Ensure Result-oriented Bureaucracy


At an interaction programme held in Surkhet, the provincial capital of Karnali, the other day, it was commented that politicians and bureaucrats have failed to act in concert to carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively. Nepal has practiced democratic polity for several decades now where politics and bureaucracy are assumed to exercise their differentiated roles and authority. Politicians are presumed to make policies and endorse legislative agenda whereas administrative personnel are meant to implement policies and development. Civil servants are generally subordinate to politicians and they are expected to be pliant, compatible and non-resistant to the political executives. However, the frequent and surprise change in the government set-up has made the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats irregular and uneasy.

Prime ministers and ministers are found issuing instructions and directives time and again to the administrators and bureaucrats stressing that the latter were responsible for carrying out their commands and fixing the problems. The prime ministers have made a routine to engage with high ranking bureaucrats and issue directives on several subjects. 

They are heard appealing to the bureaucracy to cooperate in realising the vision of good governance and   development in the country. Several set of instructions are passed on to the bureaucrats at the meetings called time and again. Prime minister, ministers and lawmakers in the parliament complain of bureaucratic apathy and are reported to have vented their ire against bureaucracy passing blame on them for allegedly failing to act in line with the political change and transformation in the country.          

State of flux

In fact, bureaucracy in Nepal is in the state of flux. It has been placed in a limbo from legal and institutional point of view for want of the federal civil service law, among others, to make their roles and responsibilities clear. The draft of the federal civil service law has been under consideration for almost six years at different levels including parliament due to one or other reasons.  Nepali bureaucracy has been a ritualistic and traditional institution. 

The current model of bureaucracy is less similar to India's bureaucratic milieu patterned along the line modelled by the British colonial administrators. The Indian Public Service has been structured on the British pattern of division of services into the higher administration class and other subordinate technical services. The origin of such division can be traced to the articulation in the famous Macaulay Report on the Indian Civil Service 1854 AD in colonial India. 

However, with the growth in the functions of government following the Independence of India in 1947AD, some alterations have been made. But fundamental basis and character has remained the same. The problem arises with respect to defining and categorising generalists and specialists in civil bureaucracy. 

A generalist may be defined as a public servant who does not have a specialised background. He or she is easily transferable to any department or branch of government. He or she has also been defined as a civil servant, who belongs to the managerial class and who is well up in rules, regulations and procedure of administration. On the other hand, a specialist is a person who has special knowledge or skill in a specific field, for example, agriculture, engineering, health and so on. 

In the Nepali bureaucratic set-up, dominance and precedence of the generalist exists. The civil servants are transferred to different government departments without considering their merit, background and competence assuming that they can handle their tasks due to their generalist background. 

Though different service categories are established and recruited accordingly, this does not make any difference since generalists are placed haphazardly at the commanding helm of the affairs. However, this does not respect the technocratic merit and expertise required in tackling evolving national challenges and complexities. 

Another very fundamental aspect of the Nepali bureaucracy is its permanent tenure ensured through career progression in bureaucratic hierarchic order. Once a civil servant is recruited, he or she enjoys permanent tenure. A bureaucrat exits after he or she completes the age limit for compulsory retirement prescribed by law. The permanent nature of bureaucracy is also said to be one of the causes of the stagnation and immobility in civil service system. Those enjoying permanent tenure seldom feel threatened. Neither do they feel challenged to update and equip themselves to respond to the needs and aspiration of the people. Sometimes, ministers and leaders feel helpless for their failure to make bureaucracy work effectively in delivering services to the people.

Legal-rational authority 

The pathology of Nepal’s bureaucracy is that it is yet to adapt and develop itself into the organisation characterised by legal-rational authority. The legal-rational authority encompasses the fundamentals such as defined competence of each office and officials, universalism and impersonal operations, separation of public funds from private use and so on. Conversely, it is more or less based on personalised norms in official behaviour, official corruption and so on. The bureaucracy is beholden to party politics and fragmented along the partisan lines. 

Needless to say, the civil bureaucracy is swallowing the bigger chunk of the national revenue as indicated by ever growing size of the recurrent budget in the country. 

Even then it has failed miserably to perform to meet the aspirations and needs of the people. Since the effective implementation of the government policy and programme is dependent upon the competent and performance-oriented bureaucracy in federal set-up, the government should do a complete revamping of the bureaucratic organisation to ensure that it acts in tune with changes and evolving context of the country despite frequent changes of the government. Otherwise, all the government plans and programmes turn out to be mere wishes and hollow aspirations. 

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.  rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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