Sunday, 11 April, 2021
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OPINION

Enhance Competence Of Civil Servants



Hira Bahadur Thapa

 

As the Federal Parliament convenes on March 7 in line with the Supreme Court’s verdict, stakeholders of civil service expect the lawmakers to finalise the long-pending Civil Service Act. Delayed passage of the Act has procrastinated vital reforms needed to enhance the morale, efficiency and accountability of the civil servants. If frequencies of amendments to Nepal Civil Service Act are any guide, we have hardly been pragmatic. No long-term vision has been the order of the day in terms of amendments in the Act and attendant regulations.
Unions of civil servants have mushroomed with the advent of multiparty system in the country in the late 1990s. Adherents of such unions have long argued that they are meant to contribute to the welfare of the government employees. In reality, union leaders have had the chance to take undue advantage by claiming their quotas in the placement and transfer of the civil servants in lucrative posts.

Interference
Their interference in governance has been so pervasive that the secretarial staff in different government departments and ministries have hoodwinked their own bosses wielding the weapons of union membership. This scenario has been a bitter pill to swallow especially for the law-abiding, dedicated, sincere, hard-working and meritorious personnel, whose professional ethics prevents them from surrendering to the union leaders, or knocking at the doors of political masters to have their self-interests served at the expense of the institutions they are associated with.
The provisions of Act seek to ensure that the bureaucrats are provided the opportunities for the advancement of their careers. For this purpose, the civil servants have to fulfill certain criteria to rise the ladder of promotion. One of the most frequently practised tools for giving career promotion is the system of evaluation of work performance of each personnel, which is done by the seniors who supervise the work. Karya Sampadan Mulyankan Forms or work evaluation forms are required to be filled up by every employee at the end of the year. Once the employee completes the filling-up of the forms, the same are submitted to the immediate supervisor, who having supervised the employee’s work, allots the ranking of performance. In the supervisor’s evaluation, the performance could be either satisfactory, or good or extraordinary.
The supervisor’s evaluation is submitted to his boss, who is supposed to review the same, and in this case also rankings are allotted likewise. Finally, the evaluation takes place at the committee level in which the secretary of the concerned ministry holds the sway. The conventional wisdom is that a committee of more than one person will have reviewed the evaluation more objectively. The system of performance evaluation in itself is not flawed, what is problematic is the way the supervisors, reviewers have been playing their roles remaining oblivious of their duties. Because of the incompetence of the evaluation team, the system has not been productive so far.
The filling-up of work evaluation forms has been turned to be a routine affair, which every employee does at the end of the year and remains assured of being allotted the highest rating. The supervisors and the reviewers have utterly failed in their roles in making objective evaluation of the very personnel whose work they supervise. This scribe vividly recalls how his boss at the New York mission of Nepal to the United Nations in the 1990s, got everyone in the office disciplined and focused on their assignments be it in the attendance of the GA committee meetings at the UN or writing reports on them on time, among others.
He boldly defied all political interference and announced that he favoured efficiency, punctuality, dedication, and sincerity. Hence, we couldn’t claim equal rating of performance. His ratings were kept secret as it should have been the case. Should any organisational head follow his footsteps, there is no reason why the existing system of work evaluation remains redundant. It verily depends on those who evaluate their subordinates. It is objectivity that matters.
A few years ago, former General Administration minister had launched a campaign to do away with anomalies besetting the bureaucracy. But some interest groups wanted to foil his drive. He sought to punish cheating bureaucrats, a majority of whom were officers. Those, who secretly obtained the permanent residency cards of foreign countries, the US, in particular, while serving the Nepal government, were his targets. Obtaining such permits without the government’s approval is unethical. On morality grounds, the behaviour of such civil servants was totally untenable but unfortunately, the minister was forced to withdraw his proposal despite merits.

Doable reforms
There may be a number of doable reforms that can be pursued through appropriate amendments in the new Civil Service Act. One of the most repressive provisions in the existing law is related to the reduction of marks due for geographical regions to those civil servants, who are officially sent abroad for training or higher studies. The logic behind non-allotment of any marks in this connection is that those civil servants are not serving in any region of the country during their training or academic pursuit. This is hundred per cent illogical. Acquisition of job-related training or an academic degree from any advanced country enhances civil servants’ efficaciousness, which indirectly serves the national interests. They should have been rewarded for becoming more skillful and knowledgeable.
Let us not eliminate incentives for strengthening the capacity of civil servants, whose roles in national development, more so in federal structure, can hardly be underrated. It is more than appropriate that the lawmakers will have their sense prevail when the parliament reconvenes later this week and remove the provisions that punish the talented and meritorious government employees.

(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008-09. thapahira17@gmail.com)