Reforming the civil servicesThere should abe no room for mediocrity and complacency in our bureaucracy
Every little work that requires one to visit a government office sounds like a nightmare to most of us. Clumsiness and the thicket of red-tapism have eroded the bureaucracy. Steering a proposal or even getting a simple document signed through the labyrinth that is our civil services requires special expertise and experience. In other words, nothing moves unless palms are greased. Our civil service is complacent and the leadership, mediocre. The Nepali bureaucracy is reviled and this has rightly invited disillusionment among a large section of the
society towards the civil services. Regrettably, we have a civil service that is uncivil because had it been civil, Nepal would have long become a civilised and developed country. Well, at least by the Asian standard.
A major reason for the disillusionment is because of the attitude of the civil servants towards the public. As public administrators, they are supposed to serve the public and ensure efficient public service delivery; not be guided by excessive hubris and show blatant lack of respect towards the serve seekers. No wonder our civil service is described as an administration of entitlements without delivery. Poor encouragement for meritocracy and excessive
sycophancy too has handicapped bureaucracy. Corruption and politicisation of civil services is deeply entrenched wherein there is merely any performance based assessment of individual officers. Hence, there is no incentive to perform better and performance appraisal exists only in words. As if not getting due recognition for one’s work was not enough, more often than not, the deliverables are not clearly mentioned either.
There is also a role reversal between politicians and administrators. In Nepal, political leaders demonstrate an uncanny penchant to become administrators and administrators politicians. No surprise then, confusion and anarchy become the order of the day and inefficiency the result. The civil servants are grossly deficient of core competencies of the service such as speed, consistency, foresight, agility and innovativeness. Also, Nepal’s governance is one of enactment, not of action. A plethora of laws and rules are made, but never administered to their letter. No one believes that there is a rule of law in the country. Finally, brazen shamelessness pervades the system. Every employee is aware that they themselves are the ones mainly responsible for the administrative decadence. Yet no one demonstrates the courage to correct the system. And if anyone ever does, they become the first target of attack, gets pushed to the corner, and ultimately displaced from the system itself.
The prevalence of uncivil administrative behaviour and culture is very well attested by a recent remark of the Chief Commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) when he said that if he initiates action against corruption, many government offices in Nepal would run out of personnel. It is also substantiated by the fact that the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, after having acknowledged the existence of rampant uncivil administrative practices, had to introduce a directive that would require every civil servant to take an oath against corruption each day before they start their official duty. But such directive alone would not suffice to repair the creaking system. Such shallow and half-hearted attempts to reform the system only underestimates the gravity of the situation diverting attention from the real need to launch a concerted and comprehensive approach to reform the system beset by multiple ills.
But there are still horizons of hope. As the federal government is currently working on the draft of the Federal Civil Service Bill, above-mentioned administrative ills could be addressed in order to to create a civil service that is really civil, efficient and effective. The people involved in preparing or reviewing the draft Federal Civil Service Bill would do well to weigh the merit of each provision of the bill in light of the following key considerations: Does the provision contribute to making the service sufficiently attractive for the best and brightest youths of the country? Does it help enhance the core competencies of the civil servants? Does it facilitate and encourage performance and efficiency on the part of the civil servants? Does it make the service citizen-oriented? Does it help promote moral and ethical values in the service? Does it contribute to establishing a politically neutral civil service? The policymakers can ill afford to ignore these considerations while they are designing the frame of the country’s public administration upon whose performance depends the present and future of the nation.
Dahal is currently pursuing Master of Public Administration at the University of Melbourne.