Citizen-responsive Bureaucracy

Mukti Rijal

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli instructed the civil servants, the other day, to deliver results effectively to respond to the aspirations of the people consistent to the changed context of the country. In the defiantly strident note, the Prime Minister sought that the civil servants should rather use their experiences and expertise to serve the people than going for voluntary retirement at a time when the country was in need of their long earned knowledge and service. It is to be noted that the a sizeable number of bureaucrats working for the central government agencies are trying to evade and foil the national scheme to transfer and adjust themselves with the sub-national governments subservient to the federal reorganisation of the state according to the new law.
According to the news report, around nine thousand central government personnel have already indicated that they would prefer rather to go for voluntary retirement than to conform to the personnel devolution scheme of the government. As the voluntary retirement scheme is calculated to cost treacherously on the national coffer, Prime Minister Oli and new minister appointed to look after General Administration Lal Babu Pandit seem inclined to reverse the retirement scheme, thereby, not letting civil servants go away with golden handshake. Going by the past credentials, Minister Pandit is expected to act tough on the recalcitrant bureaucracy and introduce thoroughgoing change in it.
Overhauling
Since the country has braced for restructuring of the state institutions, the existing unitary structures have to be radically transformed according to the federal requirement. This should entail a major shakeup and overhauling in the bureaucratic institutions which will definitely have important ramifications on their structural, functional and accountability structures and relationships. The Singha Durbar-centric bureaucratic organisation needs to be fully unbundled, if not dismantled consequent to which government officials and personnel should be required to transfer and serve in the agencies and organisations under the provinces and Gaunpalika and Nagarpalika at the local level.
The federal government should ideally keep the functions and responsibilities that are mainly related with federal policies, strategies and plans. The constitution entrusts competencies and functions to the federal government which tend to be of the greater strategic significance, role and meaning .The civil bureaucracy working for the federal government at the centre should 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 anything to lay down and legislate policies. These sub-national governments should necessarily legislate policies on the subjects of their jurisdictional competencies to ensure that these policies should not conflict with those formulated by the federal government. It is thus clear that the bulging and top heavy bureaucracy will have to be cut to size, and a significant morsel of it needs to be cut off and deputed to the sub-national levels.
However, the implementation of the administrative restructuring scheme has faced obstacles and difficulties on many counts. This thoroughgoing and radical transformation of the national civil bureaucracy embedded in and working for the central bureaucracy has resisted for joining in as part of the sub-national government with massive shift in their hierarchic and accountability structures and relationships. To counter it, certain elements of compulsion and obligation need to be mixed in the package of civil bureaucracy reshuffling as the optional and persuasive methodology has not worked. The second important challenge to face has been the resource crunch needed to implement the administrative reshuffling scheme. New institutional and infrastructural facilities that have to be put in place have been calculated 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 behavior of the civil bureaucracy which is not easy to be achieved Nepalese bureaucracy is more or less based on nepotism and favoritism, personalised norms in official behaviour, widespread corruption and so on.
The bureaucracy is beholden to party politics and fragmented along the partisan lines. 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 the prime minister and ministers will definitely have hard time to enforce and implement their directives because of the tacit resistance and non-cooperation on the part of the bureaucracy. Prime Minister Oli is highly critical of the administrative and public service delivery mechanism for turning deaf ear to the grievances of the people and contemporary need of the country.

Expectations
The civil bureaucracy, as mentioned by Prime Minister Oli, is not effective to deliver services and satisfy the needs of the people. It is swallowing bigger chunk of the national revenue but it has failed miserably to perform according to the expectations of the people. It is anticipated that the bureaucratic organisation is reformed as a citizen responsive and accountable institution. Unless the civil bureaucracy is transformed and made result-oriented, the devolved structural arrangements at province and local level will make no sense and meaning for the common people. The big challenge for the new left alliance government 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 and compatible with the new federal context of the country.

 

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