the people. It is often seen that the bureaucrats follow signals of partisan politics in contravention of the norms of neutrality and nonpartisanship.  Since the effective implementation of the government policy and programme is dependent upon the bureaucracy in federal set up, it is expected that the bureaucratic institution is reformed as a citizen responsive and accountable organisation. Unless the bureaucratic institutions are reformed and made result-oriented, the devolved structural arrangements at province and local level will make no sense for the common people.  The big challenge lies in infusing new culture and motivation in the bureaucracy to work in true spirit of service and dedication for the benefit of the people suited to the new context of the country.

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