Civil Service Day

Make Public Administration Accountable

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Governments in almost every country experience a unique set of challenges in governance. The scope and nature of challenges are further complicated because of rapidly changing technology, low economic growth, deteriorating quality of education and health care systems, and fading trust in governance and increasing inequality. Climate change and national safety and security concerns are also equally important in this respect. It is seen that the challenges faced by the governments are almost universal, only that the ways and means that these challenges are addressed might vary from country to country. Such measures tend to depend largely on the governance practices, viz., roles of the government and how other entities extend their support to the government. 

Although these are common governance challenges, citizens simply see these as the government’s failure and raise their fingers against the government. In this way, the ability to tackle these challenges largely depends upon the capacity of the government. Although the differences in actual meaning of governance and government are very clear, people usually do not recognise the difference between governance and the government. Governance refers to a system that consists of a set of institutions, rules, regulations and actors, whereas government is just one of the actors or the entity of the governance system. The other two important actors are private sector and civil society. 

Public sector

Governance is not only dependent on the nature and form of the government, but also equally influenced by the quality and capacity of the private sector and civil society. Governance relies on the duty, responsibilities and accountability of the public sector, private sector, and civil society. Public sector consists of government (whole of the governments in the federal system) plus legislative and judicial bodies together with the entities which are created by the constitutional and legal provisions. It is also true that the quality of the government depends more on public administration because it regulates the whole affairs of service delivery and oversees the functioning of the state organs. 

Problems in the governance arise partly due to the inadequate capacity and readiness of public administration that fails to address the issues associated with the delivery of services. Therefore, to improve the governance one should start with reform in the public administration. The fundamental question is why public administration is not able to meet the expectations of citizens and deliver services effectively and efficiently.  In developing countries like Nepal, younger generation has less trust in the public administration, viz., service delivery, which are the major elements of good governance. There could be many reasons behind poor service delivery in public administration. Some of them could have linkage with the structural readjustment, while others may be related to political interference and lack of leadership quality. 

Now, the second level of question is, is there a way we can improve the functioning of the public administration within the given circumstances? Improving the public administration triggers good governance. Therefore, it is considered as the foundation of governance. Among several measures of addressing the issues and challenges, the foremost intervention involves making individuals, institutions, and the system accountable. This does not require new laws or new institutions. Enforcement of existing laws would be adequate to address most of the issues. To make the public administration accountable, three aspects should be kept in mind. First, every individual or unit or department should be required to fulfill the compliance, apply professionalism during performance, and aim to achieve the expected results. 

If we all simply abide by the rules and regulations, we will fulfill one aspect of accountability. This confirms the notion that we all are equal before the law, and we all are ruled by law.  If we enforce such conditions by applying existing mechanisms and procedures, several problems can be solved without extra efforts. We should also be mindful of the need for new laws to bring the structural changes in order to address remaining higher level and complex issues and challenges. Not following rules and regulation can simply be addressed by enforcing the compliance mechanism.

The second component of accountability is whether we have fulfilled our duties in the way that it is supposed to be done or performed. Every job requires action to duly apply professional norms, standard and code of conduct. Do we know the professional standards of our job? Have we applied these professional norms while performing the jobs? Following professionalism while carrying out the job ensures quality services to the citizens and helps to win the trust of the public. 

The third component of accountability is striving to achieve the results which are set earlier. This is a result-driven process. Critics argue that public administration is too much process driven or process oriented. Of course, we must follow due procedures while doing the job. But we should take the process as a means with a view to achieving the stated results or expected results.  In public administration, it is expected that everybody should strive to achieve the results, not only fulfilling the tasks. We all should follow the procedures with the aim of achieving results. Only doing the jobs may not produce the results.

Structural adjustment 

There are many issues associated with the public administration reforms. New laws are required, structural adjustment might be required, capacity development is also needed. This could become a long list. One of the most important aspects, as discussed above, is to make individual, department and system accountable. Accountability helps employees and organisations to be more responsive towards their functions, duties and public expectation. 

Every year Bhadra 22 is marked as the Civil Service Day. It is not a day for the public sector, it is only a day for the civil services. However, we must think, on this very day about how can we be more accountable to the public. If we all, no matter politicians or persons associated with the public administration, accept the journey towards accountability started from own self, then the day will not be very far that many problems associated with the public administration will be sorted out gradually but surely. Once we all stand committed on this, then it would be easier to solve the remaining higher order problems.

(The author is a Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.)

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