Thursday, 3 December, 2020

Ensure Effective Service Delivery

Uttam Maharjan

The Civil Service Day is being observed today without much fanfare owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the main celebratory function has been cancelled, the concerned government offices can organise the indoor activities on the occasion by maintaining physical- and social distancing. This year the Civil Service Day’s motto is 'Clean and Competent Civil Administration: Prosperity And Good Governance '. The observation of the Day is a token of recognition of hard work civil servants put in for public service delivery. The first Civil Service Day was observed in Nepal in 1961 BS on the heels of the promulgation of the Nepal Civil Service Act and Regulations in 1956 BS during the premiership of Tanka Prasad Acharya. The Act and Regulations were required to be promulgated in a new democratic system after the country had freed itself from the shackles of the Rana oligarchy in 1951 BS.
The role of civil servants in the administration of the county is paramount. In fact, civil servants are the engine of the bureaucracy that keeps the administration rolling. They work in various departments of the government and contribute to the implementation of the policy and programmes formulated by the government from time to time. In a sense, civil servants and the government are like bedfellows. Being accountable to the government, they obey the instructions of the government and help the government in achieving its various objectives.

Secure job
The Civil Service is a much-sought-after job market in Nepal. Young, talented and energetic people aspire to join the Civil Service. One of the reasons for this is that Civil Service jobs are of a permanent nature. Even after quitting the job after working for a certain time, civil servants are entitled to a pension facility. So Civil Service jobs are not only permanent but also secure. The government may come and go and elected ministers may change, but civil servants are always there, working under the guidance of the concerned ministers. Even if political upheavals take place prompting a regime change, civil servants will keep on working for the country and people.
The role of civil servants in the domain of public service delivery is all the more important. People generally want prompt services, be it in transport management offices or land revenue offices or district administration offices. It is the duty of civil servants to deliver services honestly, without procrastination and even without political prejudice. After all, they are hired employees of the government, drawing their salary from the state coffers. Red tape is a chronic malady in government offices. People are literally made to run from pillar to post while seeking services in government offices. A long process of completing work and an inclination towards procrastination are some of the factors that hinder the effective service delivery system.
When the country was declared a republic with federal structure, people expected a change in the service delivery mechanism for the better. But there has not been any appreciable change in the mechanism much to the chagrin of people. Civil servants should not let down people. They are hired by the government to serve people effectively. They should, therefore, change their mentality and fulfil their responsibilities in such a way as to leave no room for people or service-seekers to complain.
The polity of the country has changed. We are in a federal era. Unlike in a multi-party democracy and the Panchayat regime, the federal system has three layers of government: federal, state and local. This arrangement is designed to give people easy access to basic services and facilities and enable them to participate in policy formulation. The arrangement ensures a participatory approach to development so that development works can be expedited in their particular location.
For this, the government tried to adjust civil servants for deployment to subnational governments some two years ago. But some civil servants revolted strongly against this move of the government. They were reluctant to work at subnational level due to perceived fear of getting lower facilities and incentives as well as getting less opportunity for promotion and career development. However, the government took drastic measures to complete the adjustment process.
In a new federal context, a new act regarding the Civil Service is required. Realising this, the government presented the Federal Civil Service Bill 2075 at the House of Representatives two years ago. But some of the provisions in the draft do not commend themselves to civil servants. Civil servants are not happy with such proposed provisions as those relating to curtailment of trade union rights, internal competition, promotion criteria and the age bar for open competition. They also claim that their monetary and non-monetary benefits guaranteed by the previous Act and Regulations will be retrenched, which may demotivate the existing employees as well as those interested to enter the Civil Service. So they are in no mood to let the government enact the Bill into the Act without amending the undesirable provisions.

It is unfortunate that the Bill has been shelved for the last two years. There is no doubt that the Federal Civil Service Act is a must in a federal setup. The government seems to be taking no action on the Bill. It is high time the government held negotiation with civil servants and other stakeholders and come up with a civil servant-friendly Act so that civil servants will be highly motivated to work for the government and people and those aspiring to Civil Service job will also be attracted towards it.
Last but not least, for the bureaucracy to function well, there should be synergy between the government, civil servants and people. The success of federalism largely depends on civil servants, who are the driving force behind giving a fillip to development works, fulfilling aspirations of people and, more importantly, sustaining the federal system.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.

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