In the first ever meeting of the inter-province coordination council held at Pokhara, last week, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda expressed his commitment to ensuring the early enactment of the laws relating to civil service and education in accordance with the constitutional provision of federal power sharing. However, the bills of these proposed laws have been lying pending in the national parliament for around five years. Since the new coalition has taken over the reins of the government following the general elections held around seven months ago, the new political dispensation is expected to fulfil the commitment with regard to the enactment of the law and set straight the matter.
Some issues are, of course, very ticklish which have made it difficult for the successive governments to thrash out them and arrive at legitimate decision. As reported in the media, issues like the role of civil servants' unions and associations, age-bar for retirement from civil service, relationship and accountability of the civil servants to three-tier governments-- federal, provincial and local– had been disputed in the relevant committee of the parliament when it was debated last.
To set the tone for administrative federalism immediately following the promulgation of the new federal constitution, it was necessary that the civil servants working under the purview of the centralised unitary system be disaggregated and reorganised in line with structures of the federal state – federal, province and local. In order to enable and facilitate the desegregation process, the Organisation and Management (O&M) Survey was carried out and the organisational structure and employee quotas for all three levels of government accordingly. The O&M Survey Committee approved 48,409 employees at the federal level, 22,297 at the provincial level and 66,908 at the local level.
The Employees Integration Act, 2018 was enacted in accordance with the constitutional provision of integrating employees into the federal, provincial and local government frameworks. It took the federal government nearly a year after its formation in 2017to pass the Employees Integration Act. This continued to have an effect on important provincial and local government tasks like law making and the implementation of policies and programmes. The reactions of elected officials at local and province levels suggested that the employee adjustment process was faulty and that employees deployed by the federal government were accountable only to the federal government.
However, the problematic issue that has delayed the process of parliamentary enactment is what is generally known as increased blurring of demarcation between politics and civil administration. The relationship between politics and administration has been a tricky subject in several democratic countries in the world. This has turned out to be a contentious issue in Nepal where federalism has been implemented without a well thought out strategy and effective administrative reorganisation in line with the constitutional and governing principles of the federal polity. Needless to say, Nepal has continued with the unified system of bureaucratic organisation with the central government keeping the unqualified authoring in recruiting, deploying, rewarding and punishing civil servants across the tiers.
Today, province and local level key bureaucrats are recruited and administered from the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration without any consultation with and concurrence of the provinces and local governments. This has infringed upon the self-rule and shared rule principle of federalism. In fact, both provinces and local governments should be practically enabled to exercise authority and autonomous space to set terms to hire and retrench the civil servants to work under their respective purview. The civil servants are seemingly in favour of continuing their administrative control and answerability to the central agencies which they perceive will safeguard their perennial interests. Nepal's federalisation process has hit snags especially due to the issues related with the administrative devolution and personnel management.
As the 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 needs to be enhanced. This capacity can be bolstered only if the adequacy of trained and competent personnel, among others, is provided under the purview of the sub national government. However, contrary to the spirit of the federalism, the bloated volume of the civil bureaucracy to the tune of forty five thousand is being retained with the federal government at the centre.
Since the constitution limits the number of ministries and departments at the federal level, the size of bureaucracy will have to be thoroughly downsized through the fresh organisation and management survey but it appears that it is not going to take place. The top heavy bureaucratic structure is being kept without being restructured. The elite personnel embedded at the central bureaucracy have often been found resisting 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.
On the contrary, the bureaucracy is beholden to party politics and fragmented along the partisan lines. The civil bureaucracy is swallowing a bigger chunk of the national revenue indicated by ever growing size of the recurring expenditure. Even then it has failed miserably to perform minimally according to expectations. Unless bureaucracy is made result oriented and citizen centric, the devolved structural and functional arrangements at province and local level will make no sense for the common people. It is expected that the government shall take these aspects into consideration and enact the fresh law to address the requirements for professionalized and competent civil service in Nepal.
(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. email@example.com)