The ten-to-five worldThe civil service has been politicised resulting in blatant inefficiency and corruption
There are 121 political parties including the newly-registered Naya Shakti Nepal, 601 lawmakers and at least 98,800 civil servants in Nepal. After nearly 70 years of democratic exercise, including transitioning into a federal republic in 2006, and 13 long-term national plans, there is little to show by way of progress in the country. It is still grappling with underdevelopment and myriad socio-economic and geo-political problems. The constitutional bodies, bureaucracy and political parties have not been working at their full potential. Many political leaders in successive governments, secretaries, director generals, department heads, officers, heads of legal bodies and chief of commissions have been poor performers as shown by their track record and the enormity of the problems.
Politics and bureaucracy
They have been keeping themselves in the comfort zone with a complacent and laissez-faire attitude, only becoming active when there is personal gain to be had. The civil service has been politicised and trade unionised. Feudalism, egotism and incompetence among many political leaders, bureaucrats and technocrats have caused serious setbacks to development. Moreover, political instability, deadlock on critical issues, blame game and a civil service entwined with politics have become a ‘fertile ground’ for bribery, corruption and irregularities. This has led to inflation, poor governance and loss of impunity, thus defeating national objectives.
Many have used the civil service as a ‘springboard’ to obtain better opportunities for personal gain. Line executives are often changed or transferred mostly for political gain which affects the bureaucracy and administrative stability, impeding implementation of the annual budget and cost-bound multi-year development projects. Proper handling of the responsibilities, which is critical to forward-planned activities, is seldom seen. Team approach is absent and red tapism is rampant, which undermines the results that people are expecting. Slashing superfluous staff, demotions and dismissals are rare actions.
Last June, when the prime minister complained about the underperformance and inefficiency of the supply and home ministers who belong to the CPN (Maoist Centre), the party refused to recall them claiming it to be an internal matter. More than 900 allopathic doctors holding fake certificates have been identified so far, and among them only 36 are being scrutinised under Operation Quack, CIB (NP). This number is expected to grow to 2,000. Beyond the civil service, even the recruitment of a porter at Tribhuvan International Airport has been learnt to be influenced by political parties.
Lack of oversight
Even when huge sums of money and time have been invested in the civil service over the years through the state coffers and grants, Nepal is yet to benefit from it. On the contrary, brain drain is rampant. A great many officials are posted in lucrative offices such as customs, tax and land revenue with portfolios not exactly matching their qualifications or expertise. There is still a dearth of agile, competitive and more productive office bearers. The performance appraisal system has become like a ritual and without objectivity, and the reward and punishment system is misleading and politically motivated. Nepal could have developed if not for the lifelong luxurious retirement facilities and pensions given to government officials on top of the monthly remunerations they have received during their service period from the tattered economy as ‘rights’ for insufficient ‘duties’.
The Public Service Commission has been messed up and selecting meritorious candidates has not been successful. The Ministry of General Administration has been underperforming due to its own incapacity and political interventions directly or via its wings such as trade unions. Nepal’s Civil Service Employees Association has been politicised and trade unionised with many decisions landing in controversy.
It is not yet clear how the Personnel Information System (PIS) about civil servants maintained by the Department of Civil Personnel Records has been utilised effectively by the Ministry of General Administration and the concerned parties. Autonomy and impartial work of these vital constitutional bodies is at stake if politicisation does not cease and intervention is limited to mutual cooperation, facilitation and feedback.
With the advancement of IT and office management system, it has become of utmost importance for the government to organise video conference telecasts on TV channels on subjects such as progress reviews of annual and multiyear plans. Projects at different levels of the government could be shared as appropriate. Soliciting input for improvement has been of utmost need, which could make the government’s work more efficient and effective. This will also save it from possible pitfalls. Essentially, vigilance and participation of the Ministry of General Administration, Public Service Commission, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Central Investigation Bureau, judiciary, human rights organisations, civil society and the media also need to be intensified.
Dixit is a grants business and development professional