Want my advice?The prime minister and ministers should hire experts to provide counsel and ensure execution
The current governance scenario under the leadership of Prime Minister KP Oli has been ineffective and visible results are rare. This is not going to shed a legacy light for the prime minister who commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament. So what has not worked? This is the talk of the town and editorial rooms of major newspapers. Moreover, this is a major concern for the prime minister and both chairpersons of the Nepal Communist Party.
A historic review of governance in Nepal shows grand speeches of leaders but little planning at the execution level. Prime Minister Oli is dealing with the same issue. In the next four years when another election is due, he has two major correlated challenges outside of the party merger: One, develop a governance system in a country that has historically lacked one, that also in a new federal structure which is possibly a less visible work. Two, upgrade the current system so people see some visible impacts of development which will allow the Nepal Communist Party to take a shot at gaining a majority in the next election.
One of the key problems for the prime minister is that his executive orders—be it on removing puddles in Kathmandu or building railways—seem to fall on deaf ears as soon as they reach the bureaucracy.
Why cannot the prime minister, who is possibly the most powerful one in the history of Nepal, ensure that his orders are carried out? What is the core reason behind the obstacle and who are the culprits? What needs to be done to remove this obstacle?
The current model of governance in Nepal, where the prime minister relies on the chief secretary and the ministers rely on the secretaries, is rife with principal-agent problems. Such a mechanism increases the dependence of ministers on the bureaucracy. If we study the execution of power in other countries, we see that the prime minister and ministers enter government with their own teams to implement their vision. Indian Prime Minister Modi has more than 50 advisers helping him to execute his orders. The same applies to the top leaders of many other countries that are doing better. The core role of such teams is generally to frame the vision of their leader and execute it while keeping a close watch on the bureaucracy to ensure that the vision and orders are swiftly executed. This way of entering Singha Durbar is missing in Nepal.
Since politics has penetrated the bureaucracy deeply, leaders prefer to transfer their party loyalists to core positions in the bureaucracy even though their performance and effectiveness is very poor. This ends up weakening the ministers while strengthening the hold of the bureaucracy on governance. Prime Minister Oli has faced this and has created, although belatedly, a think tank to monitor his ministers to ensure that the remainder of his governance era is effective and performance-oriented.
The model the prime minister has used is a good beginning, and it should be replicated in each ministry. Each minister should have a full team of experts in the ministry. Execution and leadership is what is required to make the bureaucracy perform in an effective and efficient manner. A minister with two or three personal assistants cannot ensure that his vision will be well executed by the bureaucratic apparatus. A team around the power centre, meaning the prime minister, is what is needed if the government wants to switch gears and hit the results target. Such close monitoring of the bureaucracy will directly add to strengthening the system while removing unnecessary politicking from the bureaucracy and consolidating the system of performance analysis for promotion.
The think tank recently created under the prime minister should advise him to allocate funds and develop a separate team for each ministry so the minister can have a bigger team and not only his personal assistants. It is interesting to see how a minister with one or two personal assistants runs a whole ministry. Hence, for both effective system development and swift execution, there is a need for ministers to divide the responsibilities on their full plate—not among bureaucrats, but his own set of advisers. Such a mechanism can help ministers achieve more and do more during their term.
Team of experts
Such teams should not limit themselves to thinking, as is happening in the case of the prime minister, but strongly monitor execution too. The team can comprise retired bureaucrats, execution experts, issue experts and sector experts who do not necessarily have to be party loyalists. The Nepali market is filled with such talents who have a wealth of knowledge on the governance mechanism. Most of these talents are busy providing consultancy services to international organisations and companies. Many are running non-governmental organisations and think tanks and have executive experience of their own.
If the think tank can tap such a roster of talents and convince the prime minister and ministers to take their support for system development, this can herald a new era of scientific governance in Nepal.
Such a policy can ensure that targets and results are good and sort out the major problem of governance which is principal-agent. Moreover, this will develop a system and maintain the bureaucracy as a non-political permanent government. This mechanism will also allow the ministries to get a good grip at the local and federal level for an enhanced system of development in Nepal.
Dhakal is the CEO of 8848 Inc.