As a part of the state, it is important to make bureaucracy of Nepal responsible, skilled, effective and public service-oriented. It is a permanent institution of the state, therefore, civil servants have the responsibility to coordinate the public service at various levels of governance. They have another responsibility to coordinate the efforts of private sector, civil society, NGOs and community-based organizations towards supporting public goods and improve state-citizen ties. Inter-institutional coordination and communication among them is equally vital for the achievement of tasks underlined in the Constitution of Nepal 2015 under the Directive Principles and Policies of the State and Civil Servants Act 2013, the later was duly modified, reformed and replaced with each changes in government in 2021 and 2049 and complemented by recently formulated Governance Act. How can Nepalese civil servants balance the growing democratic expectation of Nepalese people and declining public goods and service? There are, however, some needs that requires to be duly addressed:
The State’ Outreach: The outreach of the Nepali state cannot be compared with other non-state actors. Many INGOs do not have agencies to reach down to the grassroots people in time of need. This has been exemplified by their role in rescue, relief and rehabilitation during the recent earth quake. The government’s one-door policy would have reduced the cost of supply delivery. But it did not happen for political reasons. Nepal’s civil servants should be ready for disaster-preparedness and provide skilled personnel, acquire relevant equipments and deploy competent labor to clean the rubble and rebuild quake-resilient infrastructures. Some policy strategies need to be immediately formulated to make public service effective in Nepal and attune the civil servants to adapt to modernization values and needs of Nepali society.
Pro-people orientation: The current generation of civil servants cannot address the challenges of Nepali society now, therefore, overhauling their roles is essential to enable them to cope with generational problems brought by technology, modernity, democracy, human rights and climate change. There is a lack of inter-subjective understanding of the issue, weak morale and lack of pro-people orientation. Many civil servants with high political linkages are in the loop of donors, top party leaders, INGOs, NGOs, civil society and private sectors and have less commitment to perform the duty of state and far less interested in collaborative problem solving the nation and the people are facing at the moment. In the absence of elected local self-government, local state institutions of education, administration, health, agriculture, industries and civil society need to coordinate their services.
De-politicizatin of bureaucracy: It mainly arose out of a lack of institutional culture of autonomy from party politics and interest groups. Creation of a trade union within Nepali bureaucracy which is more interested to transfer its members to lucrative jobs has caused the loss of civil servants’ interest to serve the ordinary citizens. Similarly, rent- seeking culture in revenue and transportation departments and corruption in development –oriented projects have weakened the institutional culture of bureaucracy in Nepal beyond the capacity of anti-corruption watchdog. This led to the decline of confidence of those honest and sincere civil servants. Incentive and rewards systems are completely distorted that has de-motivated them to increase efficiency. This has also discouraged the honest and sincere civil servants to perform their institutional duties. Non-performance has no cost at all.
Efficiency and pro-active nature: Efficiency of Nepal’s bureaucracy can be increased by proper incentives but also reforms from the recruitment process, career promotion and regular leadership training on policy, management and governance issues. They can become pro-active if backed by national political leadership to carry out their assigned functions. Max Weber calls it the maintenance of “legal-rational authority.” Political stability is a precondition for this which has eluded the Nepalese for long. So long as Nepalese bureaucracy faces frequent reshuffle in each change in government development process will face continuous discontinuity. If politics favors patronage, not performance criteria, Nepalese bureaucracy will unlikely become efficient in delivering public goods and services. One gross problem is the lack of institutional memory while the other is a problem in coping with diverse problems of complex Nepali society.
Supply of public goods in the society: Promotion of public goods and services is the prime function of Nepali civil servants and they have taken an oath on it. But given the erosion of chain of command and professionalism, weak public security and rule of law and paternalistic attitude as a giver, service delivery functions of Nepali civil servants are doddering. This has weakened the outreach of the Nepali state in society. Still, in every national crisis time such as recent earth quake, flood, landslides, etc people looked for welfare functions of Nepali state and expected justice from it. Public goods can be delivered by the state institutions, corporations, private sector, civil society, community organizations, cooperatives, international community, etc but the state has a broader mandate of the people and more responsibility. Therefore, people expect the state to become impartial, impersonal, autonomous from the dominant interest groups of society and embedded in the life of Nepali citizens. In this context, revitalization of civil servants and professional orientation are important for its capacity building in fostering social integration and muster allegiance to the state.
Leadership and communication skills: Today’s civil servants of Nepal are better educated, more qualified and skilled in communication than the previous generations but they are plagued by a decline in work ethics, professional jealousy, unhealthy competition and self-interested motivation. One can see the absence of spirit de corps. Leadership in bureaucracy is largely personalized rather than institutional in performing upward accountability to the state and downward accountability to the people. This problem can be overcome with the formulation of effective laws, policies and institutions and their impersonal implementation.
Several administrative reform commissions of Nepal have been constituted in the past to streamline Nepalese bureaucracy. Yet, collective commitment and political will are missing to implement those reform initiatives. Partisan leadership failed to support the integrity of civil servants and create an environment conducive to foster their efficiency in administration, coordination and service delivery. The right to information will expose the bureaucratic anomalies and the render their linkages with politicians and business open, contribute to democratize leadership functions and make governance transparent and accountable.
(Associate with Bishnu Devi Memorial Trust, Kathmandu, Nepal)