Work in tandemGovernment and bureaucracy must be receptive to each other’s concerns
After the government passed the Civil Service Adjustment Ordinance 2018, scores of government employees have been staging protests from Saptari to Pokhara. On Wednesday, they demonstrated outside Singha Durbar, the country’s main administrative building, demanding that the law be adjusted and more space be created for civil servants to climb the career ladder. The government brought the ordinance following growing criticism by provincial governments that lack of staff had seriously impaired their service delivery.
According to the Civil Service Adjustment Ordinance, civil servants, once adjusted into provincial and local administrations, can come back to the federal civil service only through competition with federal government employees. This clause was a major bone of contention between the government and members of the civil service as they feel it could block the career path of many employees as they would be confined to a particular geography. This is a legitimate concern since they had bigger ambitions when they initially decided to join the civil service. But now this provision limits their ambition and confines them to a certain territory. What’s more, the directive to either report to the deployed provincial office or forfeit their jobs is counterproductive and too harsh.
The ordinance also maintains the dominance of the federal government in public staff mobilisation at provincial and local levels—which is against the spirit of federalism. All power to appoint joint secretaries as provincial secretaries is also placed under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The fact that the government approved the ordinance without consulting employees is also unconstitutional. Section 58 of the Civil Service Act states that consent is required before altering the terms of civil service jobs.
But the government’s swift response to the protests is worth applauding. Recognising that the ordinance had stirred discontent among the staff, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration promptly formed an employee adjustment grievance management committee headed by Joint Secretary Rup Narayan Bhattarai to address their concerns. Bhattarai told the Post that nearly 100 complaints were registered at the committee on Tuesday alone. Amid ongoing protests, the committee’s assurance to all staff that it is reconsidering clauses that may limit opportunities for civil servants to rise in their careers is a reassuring step.
Whether or not these grievances will actually be addressed remains to be seen, but these initial steps have demonstrated the government’s commitment to be receptive to the demands of civil staff. Granted, the transition from a unitary system to a federal system will not be a smooth one, and there will be many hiccups along the way. But as long as the government and the bureaucracy can acknowledge each other’s shortcomings and work together to find a way out, these issues can be resolved.