Why is the bureaucracy so inept?The pace of decentralisation is slow, and the administrative culture is not performance-oriented.
Shankar Man Singh
Reform efforts have addressed the role and functions of the civil service, its organisational structure and working methods, its human resource system, and its governance; but Nepal's bureaucracy still has many weaknesses. Among them are low levels of motivation among civil servants, the perception that the entire scope of government work affects human life, unnecessary expansion in the number of government agencies, multiple layers in the decision-making process, weak accountability mechanism, difficulty in embracing new technology, lack of accountability, and lack of decentralisation.
Significant structural, managerial and practical challenges remain to be addressed, but some positive lessons have already been learned: Local hiring helps maintain employees at the local level and improve a sense of ownership; many local agencies feel more empowered, and restricting the right to relocate has helped keep people from decentralised sites. As far as the negative side is concerned, civil servants prefer to work in convenient locations and centres, and they live at the centre making it more difficult to provide services at the local level. Local-level staff are located only at the district headquarters, seriously affecting service delivery and other development initiatives in the region. The pace of decentralisation is slow, and the administrative culture is not performance-oriented. Incentives are limited and not fully integrated into the performance, and accountability is far from over.
A file's journey
After getting a government job, the first thing to solve and create problems for the public is 'files'. A file is created for any action. As soon as a letter is received, a file is created; and step by step comments and orders are written in it. There is an army of 'office assistants' whose job is to move these files from one place to another, and they do so slowly. We have to accept this in part, but there are people in the government, especially in higher positions, who want to change that. Are they able to make that happen? Why not? There are many reasons why the bureaucracy is incompetent and slow. Here are some of them: There are many levels of government. If each officer takes a few days, the file can reach the chief officer's desk in 12 days. The file then returns by the same route with the decision of the chief officer. It again travels on a long journey with some explanations. If the file goes up and down too many times, it easily takes a month or two.
Now imagine the communication between the various offices, and finally the communication between inter-governmental bodies. It would not be an exaggeration to say that people with all sorts of attitudes join the government machinery because of job security and the fact that these employees do not care much about laziness. Even hardworking and honest people working in the government seem to be disillusioned with the work. In the private sector, you have to become something better over time. There are exceptions in both places; but in government service, you can be stable for 30 years and nothing will happen to you. And many people are stable.
There is no incentive to move the files quickly and make decisions. If you work hard and make quick decisions, something can go wrong. If so, your life is in danger of going to hell. But if you get bored and postpone the decision, nothing happens. This is especially true for senior executives. How many times has someone been insulted for making a late decision? Take a look at our defence purchases. It takes a few years. And if someone tries to be quick and push things fast, the authorities will probably knock on their door. And we're talking about honest employees, not crooks.
There is no protection against legitimate mistakes (actual or alleged). Officers should be encouraged to take precautions and make decisions unless they have a bad intention of making a bad decision or disregarding the rules. To reduce risk and create collective responsibility, they form committees. The government system is built on suspicion, not trust. It is no exaggeration to say that such a system is a natural process that is always slow. Because of trade unions, employees have immense collective power; and some governments dare to discipline them. Even after Nepal has been transformed into a federal political system, there seems to be an illusion that it is pursuing an integrated system of bureaucratic organisation and accountability.
Contrary to the principles of federalism, the national government recruits civil servants for all levels of government. The central government keeps the stick and keeps the bureaucracy in check at all levels. Although a centralised bureaucracy was accepted and the country was governed by a unitary state system at the time of this practice, this is unacceptable and practical because the state has already embraced distorted federal politics.
Spirit of federalism
Both state and local governments must have authority and autonomy, and government employees must have the condition to work in their area of responsibility. Civil servants appear to be in favour of maintaining their administrative control and the responsibility of the central agencies to protect their interests. However, maintaining the overall dominance of government employees at the expense of the rights of elected representatives violates the spirit of federalism and the administrative restructuring of the state. The accountability and responsibility of the bureaucracy will ultimately remain with the central government.
The top-load structure is kept without restructuring. Sitting in the majority of the central bureaucracy, in fact, Nepal's bureaucracy still adapts itself to the maximum Weberian parameters characterised by a system of legal-rational rights. The legal-rational authority system includes basic things such as selection by defined qualifications, qualifications and achievements, individual operations, and diversification of public funds from private funds.
In contrast, the Nepali bureaucracy is said to be based on nepotism, cronyism, partisanship, official corruption, and so on. The bureaucracy is visible in party politics and is fragmented on a radical basis. The civil bureaucracy consumes a large portion of national revenue. However, it has failed to perform as expected. It often seems that bureaucrats point to partisan politics in violation of neutrality and non-partisan values. Unless the bureaucracy is made result-oriented, the structural and executive arrangements at the state and local levels make no sense to the general public.