Reluctant Bureaucracy

Mukti Rijal


The government promulgated the civil service ordinance last month which has rather reignited the issues bearing upon the adjustment and transfer of the civil servants to sub-national levels, namely the provincial and local government. The civil servants have raised their demands and used them as bargaining chip to procrastinate the process of transfer and adjustment at the sub-national level. The civil servants are in favour of keeping and holding their sway in the federal services and seek amendment in the ordinance to protect and safeguard their interests accordingly so that they could somehow manage to resume their comeback with vengeance even though they are posted and transferred in local and provincial level services.

The government seems ready to reconcile to the demands put forth by the grumbling civil servants and assuage their concerns. However, this type of concession to be given to the civil servants will militate against the spirit of federalisation and the administrative reorganisation of the state since the accountability and answerability will finally rest with the central government. As has been practiced till now, the civil servants even as they are transferred and adjusted in the local and provincial governments for sometime will bounce back to the federal services through use of their connection and loyalty to the ruling political parties. As elsewhere especially in the context when the country makes an entry into the community of federal nations, Nepal’s federalisation process too has hit snags especially due to the issues related with 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, sub-national capacity to implement the newly devolved functions need to be enhanced. This capacity can be bolstered only if the adequacy of trained and competent personnel, among others, is assured under the purview of the sub-national government. It is only through transfer and adjustment of the existing contingent of the personnel working for the central level apparatuses that the sub-national level personnel requirement could be met and fulfilled as the province level civil service commissions as envisaged in the constitution are yet to be instituted.
The government officials and personnel filling the central organisations or the agencies de-concentrated in the field are mandatorily required to transfer and serve in the agencies and organisations under sub-national governments at the province and local level. The federal government keeps the functions and responsibilities that are mainly concerned with macro level national policies, strategies and plans. However, contrary to the spirit of the federalism, the sizeable, if not bloated volume of the civil bureaucracy to the tune of forty-five thousand is being retained with the federal government at the centre.
Since the constitution limits the number of ministries and departments at the federal level, the size of bureaucracy will have to be thoroughly downsized but it appears that it is not going to take place. The top heavy bureaucratic structures are being kept without being reshuffled. The elite personnel embedded and basking in the lucre of the central bureaucracy have resisted in joining in to work under the purview of the sub-national governments. In fact, they are aware that this will entail massive shift in their hierarchic and accountability structures and relationships they are based and accustomed. In fact, Nepal’s bureaucracy is yet to adapt and develop itself into the Max Weberian parametres 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. 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 a 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 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 organisation is reformed as a citizen responsive and accountable apparatus of the state.

New culture
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 civil servants. Similarly, unionisation of bureaucracy needs to be discontinued to insulate and discourage the government functionaries from working at the behest of the partisan politics. Unless result-based evaluation system is not introduced in the bureaucratic organisation, federalisation process is bound to face with difficulties and democratic expectations of people will be shattered. 

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