Sunday, 11 April, 2021
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OPINION

Civil Service Bill In Limbo



Mukti Rijal

 

Several bills awaiting ratification of the parliament during the winter session have been shelved or halted due to the dissolution of the House of the Representatives in the previous month. Though these stalled bills can be taken up after the new parliament is elected or reinstated, it is not mandatory for the new parliament to retrieve, recover and endorse the shelved bills without any alteration or modification.
The principal among the bills that have been shelved, this writer believes, is the Civil Service Bill. It was long deliberated at different levels to assure that stakeholders' interests and stakes were taken care in the impending statutory arrangement put in place for the management of the civil service in the country. The association of civil servants had also discussed the bill time and again to ensure that their interests and stakes were not sacrificed under the fix of new arrangement.

Extensive discussions
Needless to say, civil servants are polarised and divided along the partisan lines. They have their own stakes involved in the bills as ventilated during the time when discussion on the bill had peaked. The ministers like Lal Babu Pandit and Hridayesh Tripathi had intensively discussed the bill and attempted reportedly to bend or modify it according to their understanding on the issues. Likewise, committee and subcommittee had discussed the bill threadbare at the Upper House in different rounds. Moreover, public administration and development experts had also articulated their views and provided comments on the provisions contained in the bill.
It can be mentioned that the Civil Service Bill has received wider attention of the policymakers and governance stakeholders in the country. However, a scanning of the provision of the bill shows that it is modelled along the routine pattern that fails to clinch any distinct departure from existing arrangement. The provision relating to civil servant union which has been criticised as being problematic in carrying out change in the pattern of civil service has not been reformed. Moreover, vertically centralised and hierarchic setup of bureaucracy has remained untouched and monitoring and evaluation system has not been reformed at all.
The top heavy bureaucratic structures and process is being kept unscathed and retained without being restructured and revamped. The elite personnel embedded and basking in the lucre of the central bureaucracy have resisted any substantive change in the structure and relations of civil bureaucracy. The deliberation at different levels did indicate that civil servants’ association had lobbied strongly in favour of retaining the provisions in the proposed civil service law to ensure that the central bureaucracy has a major say in governing the country across different levels.
Writing about the Nepali bureaucracy in the past too, this writer had remarked candidly that bureaucracy is yet to adapt itself to what are known as the Max Weberian parameters of the state civil service. Max Weber’s criteria are characterised by legal-rational authority. The legal rational authority encompasses such fundamentals such as defined competence, selection by merit and achievement, impersonal operations, separation of public funds from private use and so on.
Nepal’s bureaucracy is more or less allegedly based on nepotism, favouritism, apathy and incompetence. 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 recurrent budget. 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 the province and local level will make no sense for the common people. The big challenge lies in instilling new culture and motivation in civil bureaucracy to work in line with the ethos of citizen centric service delivery according to the principle of subsidiarity.
It is surprising to note that almost all politicians tend to blame the bureaucracy for poor performance and weakened public delivery but when it comes to reforming civil service law according the modern concept of citizen-centric service delivery and downward accountability, ministers and legislators appear not very much interested to pursue the agenda.
It can be said that the passage of the bill in the form as it is now will not make any difference in bringing an effectiveness and efficiency in Nepal’s bureaucracy. Moreover, it will not serve and uphold the spirit of devolved structure of federal governance in the country. The federal constitution provisions for the sub-national civil service such as province and local civil services imply for the devolved system and process of recruiting civil servants in the country. However, the unnecessary and unwarranted delaying of the passage of the federal civil service law as mentioned above hampered the due process of creating devolved structure of civil bureaucracy in Nepal.

Preemptive initiative
However, the preemptive initiative of the Province 2 government needs to be mentioned .The provincial assembly has ratified the bill for the recruitment of the civil servants with a view to fulfilling the personnel requirement for the sub-national administration and management. The new law empowers the province government to recruit the personnel up to official level which will constitute a meaningful departure in the centre-province relations. However, the issues are not the structure of the civil bureaucracy but the competence, character and merit and on top of that ensuring sound accountability and responsiveness of the civil servants to the people.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. rijalmukti@gmail.com)