The Need Of Bureaucratic Reforms
Often considered as the major policy implementing agency of the government, bureaucracy has a crucial role in enhancing the public service delivery. In this sense, it is the most powerful arm of the government that can manage the general public expectations for improved service. No matter how much we criticise bureaucracy, there is no other options for public but to knock its door for getting vital works done ranging from citizenship to land registration.
Understanding why the bureaucracy functions in a manner that is contrary to the public expectations requires the knowledge of theoretical foundations of this organisation. Whether we refer to the bureaucracy of the developed or developing nations, there are striking similarities in the general characteristics although we have harboured a false notion of only ours performing negatively.
Popularising the bureaucracy theory in the early 20th century, Max Weber, a German Sociologist extensively discussed the defining features of bureaucracy that sets it apart from other institutions. Founded upon a formal hierarchical structure and governed by a series of rules and regulations, bureaucracy is impersonal in nature according to Weber. He further elaborates bureaucracy as a highly specialised field of work that acquires only people with strong technical qualifications. Protection from arbitrary dismissal is perhaps the unique feature of bureaucracy owing to which it is called the permanent government.
Hence, analysing the role of bureaucratic officials within the context of the bureaucratic principles of managing administration will help to better understand their actions. Questions like why an individual has to go through a lengthy documentary procedures to get things done? Why does a minor error in any supporting documents or reports postpones the time of getting our jobs done? Why do bureaucrats confuse people citing legal obstacles? This can be better examined in the light of the inherent notions of a bureaucratic organisations.
However, this is not to say that bureaucracy can underperform and get rewarded. In fact, in a well developed bureaucracy, there is a system of effective sanctions- reward and punishment to increase the accountability and transparency of the public officials. Locating this issue in the Nepalese context, we find that the functioning style of bureaucracy has come under a great deal of criticism from the public. Characterised by ‘red tape’ and ‘corrupt’, our bureaucracy has so far made a dismal performance in implementing the policies and programs to cater to the general expectations. While there is an ongoing debate whether the result of this situation is due to unwarranted political meddling in the public administration, it has become obvious that bureaucracy is in need of the dire reforms.
With the induction of Lal Babu Pandit as the Minister of General Administration and Federal Affairs for the second time, a ray of hope has sparked among the public that bureaucratic reforms will be expedited. The action oriented style of leadership of Mr. Pandit has already emerged in no time. Creating a shockwave in the administrative machinery, he has urged the civil servants to discharge their duties by going to the respective provinces and local levels based on the transfer decision. Standing against the principle of voluntary retirement, Mr. Pandit has hinted at scrapping this provision (an issue which he seems to be in constant debate with the Prime Minister who has a different view).
Analysing a series of public statements made by the minister after assuming his office, we can infer that he strictly wants those who earn their living by drawing salary from state coffers to be highly responsible and transparent in their conduct. Similarly, he has been opining that those who are interested to do some private works should quit the service instead of hanging around. This sort of policy rethinking in the bureaucratic circle can be a good beginning for embarking on reform agenda.
Another significant aspect of reform is associated with the scrapping of middlemen culture in the government offices. Plagued with a situation in which the ordinary people have to bribe the brokers or other agents operating as an intermediary between the service aspirants and the government officials, corruption has massively thrived in our bureaucracy. There are very limited channels of direct interaction between the service seekers and providers. It will be significant to ban such agents particularly in offices like transport management, district administration office where the public are duped in various ways.
The issue of trade unions also demand significant attention. In a country like ours where the state institutions are underdeveloped and professional culture is lacking, trade unions affiliated with various political parties have literally encaged the bureaucratic machinery. The high-handed behaviour of such unions has become a vexing problem in ensuring meritocracy and professional integrity.
With strong bargaining power to the extent of downplaying the ministers and secretaries, the unionisation has done severe harm than benefit the bureaucracy so far. Speaking on this issue, the new minister has vowed to stop the union activities within the office hours at government offices and bringing their activities under legal jurisdiction.
Notwithstanding whatever mentioned above, unless and until there is a transformation in the mind-set of the bureaucratic officials, reform efforts will go in vain. Taking their jobs for granted without bothering about effective public service delivery need to be abandoned.