Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Decline Of Public Institutions

Mukti Rijal


Public institutions constitute the vital ingredients of the state. The functioning of the public institutions determines the effectiveness of the government. In broader sense, all the institutions funded by the government and governed by law such as parliament, judiciary, civil bureaucracy, government aided universities and hospitals also come under the ambit of public institutions. The modern state secures legitimacy and carries out its tasks of governance and development through a diverse range of public institutions. The societies are well governed and better organised to the extent that their public institutions can adequately manage and deliver services entrusted to them.
If public institutions are weak, fragile and cannot function effectively, the structure and function of the state is bound to decline and deteriorate. If public institutions cannot function effectively, social, political and economic development of the nation stagnates leading to the deterioration of the people's livelihood. In Nepal, public institutions are getting weaker which has caused a deterioration in the functioning of the government. Taking the growing assault into the vitality of public institutions into account, intelligentsia, media persons  and citizen stakeholders are voicing their concerns  and venting their anguish over the  decline  of public institutions in the country.
At an interaction held the other day, professors, academics, physicians and law professionals, citizen stakeholders pointed at the political meddling in the affairs of the public institutions in the country. The attack on public institutions is carried out with a view to serve the vested partisan interests. The academics and civil society leaders who spoke in the interaction were worried over the continued and deliberate assault on the fabric of the public institutions and mindless attack on their rationale. One of the key speakers in the interaction shared his experiences while working as the Vice chancellor of the Tribhuvan University and told how the attempts were made to exert pressure on him from the political quarters to dance according to the partisan tune. But he said he was able to resist the pressures and also made an honest attempt in whatever way he could do to maintain the uprightness and integrity of the post he held.
His contention was that should one dare to speak with courage risking favours and personal returns, the meddling and interferences in the functional autonomy and free space of the public institutions could be defended and protected. Another speaker argued that politics and political parties are  an  inalienable  and necessary elements  of the democratic political system  but the degeneration  and  decline in the moral standards  spearheaded by the sole lust for power and pelf  is really a disturbing phenomenon.
Featured prominently in the discussion were the cases of   the Tribhuvan University and other universities where the political meddling and manipulation were at their worst form and manifestations. Recently, vice chancellor of the Tribhuvan University has been appointed but it is alleged that appointee's proximity to authority of the state was a determining factor in his selection. Likewise, the government is reportedly considering to pick the political loyalists through a negotiated sharing (Bhagbanda) at the apex positions of the remaining four universities where such positions are lying vacant for long. 
The speakers in the interaction stressed that the public institutions should be allowed to function independently and effectively according to law without any interference. The state authorities should respect the democratic provision and rule of law in letter and spirit. Rule of law and supremacy of legal system should be adhered to in an institutionalised manner. It does make sense if authorities are not sincere enough to uphold the sanctity and integrity of public institutions. In fact, the institutional behavior should be patterned and guided by value and norms based on democratic principles and sanctity of rule of law. The speakers contended that no public institutions can change for better till   rent seeking tendencies exist among politicians and bureaucratic authority. Intellectual elites and civil society should bear moral courage and conviction to stand up against the scrupulous interferences without being seduced and influenced by the lure of power and position. In fact, the authorities heading the public institutions should play key role to keep from the undue political meddling.
Some discussants with their diagnostic perspectives pinned blame on the
mushrooming splinter groups of unions beholden to the fragmented
politics for deterioration of the public institutions. For example, even the core service like education and health have been riddled with the  roughshod
riding of the unions.
The politicisation in the affairs of the public institutions has been executed through these unions at the beck and call of the political parties. For example, according to a discussant, a premier hospital in the capital city   has at least four trade unions each jostling for meddling in the internal affairs of the hospital. The interaction ended up with the note that that the interventionist tendencies of the state authorities can be corrected only when civic sphere is independent and strong enough to withstand and stonewall the unscrupulous meddling into the functioning of the public institutions.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at