The elections to the federal and provincial parliaments are over with Nepali Congress leading the tally of seats followed by CPN-UML maintaining win in the PR vote count. As speculated, CPN-Maoist Centre has managed to stay third in the overall vote computation. The novelty of the present elections has been that the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), a group of civic spirited youths banded together against corruption and misuse of resources, among others, that had been cobbled together and formalised just a few months ago took four seats from the Kathmandu constituencies for the federal parliament indicating that the urban voters are not happy with the politics and performance represented by NC, UML and NCP-Maoist Centre.
Likewise, near defunct Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has breathed a new lease of life after Rajendra Lingden took its helm and won eight seats under the FPTP category. In the provinces too, NC has taken the lead with UML finishing second. Poll results indicate that a new pattern of politics is in the making especially in the Madhes Pradesh and Sudurpaschim. Janamat Party headed, by CK Raut, has seized the political space with a clear message that it may outwit the traditional regional parties like Janata Samajbadi Party basking in the vainglory of the so-called Madhes movement ascribed to ushering the federal re-organisation of the state. Likewise, Nagarik Unmukti Party has emerged as the force to reckon with in Sudurpaschim signaling that Tharus are seeking respectable space in the body politic of the country.
Like in the previous polls, political parties have made tall promises to improve and enhance governance and development outcomes. Political party promises to voters and constituents made this time appear as if the transformative politics is set to begin in Nepal. However, political parties are oblivious of the fact that the tall promises are reduced into big lies if they are not implemented in the true sense of the term. The political parties and leadership offer luring promises to seduce the voters but they are hoax if state policies and administrative machinery are not properly geared up and fixed to implement them.
The administrative machinery in Nepal is attuned and accustomed to the previous unitary centralised political milieu which offers tacit resistance to get along with ethos of the new federal polity. Political leadership has not worked out the modality through which bureaucracy is remodelled and reorganised in accordance with the demand of the new federal political economy of the country. In practical terms, Nepal has so far followed the unified system of bureaucratic organisation and accountability relationship even though the country has made a shift into federal political system.
The national government recruits civil servants for all tiers of the government. The central government wields stick to discipline and rein in on the bureaucracy across all levels. Needless to say, provincial and local levels’ bureaucrats are recruited and administered from the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration without proper consultation with and concurrence of the provincial and local governments. The civil servants are seemingly in favour of continuing their administrative control and answerability to the central agencies which they perceive will safeguard their interests.
Some civil servants are transferred and adjusted in local and provincial governments but they make every attempt to bounce back to the federal capital through use of their connection and loyalty to ruling political parties. Though several functions that used to be planned and implemented at the central level have been constitutionally assigned to the provinces and local governments, sub-national capacity to implement newly devolved functions is also poor which needs to be enhanced. This capacity can be bolstered only if the adequacy of trained and competent personnel imbued with result orientation, among others, is provided under the purview of the sub-national governments.
Since the constitution limits the number of ministries and departments at the federal level, the size of bureaucracy will have to be thoroughly downsised but it looks like that it is not going to take place. The elite personnel embedded and basking in the lucre of the central bureaucracy have resisted in joining in to work under the purview of sub-national government. In fact, Nepal’s bureaucracy is yet to adapt itself to the Max Weberian parameters characterised by legal-rational authority system. The legal rational authority system encompasses the fundamentals such as defined competence, selection by merit and achievement, impersonal operations, separation of public funds from private use and so on.
Conversely, Nepal’s bureaucracy is more or less based on nepotism and favouritism nurtured by nexus with politicians and political parties and so on. The bureaucracy is beholden to party politics and also fragmented along the partisan lines. The bureaucracy is also swallowing a bigger chunk of the national revenue indicated by ever growing size of the recurrent budget. Even then it has failed miserably to perform minimally according to the expectations of the people. It is often seen that the bureaucrats follow signals of partisan politics in contravention of the norms of neutrality and nonpartisanship. Unless bureaucracy is made result-oriented, the devolved structural and functional arrangements at provincial and local levels will make no sense for the common people.
The big challenge lies in instilling new culture and motivation in civil bureaucracy to work in tune with spirit of service and dedication for the benefit of ordinary citizens suited to the federal context of the country. The tall promises made by the parties in their respective manifestoes shall not bear fruit unless the national civil bureaucracy is thoroughly overhauled and restructured with particular attention to efficiency and outcome orientation in their performance. This is where party leaders presiding over helm of state affairs should lay their focus on to improve governance and development in the country.
(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. firstname.lastname@example.org)