Umesh Mainali: We can’t take decisions on the basis of emotions like politicians doThe head of the Public Service Commission opens up about the vacancy notice controversy.
On May 29, the Public Service Commission issued a notice calling for applications for 9,161 vacancies in 515 local government units. Almost immediately, the notice came under heavy criticism, with many alleging that it violated the principle of federalism and the spirit of inclusion. The notice was subsequently challenged at the Supreme Court. Despite the apex court not finding any flaws with the notice, many remain dissatisfied. Binod Ghimire and Avasna Pandey spoke to Umesh Mainali, chairman of the Public Service Commission, about the ongoing controversy.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How does the Public Service Commission see the controversy surrounding the vacancy notice?
That notice didn’t deserve controversy. The commission is a constitutional body that functions as envisioned by the constitution and existing laws. It has no authority to determine the principle of inclusion and its proportion. It can only advertise vacancies as prescribed by laws, which are prepared by the legislature. Clause 12 of the Civil Servants Integration Act, which came into effect on March 9, says that the federal commission will select staff required for provincial and local governments until Provincial Public Service Commissions are constituted. It also says that the pay and perks of such staff will be determined as per the existing Civil Service Act.
When the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration notified us of a demand for some 14,000 staff, we sent it to the Cabinet for verification. We even sought clarification on whether the government had a different opinion than the existing Act regarding inclusion. The government said that in the absence of new laws, applications should be called for based on the existing Act.
We are saddened that a non-issue was brought to the streets and attempts have been made to defame the commission.
The Parliamentary State Affairs Committee, however, concluded that the commission had breached the principle of inclusion.
I am not undermining the people’s representatives, but the committee made the decision without properly studying the matter. We could have considered committee’s directives, but the issue had already become sub-judice at the Supreme Court by then. There was no room for the commission to make any adjustments as we had to wait for the court’s decision. The court refused to give an interim order in the writ against the vacancy, paving the way for the commission to continue the recruitment process.
Article 42 of the Constitution of Nepal envisions reservations in 17 different categories, which include people from Muslim, poor Khas/Arya and deprived communities. But the umbrella Civil Service Act is needed for the implementation of constitutional provisions. How logical is it to point fingers at the commission while it is the duty of the government and the legislature to ensure that the required laws are in place?
The commission cannot take decisions on the basis of sentiments, like politicians do. It functions according to the law and the vacancies called adhered to existing legal provisions.
But a significant population feels that vacancy notice was not inclusive.
It is their right to make demands, but they are blaming the wrong agency. They have to pressure the government and the federal parliament to make laws to meet their demands. The commission cannot take the blame after the legislature failed to formulate laws and constitute Provincial Public Service Commissions. It is wrong to hold demonstrations against the commission. We have the most inclusive recruitment process in the region, so let’s take pride in that.
Many other countries have also adopted inclusive provisions. I want to ask: where in the world are vacancies called for by taking the entire country as a single unit? There is a demand to distribute reservations to different communities directly from the 9,100 vacancies. But even when there was a centralised system in place, districts were taken as units to hire staff for non-gazetted posts.
One needs to understand that the constitution has recognised local units as separate governmental units, which are not subordinate agencies of the federal or provincial governments. Therefore, each local government has to be taken as a separate unit, as per the spirit of the constitution, which can neither be changed by the commission nor the federal government. Similarly, within the local units, there are separate clusters for different service groups: law, engineering or administration, for example, and reservation quotas are allocated based on these clusters. This is standard practice worldwide. Having said that, the commission has no problem taking the entire country as a single unit, as demanded by protesters, if the constitution is amended and the laws are put in place accordingly.
So did the commission then fail to adequately inform the public?
They [the protestors] don’t want to understand. What amazes me is that the local governments that demanded the staff have no problem. It’s the provinces that are making noise. For the recent vacancies, we conducted tests across the country on the same day. This stopped applicants from trying their luck in different places. For instance, someone from Kathmandu couldn’t take the test again in Jaleshwor. Now check the results from three centres within the Jaleshwor cluster. You will see that a majority of those who got through are from the Madhesi community. This is far better than a reservation. It is, therefore, unfair to criticise the commission, as it is taking every possible measure to ensure that more people from the deprived community get government jobs.
Even intellectuals wrote or spoke out in the media, saying the commission had bypassed the inclusion provision. Even a former prime minister tried to attack us. I am sorry to say they either didn’t try to study constitutional and legal provisions or knowingly made misleading remarks. We are not worried about protests, but it is really saddening when intellectuals and political leaders make baseless comments.
There has always been an insatiable appetite for public service but following the controversy, does it seem like the public has lost faith in the commission?
The commission has the overwhelming support and faith of the youth. It has adopted a very transparent and fair selection process and those who aspire to join government service know it very well. Applicants can see the marks they obtained on their interviews and the commission is ready to present all the details of the selection process if the judiciary demands it. I was in India when the controversy began. It was amazing to see the support for the commission on social media, when you generally only see negative comments. The fact that over 400,000 applied in the recent tests is also a manifestation of the great faith that young people have in the commission.
Some say that by directly recruiting staff for the local level, the centre has usurped the province’s powers and undermined the spirit of federalism. How do you respond?
I fully agree that the constitution authorises provincial governments to hire staff for the provincial and local levels. However, acts and regulations are necessary to implement the constitutional provision, which we currently lack. The commission didn’t ask the federal government to allow it to conduct recruitment. As I said earlier, those dissatisfied with the current process should invest their energy in pressuring the federal government and the parliament instead of wasting time burning our effigies.
Won’t the commission have problems deputing staff in the absence of a provincial civil service and local service acts?
Staff will be deputed and get pay and perks as per the existing federal act. They will have the same status as those who were integrated at the local level. They will be guided accordingly once the provincial and local service acts are in place.
There is an image of public servants as bumbling bureaucrats who entangle average citizens in unnecessary red tape. How true is this perception?
Anyone who knows how the commission functions won’t make such nonsensical remarks. I do agree that there is room for improvement in our tests and we continue to revise our curriculum. One has to go through different levels of tests to get selected for government service. First, there is a screening test with general knowledge and IQ questions. Once they get through screening, there are written tests where questions related to the respective service need to be dealt with. Then, there’s a group discussion, followed by a computer skills test and an interview. One has to get through a tough selection process to get through the commission’s tests.