Friday, 30 October, 2020
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OPINION

Spotlight On Civil Administration



Mukti Rijal

The country’s bureaucracy is oftentimes placed under scrutiny. This time there are some reasons why bureaucracy has been critiqued in the media. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli himself expressed his displeasure over the functioning of the bureaucracy in his speech delivered to mark the fifth national constitution day stating that the national civil administration has not been able to cater with the spirit of the democratic political transformation that has taken place in the country. He mentioned that national civil bureaucracy had been supportive and helpful in the struggle for ushering in political change but when it comes to translating the values of the political change into practice, it has not lent the much anticipated support and cooperation.
The Prime Minister also referred to the operational difficulties posed by the provisions in the Public Procurement Act and emphasised on the need to make needed amendments in the statute. No sooner had the Prime Minister’s observation on the bureaucracy created some ripples than the allegedly partisan based selection of the bureaucrats to confer medals, decoration and commendations on the occasion of the Constitution Day drew much of the attention of media.

Inaction
It is especially pointed out that civil servants indicted for their lapses and abuse of authority are also reportedly selected for conferment of the medals, decorations, honors and commendations. However, there are institutional and structural issues that have come on the way of performance of bureaucracy. Mention must be made to the fact that the federal parliament is yet to thrash out issues and arrive at agreement on the provision to be enshrined in the law governing federal civil service in the country after five years of the enactment of the constitution. Since civil bureaucracy is a critically important vehicle for implementation of the constitution and laws, indecision and inaction on the part of the federal government to enact the most important law has thrown civil bureaucracy into the vortex of confusion. Some issues like the role of civil servants' unions and association, age-bar for retirement from civil service, recruitment, relationship with and accountability of the civil servants to three tier governments – federal, state (Pradesh) and local - have been disputed in the federal parliament.
The problematic issue that has delayed the process of parliamentary ratification is what is generally known as politics-administration dichotomy in the language used by scholars of public administration. Till now , the national government recruits civil servants for all tiers of the government contrary to principles of federalism despite the constitutional provision exists relating to the establishment of the Pradesh Service Commission. The central government wields the stick to discipline and rein in on the bureaucracy across all levels.
The debate in the parliament revolves around the issues of the accountability of the civil servants. Some parliamentarians are in favour of keeping central control over sub-national bureaucracy while other lawmakers are opposed to it due to the fact that this tends to repeat and recommit the unitary practice. Needless to say, the centre continues to recruit the key bureaucrats in the state and local administration in an apparent violation of principle of federalism.
In fact, both state and local government should have an important space to set terms to hire and retrench the civil servants to work under their respective purview. The civil servants are seemingly in favour of continuing their administrative control and answerability to the central agencies which they perceive will safeguard their interests. However, if overall dominance of civil servants is allowed to be retained at the expense of the authority of the elected representatives, it will transgress the spirit of federalisation of the state. As the several functions that used to be planned and implemented at the central level when the country was unitary rule have been constitutionally assigned to the state and local governments, sub national capacity to implement newly devolved functions needs to be enhanced and institutionalised.
This capacity can be bolstered only if the adequacy of trained and competent personnel, among others, is provided under the purview of the sub national government. However, contrary to the spirit of the federalism, the sizeable, if not bloated volume of the civil bureaucracy to the tune of forty-five thousand is being retained with the federal government at the centre. Since the constitution limits the number of ministries and departments at the federal level, the size of bureaucracy will have to be thoroughly downsized through organisation and management survey.

Competence
However, it appears that it is not going to take place. The top heavy bureaucratic structures are being kept without being recast and restructured. The elite personnel embedded and basking in the lucre of the central bureaucracy have reportedly resisted in joining in to work under the purview of sub-national government. In fact, Nepal’s bureaucracy is yet to adapt itself to the Max Weberian parameters characterised by legal-rational authority system. The legal rational authority system encompasses the fundamentals such as defined competence, selection by merit and achievement, impersonal operations, separation of public funds from private use and so on.
Now the time has come to take stock and review the institutional and structural setup of the national bureaucracy. The civil servants should undoubtedly be paid with handsome perks and remuneration but, as mentioned by the Prime Minister, they need to be made competitive and competent having a focus on outcome and results.

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

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