Policy conflict in NepalUp until the 1970s, there was a misconception that once policy is made, it is implemented.
Information about policy failures in Singha Durbar, the country's central secretariat, hardly filters down to the public. Only those who are highly placed in government positions get to know about such matters. While looking for the reasons behind ailing or dead policies, the facts become discernible, one by one. In order to find out what they are, research on policy implementation is a must. This will reveal the factors often hidden inside policy corridors. Policies do fail. But the good thing for policymakers is that no one bothers to find out why. This kind of negligence makes the life of politicians and bureaucrats in public office a life of uninterrupted pleasure.
Policy conflict issues exist among various ministries and institutions inside Singha Durbar. There are odd things going on in here. One ministry seems to be an opponent of another ministry. Engaged in an adversarial relationship, many ministers or secretaries are eventually destined to make each other fail. Inside Singha Durbar, the country's will and missions are divided like broken pieces of glass. Each ministry or institution behaves as if it is a sumo wrestler that wants to defeat the others in the ring. This self-defeating ruckus among federal ministries and institutions is now infecting provincial and local units too.
No one else is needed to harm an incumbent prime minister or his or her administration. The battle between central ministries and institutions is enough to give the prime minister a certificate of a failed tenure. There have been 28 prime ministers in the country since 1990 following the restoration of multi-party democracy. Yet, very few political leaders in power have been able to sense the scanty inter-agency coordination.
Up until the 1970s, a misconception preoccupied the minds of many that once policy is made, it automatically goes into implementation. Following frequent policy failures, that fallacy ended and concern about policy implementation grew. A systematic effort started in the late 1970s and 1980s to follow the policy implementation model of Van Meter and Van Horn, Sabatier and Mazmanian and others. The decade of the 1990s observed a milestone. First, a top-down approach evolved assuming that a visionary leader matters. A subsequent model, a bottom-up approach, advocated the prominence of street bureaucrats who work on the ground.
Personally, I am a fan of the six variables propelled by Van Meter and Van Horn. As they have argued, policy standards and objectives; available resources and incentives; quality of inter-organisational relationships; characteristics of the implementing agencies; the economic, social and political environment; and finally, the disposition of the implementers determine the trajectory of success or failure in policy implementation. Almost all are linked one way or the other with policy harmonisation to ensure policy success.
In the name of environment protection, the Ministry of Forests and Environment brought out a new law called Environment Protection Law in 2019. But the law did more damage than facilitate the aim of the same government to attract a large flow of investment, mainly foreign direct investment (FDI).
The disparity appearing between word and deed amongst institutions has been common. For example, finance or industry-related authorities seem to be hungry for investment while forest and environment-related authorities hold back files for weeks and months which exhausts the investor's zeal. A newly enacted law has brought pain to prospective investors by adding delaying clauses. A new provision, a brief environmental study, has been inserted which also involves the same amount of tiring procedures as the existing ones to obtain clearance. Such disparities can be observed in agriculture, power and so on.
Why does the one-window policy fail in pulling FDI? Why are special economic zones (SEZs) unable to entice investment from prospective investors? The authorities are shy to admit that both one-window policy and SEZ have been left out in the cold by the concerned ministries and their policies. There’s a lot of noise about the duty drawback policy but very little action. In order to get a refund of the customs duty and taxes that have been paid, many industrialists and exporters have sweated a lot but got no results. All these examples show that the difficulty of doing business is widespread due to policy conflicts.
The prime minister and chief secretary at the federal level and the chief minister and principal secretary at the provincial level are chief executives. They are there for sorting out such disparities. This is because they are above the jurisdiction of a minister and secretary who belongs to one specific ministry. They have the manoeuvrability to make policy implementation a great success. But when it comes to reality, that does not happen.
There is a mechanism within the National Planning Commission called the National Development Action Committee (NDAC) designed to expedite national pride projects. The committee is crippled due to three major issues: (1) It does not regularly sit together; (2) It does not bring out critical issues on the table; (3) It does not resolve outstanding issues. However, the idea of the NDAC is to unearth and solve inter-ministry coordination-related issues.
On top of that, a new mechanism was created in the Prime Minister's Office with the fancy name of action room. It was initially said that major national pride projects would be monitored directly by the prime minister on the dashboard and outstanding issues, if any, would be resolved then and there. But it too fizzled out. The two high profile mechanisms were either a tiger with no teeth or a publicity step for public consumption.
The core of this discourse is all about policy harmonisation. However, a run-of-the-mill attitude does not allow harmonisation to take root. Two questions come to mind: (1) Are the political and bureaucratic chiefs worried about the issue? (2) Are they ready and capable enough to address the issue of harmonisation? The success of policy harmonisation largely depends upon their disposition.