Oli’s Test With Bureaucracy
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has started his second innings as the executive head of the government last week. It is a historic moment in the political history of Nepal for the fact that the new government has been instituted in accordance with provision of the Constitution of federal Nepal, and KP Oli has the distinction of assuming the authority of prime minister. In a federal country prime minister holds a very hallowed and pivotal position. His hands as prime minister have been further strengthened as he has been able to broker pact with Maoists for party unification.
However, a prime minister wielding and exercising the executive authority in a federal country within the constitutional limits has to reckon with challenges especially, among others, emanating from intergovernmental relationships. Aside the intergovernmental conflicts and disputes that can engage and stress the prime minister, there are always the possibility of vertical competition of leadership a prime minister has to contend with.
A chief minister excelling in performance can outshine the prime minister and win the political spotlight as emerging leader for the nation. Thus a chief minister or chief ministers can outwit him or her through better leadership and delivery stealing political limelight from the national leadership. However, at present a lot of trust has been reposed on the leadership of KP Oli hoping that he will be able to extricate the country out of the messy state of affairs.
There is no gainsaying the fact that poverty and destitution are rampant in the country. Basic development and social infrastructures are deficient and are beyond the reach of the ordinary people. Education and health services are denied to the larger number of the poor and marginalised groups. Above forty percent of the people are still below poverty line in Nepal according to a study on multidimensionality of poverty in the country. Endemic corruption and abuse of state authority have eaten away the resources of the country.
Entrenched systemic bad governance practices have ailed the larger development projects that take decades to accelerate and complete. The biggest challenge for the prime minister has been the reluctant and inept bureaucracy that can dodge the purpose socio-economic development and transformation of the country. In fact, 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 favoritism, personalised norms in official behavior and widespread official corruption.
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.This is indicated by the elections held for the civil servants organisations not very long back. Even more 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 even the prime minister and ministers cannot enforce and implement their instructions because of the tacit resistance and non-cooperation of the bureaucracy.
Of late, the size of bureaucracy has grown bigger and its reach expanded to the nook and corner of the country during these days but it is not effective to deliver services and address the needs of the people. The civil bureaucracy is said to be swallowing the bigger chunk of the national revenue but it has failed miserably to perform according to assignment, not to talk of 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. A law has been enacted by the federal parliament to transfer and adjust the civil bureaucracy consistent to the federal provision of the constitution. However, the bureaucracy is putting all kinds of resistances and obstacles to comply with the new devolved bureaucratic arrangement.
While the local governments have been crying over the deficit of the bureaucracy, the newly elected provincial governments are also complaining over the scant regard of the bureaucracy to the new arrangement. The chief ministers of the provinces have experienced the severe shortage of human resources in their ministries and warned of action if the bureaucracy shows no regard to adjust to the new political and administrative arrangement in the country.
Since the effective implementation of the government policy and program, no matter the levels, is dependent upon the bureaucracy in federal set up, it is expected that the bureaucratic organisation is reformed as a citizen responsive and accountable apparatus of the state. Unless bureaucracy is 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 civil bureaucracy to work in true spirit of service and dedication for the benefit of the people suited to the federal context of the country.
Primem Minister Oli should work towards reforming bureaucracy so as to ensure that its bloated size is pruned, leaned and economised to work effectively for delivery of goods and services. The first task in this regard would be to rein in on the trade unions of the bureaucracy that has been instrumental in politicising the administrative apparatuses of the country.