Agenda of reformThe ultimate aim of a managerial civil service is to be able to provide traction to good governance
Structural changes are vital to strengthen the national bureaucracy and make it efficient and effective. There is a need to create a national think-tank comprising of well qualified and independent strategic thinkers who can lay out a multi-sectorial, long-term national vision for Nepal that is grounded on the opportunities offered by our natural and human capital. This think-tank should be further continuously engaged in applied scientific and technological research to find ways to enhance productivity of the natural and human capital as well as improve their quality, including eradication of loss and damages in their utilisation.
Managerial outlook for efficiency
Each ministry should develop its perspective sector plans based on the national vision. Where sector plans fall short on multi-sector orientation to derive maximum backward and forward linkages in the economy, or lack adequate concerns for ecological balance, the national think-tank can suggest corrective approaches based on empirical studies delivered to the concerned ministry.
These perspective sector plans are to be delivered by each ministry’s planning division which would also be responsible for drawing up a Five-Year Action Plan for the sector, duly supported by a Five-Year Programme. Each department shall be responsible for formulating their projects in line with the Five-Year Programme—and where further expertise is required, they should take on board worthy consultants to undertake technical, financial and economic feasibility studies.
Every department will have to develop a portfolio of projects ready to be implemented. This way, the chronic problem of the bureaucracy’s inability to spend available capital funds will be solved once and for all, as it is largely due to the lack of well-studied projects supportive of sectorial and national aims that funds remain unspent. Moreover, it will also stop ministers from implementing pet projects haphazardly to suit their own, or their party’s, interest at the cost of national interests.
Undeniably, it is legitimate for ministers to want to execute their party’s manifesto once in commanding authority. But this must be based on rational choice from among the project portfolio available with each department. This also means that aid will be guided by our needs—and not the authorities’ priorities over choice of projects. A body of Economic Advisors may be set up by the party in power, to be able to choose from available projects as per its manifesto’s priority.
To make the bureaucracy a technocracy and a managerial civil service, bureaucrats should be equipped with skills and attitudes to develop programme and performance budgets so that there is proper and strengthened monitoring and evaluation of the sector plans and programs.
It is a fact that there is no single ministry in charge of the economy. Hence, the Finance Ministry should be converted into the Ministry of Finance and Economy with a deputy prime minister (DPM). A cabinet sub-committee has to be formed to solely tackle the economy, headed by this DPM. And this sub-committee should also review the progress reports as submitted by the chief secretary based on his/her regular meetings with secretaries of various portfolios. New policies, or the revision of old policies, must also be decided by this sub-committee. The Ministry of Finance and Economy must hand over all bilateral economic matters to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that should have its own international economic division to deal with foreign aid and aid agencies, along with economic diplomacy—wherein its embassies are major players in each country of residence.
As the bureaucracy is an integral part of the executive, an innovation is called for in respect to the accountability of each ministry to Parliament. It is normally the case that the minister is accountable for policy but the secretary must henceforth account to the Parliament for execution of plans and budgets and for his performance as the CEO of his ministry. In doing so, we would have ushered in an era where a managerial civil service is in place paying utmost regard to efficiency, effectiveness and excellence, and to safeguarding the rule of law for abuses by political authorities.
This approach will also help implement the elusive position classification scheme and ensure that all bureaucrats are technically sound and pay full attention to their sector plans, programs and budgets. This will also strengthen human resource management within the civil service with provision for adequate in service training in technical and leadership matters.
Authorities to subvert corruption
Constitutional bodies must be made independent from the government; this requires that they have their own personnel rules and regulations as well as be supported by long term budgets as demanded, but duly scrutinised by the Finance and Economy Ministry. They are of course required to be subject to both external and internal audits. In the case of the Election Commission, the institution must also be fully empowered to have a hold on all elections.
The Internal Revenue Department must be converted to Revenue Authority and taken away from the Ministry of Finance. Such an authority should be advised by a Revenue Advisory Group, consisting of both public and private sectors in a better spirit of public-private partnership. It would submit its recommendations annually to the DPM, which shall help the making of an annual budget.
It must be underscored that given the alignment of the political forces, each of them must come out with an Economic Vision and Action Plan, so that they can guide the bureaucracy as it goes about drawing of the Sector Plan, Programme and Budget. Essentially, the economic vision should be guided by national interests. Similarly, the proposed think-tank has to be in sync with the ‘greater common good’ through ensuring alignment with national interests at all cost.
Unfortunately, the tendency to adopt National Plans based on UN mandates lock, stock and barrel—as seen now in the Near Point of Convergence (NPC) vision 2022 and 2030—should be totally avoided. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be given their due spots in sector plans but these should not be the implemented as the national plan for Nepal. The country’s national economy is under a state of acute stress, which naturally creates shocks to the entire body politic—and it would be an over-expectation to think that the SDGs alone will solve the existential crisis that is looming.
The ultimate aim of a managerial civil service is to be able to provide traction to good governance that could finally help to create the culture of sustainable national entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. With greater industry-government interface, the endemic under-development scenario will change for promising times ahead.
Rana is a former Finance Minister of Nepal and an economist; Thakur is a New Delhi-based public policy professional and columnist. They can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org