Bureaucracy Under Scrutiny
Nepal’s bureaucracy has come under attack from political leaders and ministers these days. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is reported to have vented his discontent with bureaucracy for lackadaisical performance of some of the important projects and institutions. Similarly former prime minister and leader of the Samajbadi Party Nepal Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai articulated his opinion on the need to execute overhauling of the Nepalese Bureaucracy since, according to him, the existing bureaucratic organisation has failed to deliver to respond to the aspirations of the people.
While making lengthy but well-articulated thoughtful comments on the budget presented by Finance minister in the parliament, the other day Dr. Bhattarai pointed out that the size of the central bureaucracy needs to be slashed in the federal set up as the constitution has devolved seminal functions for service delivery to the local governments – Gaupalikas and Nagarpalikas.
Some of the ruling party leaders and prominent lawmakers have even gone to the extent of advocating for dismantling the current modality of recruiting permanent structures of bureaucracy and replace it with hiring staff through contract –based procedures. Likewise , the mayors and chairpersons of the local government- Gaupalikas and Nagarpalikas- have time and again expressed their resentment against the central bureaucracy for laws and regulations formulated recently that limit their autonomous spaces for decision making at the local level in line with the provision of the constitution. In fact, the need for reform and restructuring of bureaucracy has been emphasised by different commissions and task forces constituted by the government time and again since the days of authoritarian party-less Panchayat polity.
In the post –democracy phase too, many commissions were created of which the Administrative Reform Commission formed in 1992 is very important. The major reforms suggested by the Commissions included reorganising the bureaucracy through right sizing the ministries and departments, reforming the administration through downsising the number of employees to make bureaucracy appropriate, smart, professional and service oriented so that it becomes accountable, responsible and transparent, and modernising the performance evaluation system in making bureaucracy more objective and competent. But these measures were not implemented in the real sense of the term. This commission was succeeded by several other bodies and committees formed by governments that have recommended complete restructuring of the bureaucracy in line with the principles and requirements of the federal reorganisation of the state. Mention in this context can be made of the committee headed by Kashi Raj Dahal which has recommended far reaching measures in making organisation of bureaucracy conform to the imperatives of the federal governance. But its suggestions have not been executed.
Even today as state has been re-organised, and States and local governments have absorbed several functions vested until now in the central governments, fifty thousand civil servants are being retained with the federal government whereas provincial and local government have to contend with the reduced number of human resources. There is thus a need to carry out major shakeup and overhauling in the bureaucratic institutions with major focus 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 States and Gaunpalika and Nagarpalika at the sub national level.
As the constitution entrusts and allocates competencies and functions to the central government of the greater strategic significance, role and meaning, a small sized competent civil bureaucracy should perform as a strategic core especially at the policy level while those serving at the States and local government will have to be focused on implementation and service delivery. It is thus clear that the top heavy bureaucracy will have to be cut to size, and a significant morsel of it needs to be slashed and transferred to the sub-national levels. The civil bureaucracy embedded in the central government has resisted in joining and adjusting in sub national government as civil servants still exercise considerable power. They have themselves taken initiatives in framing legislations and seeking legislative authorisation to serve their interests evading political control and scrutiny and stakeholders’ engagement.
In fact the Nepali bureaucracy is nourished 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. The partisan based affiliation of the civil servants has been so strong and entrenched that the prime minister and ministers have failed to enforce and implement their directives because of the tacit resistance and non-cooperation on the part of the bureaucracy. The recalcitrant approach of the bureaucracy can purport to be a cause for the failure of federal governance in Nepal. As bureaucracy has swallowed a bigger chunk of the national revenue, it has failed miserably to execute its responsibilities according to the expectations of the people. The federal polity anticipates that the bureaucratic organisation behaves as a citizen responsive and accountable institution.
Unless the bureaucracy is fully transformed and made result oriented, the devolved structural arrangements at State and local level will make no sense for the common people. The big challenge for the communist government headed by K.P. Sharma Oli going to complete one and half years of its term lies in restructuring bureaucracy, infusing new culture and motivation in civil servants to work in true spirit of service and dedication for the people suited to and compatible with the new federal political imperative.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues)