Nepal’s federalisation process has hit a snag especially due to the issues related to the administrative devolution and personnel management. As the several functions that used to be planned and implemented at the central level have been constitutionally assigned to the provinces and local governments, subnational capacity to implement the newly devolved functions has to be enhanced. Apart from the fiscal resources, what would be needed in this respect has been the administrative and management capacity. This capacity can be bolstered only if the adequacy of trained and competent personnel is assured under the purview of the subnational government. It is only through transfer and adjustment of the existing contingent of the personnel working for the central level apparatuses that the subnational level personnel requirement could be fulfilled.
The law for transfer and adjustment of the civil servants has been enacted a few months ago. This has already fulfilled the statutory basis to address the issues towards management of the Nepalese bureaucracy in line with the restructured federal framework. The law was expected to settle the row that has come on the way of redressing the human resources deficit encountered in the operation, administration and management of the subnational governments. The government officials and personnel are mandatorily required to transfer and serve in the agencies and organisations under the subnational governments at the province and local level. The federal government keeps, according to the constitution, the functions and responsibilities that are mainly concerned with macro level national policies, strategies and plans.
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 of development and service delivery. However, it does not mean the provinces and local governments would no longer legislate policies and laws. These subnational level governments will also frame policies on the subjects under their jurisdictional competencies save that these policies should not conflict with those legislated by the federal government. Since the Constitution limits the number of ministries and departments at the federal level, the size of bureaucracy will have to be thoroughly downsized. The top heavy bureaucratic structures will have to be cut to size, and a significant volume of civil bureaucracy will have to be transferred and adjusted to the subnational levels.
Though the law has been enacted as mentioned, implementation of the administrative restructuring in line with the provision of new law is seemingly facing obstacles. Minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration Lal Babu Pandit has committed to resolve the personnel adjustment issues soon to fulfil local government personnel requirement in particular. But this seems not going to be easier said than done. The elite personnel embedded and basking in the lucre of the central bureaucracy have resisted for joining in to work under the subnational government. In fact, this will entail massive shift in their hierarchic and accountability structures and relationships. Though the province level governments have been slowly fulfilling their personnel need and requirements, certain elements of additional compulsions and obligation needs to be mixed in the package of civil bureaucracy reshuffling. The optional and persuasive methodology might not work.
The second important challenge will be the resource crunch. New institutional and infrastructural facilities have to be put in place that is likely to consume a huge amount of resources. The third challenge has been need for 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 characterized by legal-rational authority system. The legal rational authority system encompasses the fundamentals such as defined competence of each office and official, 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. 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 cannot enforce and implement their instructions because of the tacit resistance and non-cooperation of the bureaucracy. Undoubtedly, the size of bureaucracy has grown bigger, it is not effective to deliver services and satisfy the needs of the people. The civil bureaucracy is swallowing the bigger chunk of the national revenue indicated by ever growing size of the recurrent budget. Even then 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 non-partisanship.
Since the effective implementation of the government policy and programme is dependent upon the bureaucracy in federal setup, it is expected that the bureaucratic organisation needs to be reformed as a citizen-responsive and accountable apparatus of the state. Unless bureaucracy is made result-oriented, the devolved structural and functional 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. There is a need for instituting the system of outcome based evaluation of the personnel. Similarly, unionisation of bureaucracy needs to be stopped to insulate the government functionaries from working at the behest of the partisan politics.