KATHMANDU — The nation marks the Civil Service Day, 2074 on Thursday around the slogan – ‘Commitment of Civil Servants: Transparency and Promptness’.
Known as the ‘permanent government’, the country’s civil service is however not free from criticisms ranging from sluggishness, pervasive red-tape, lack of transparency to being mired in corruption and over politicization. On top of this, it is also censured for not being pro-people, especially the poor and the marginalized. General administration gurus concur that the country’s civil service, although gradually improving over the last few decades, is still mired in deficiencies and ineptness.
In this backdrop, the theme of the Day this year is also very apt and timely, only if the country’s public servants from the top echelons to the lowest internalize its message and call into action the highest standards of a proficient civil service.
Article 51 B (4) of the Constitution of Nepal states that the country’s public administration would be made clean, capable, fair, transparent, corruption-free, responsive to the people and participatory to ensure good governance by guaranteeing equal and easy access to the people in the services and facilities provided them by the state.
Lack of transparency in practice in Nepal’s bureaucracy has spawned corruption and irresponsibility in it. Although initiatives at reforming the civil service had been made at different periods including during the Panchayat, in the post-democracy restoration and after Nepal turned into a federal, democratic republic polity, the culture of transparency has not been honestly internalized and practised.
Nepal is now constitutionally a federal, democratic republic and the sovereignty is vested in the people. However, there are many challenges in institutionalizing these values. A federal approach should make government more efficient and receptive to the demands of the people and access to quality public services largely depends upon the skills and motivation of the public servants who provide these services or oversee their delivery.
How inefficient Nepal’s public service is was witnessed in the lack of coordination and effectiveness in the rescue, rehabilitation and relief distribution in the immediate aftermath of the massive flooding that occurred in most parts of the Tarai Madhes this August. Similar is the case in terms of the post-earthquake rebuilding. It is now over two and half years since the devastating April 2015 earthquake, yet the earthquake affected people have not been rehabilitated and still living in temporary shelters in many districts. The incompetence of Nepal’s civil service becomes conspicuous whenever the situation calls for a very proficient service delivery from it.
The government’s major role is to deliver services to the people according to their demands and needs in a speedy, efficient and effective manner. By the same token, the role of the civil service is to serve the state in promoting public welfare by maintaining peace and order in society, making arrangements for just distribution of economic resources available in the country and running the development activities for overall socio-economic development.
Despite repeated efforts for reforms, Nepal’s civil service has many weaknesses. According to an option paper, ‘The Nepal Civil Service and Re-structuring of the State’, prepared in 2014 by the Ministry of General Administration with assistance from the UNDP, the weaknesses in the civil service are: the low level of motivation among the civil servants; too much bloated administrative machinery due to the government assuming the whole range of functions affecting people’s lives; unnecessary expansion in the number of government agencies and its employees; too many layers in the decision-making process; weak mechanism to make individual officials responsible; adopting new technology effectively remains a challenge; and lack of responsiveness towards citizens.
In the view of Prof Dr Bhimdeo Bhatta, an expert in public administration, the basic principles of federalism include making government more efficient and receptive to the demands of the people, and one of the main pillars of the federal state will be the civil service in the form of the institutions and functions of the executive arm of the government. These deliver basic services to citizens, maintain law and order, manage the economy and create an enabling environment for business. Access to quality public services depends on large measure on the skills and motivation of the public employees who provide these services or oversee their delivery.
And, it becomes incumbent on the country’s top bureaucrats, intelligentsia, civil society and the politicians to make a candid assessment of the level of performance of the civil service and effective measures to make it more efficient and pro-people as per the spirit of the federal democratic republic where the people are sovereign, on the occasion of the Civil Service Day 2017. RSS