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Administrative Reform & Good Governance

National seminar organized by Administrative Reform Recommendation Committee

07 June 2013

Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal
riturajsubedi@yahoo.com


Like country's shambolic politics, our bureaucracy seems to have also creaked under the strain. Stuck in a time warp, it has been unable to embrace the values of modern civil service - accountability, transparency, sincerity, efficiency and result-oriented performance. Nepali civil service witnessed many ups and downs at both political and administrative levels. It successfully rode out the political upheavals but it could not pass through transformative changes as per the need of the time. Myriad initiatives were taken in the past to bring about drastic administrative reform but they are still far from realization. Its unresponsive nature and propensity to stick to procedural complexities and bureaucratic jargons has deprived itself from becoming a darling of the people. The modern approach has it that the public servants should not only deliver customer services; they should also deliver democracy to the people. Therefore, the Nepalese bureaucracy has to shoulder multiple responsibilities to live up to the public expectations in the changed context.

With the nation ushering in the federal system, its must undergo a radical shake-up and restructuring for converting it into an efficient and inclusive entity so that it will be able to provide better services to the people. Keeping it away from the political intervention and overbearing influence of the trade unions is another big challenge for it. Against this backdrop, Administration Reform Recommendation Committee (ARRC) convened a gathering of senior politicians, top bureaucrats and related stakeholders to collect their insightful ideas to prepare a document on administrative reform. The FES-Nepal joined hand with the ARRC for a brainstorming session on the 'Constitutional Accountability and Administrative Reform in the Context of Good Governance' that saw the presentation of three thematic papers and comments on them by a wide range of participants. Besides, leaders from major parties put forth their opinions on good governance and other aspects of administrative reforms on the occasion. The national seminar was divided into two parts - opening and paper presentation sessions.

Opening session:

Call for radical shake-up of bureaucracy

Former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal observed that the administration system demanded a radical overhaul to make it accountable to the people.

The leaders and the bureaucrats should learn to manage time, which is the precondition for the administrative reforms, he said, added, "We are in the slow lane in every sector because we could not manage time well. Time is money and should not be wasted. "

There has been dilatory tendency while dealing with the official works and complaints of the customers, he noted. He said that the government should hunt for talents and bring them in the civil service. "The practices of promoting favoritism, greasing the palm and offering bribery behind the table should be ended," he said and called for developing bureaucracy as an apolitical body.

He said that the political stability, non-corrupt government and law-abiding leadership were necessary to ensure good governance in the country. "Meritocracy and capability should be given priority and age and seniority should not be dominant when it comes to the starred promotion of the civil servants," he added.

Terming the overbearing influence of trade unions as chronic problem, he called for ending anarchism in the civil service.

As we have already adopted federalism, we need to devise a plan about the structure of bureaucracy and number of ministries under new political system, he said, and added that the size of the parliament at the centre should be small.

Recalling his tenure as a PM, Nepal said that he tried to gather the ex-PMs together to gauge how well they performed and what they did to bring reform in the bureaucracy during their respective terms but it was difficult to convene them and efforts could not bear fruit.

Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety said that administrative reforms were possible only when political and legal reforms were carried out successfully.

"Elements of impartiality and morality must be imbued into the civil servants to make them responsible towards the people," he said.

"However, political reform is impossible without electoral reform. So, we decided to keep one per cent threshold provision for the political parties to get seats under the proportional representation system.

Likewise, the candidates should submit the details of their expenditures made during the poll to make sure that the financial activities of the parties would be transparent, he said.

Chief Secretary Lila Mani Poudel said that there was the need of promoting modern culture of bureaucracy, which put emphasis on timely monitoring, professionalism, transparency, accountability and result-oriented performance.

"In the old bureaucracy, there is a tendency to execute works behind the veil of secrecy and civil servants have a propensity to be obedient to the orders of higher-ups, and as our civil service has inherited such an old culture, it must change with the pace of time. We are working our fingers to the bone to change it," he said.

Poudel expressed his concern that the bureaucracy was losing its unified characteristic and heading towards fragmentation after it came under the heat of ethnic politics.

He was critical of political leadership and the 'highhandedness' of trade unions.

"There is the need of drawing a borderline between the right and duty of trade unions, and a definition of collective bargaining," he said, adding that the trade unions' influence on the bureaucracy should be kept at bay if impartiality and neutrality are to be maintained.

He said that the idea of collective barging came into existence with the industrial development. There workers sought more wages and other facilities through collective bargaining but this could not be exactly replicated in the civil service where the white-collar people work."

Chief Secretary also hauled the joint-secretaries and secretaries over the coals for being too submissive before their higher authorities.

"They are not outspoken and dynamic. The joint-secretaries act just as a handmaiden of the chief secretary, and the joint-secretaries to secretaries," he added

"There is a vicious nexus between the police, smugglers and politicians, and this must be broken," he added.

He said that the administration has been in tight spot - on one hand it has not institutional capacity to deliver, on the other, there is soaring public demand to provide services to them.

On the deteriorating conditions of the public enterprises, Poudel said that the political intervention had destroyed them and they lacked the ability to settle internal conflicts within office as the employees go to knock the door of the court to solve minor disputes between the management and the employees.

Nepali Congress leader Dr. Narayan Khadka said that the dynamic, capable and efficient bureaucracy was the need of the time.

"The civil servants should first change their old mindset to make effective and timely delivery of goods and services," he added.

Khadka admitted that the administration had been bristled with many paradoxes owing to its heavy politicization, so, it must be de-politicized to ensure impartiality and accountability.

The bureaucracy should act upon the decisions made at the top political level but it must be detached from the political interferences.

The political parties must forge consensus on some vital matters such as the number of ministries, hydropower development, education and land reform policy as the country was heading toward implementing the federal set-up.

ARRC coordinator Kashi Raj Dahal said that there was the need to instill a sense of professionalism in bureaucracy and moral values in the politics.

"Value-based politics is dwindling, resulting into the rise of mass disenchantment in the public about the political system," he said.

The bureaucracy is also witnessing the erosion of professionalism and ethical values. He also asked the participants to review the provisions of inclusiveness asking them whether it has weakened meritocracy in the civil service.

"In the name of inclusiveness, only a handful of people have benefited from this provision," he claimed.

Dahal said that the state had been emasculated with the international elements increasing their role in the internal affairs of the country.

He sought the opinions of participants on the number of ministries, the role of trade unions, inclusiveness and civil service acts related to age limit during the seminar.

Dahal mooted that a local service commission should be formed and the political parties should displayed their will power to strengthen the security organs.

Foster centripetal forces: Dahal

Head of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Dev Raj Dahal said that good governance called for a judicious balance in the demands of citizens and the supply of the production and provision of public goods and service by the state, private sectors and civil society across the social classes and geographic regions.

"Governance-effectiveness rests on fostering the centripetal forces of society and establishing state-society coherence through national self-determination of politics, constitutional laws and development policies without being prejudiced to humanitarian codes and meeting essential, freedom-enhancing and transformational means.


Dahal noted that constitutional bodies are macro institutions engaged in defining broad parameters of governance goals - national security, rule o flaw, voice, civic participation, service delivery and non-violent resolution of conflict and offering its normative compass for accountability, transparency and equity. "The state needs to stand above parliamentary-executive-judicial nexus and work together with feedback receiving and demand-converting institutions, such as political parties, interests groups, civil society and media."

Dahal quoted the report of the Administrative Reforms Recommendation Committee 2013 to mention main obstacles to professional development of bureaucracy- the direct interference by the ministers and political leaders, opaque donation to political parties, poor implementation of Civil Service Act, delayed adoption of new information technology and lack of timely investment in priority planning.

"The political system requires establishing the unified application of law in the entire society through the strengthening of its national integrity system to restore democratic equilibrium and outlaw lethal agents of the system - corruption, nepotism, discretionary authority and impunity," he added.

He further observed that is necessary to build a system that protects citizens from the risks of poverty, design public policy and program to reach out to them to avert the global system assessment of Nepal's fragile context and muddle through a hopeful future cobbling together right policies and increasing the confidence of citizens.

Paper Presentation Session

The one-day seminar saw three working papers- 'Administrative Reform in the Context of Good Governance: The Areas of Challenges and Reforms' by Krishna Hari Baskota, secretary at the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers; The Challenges of Civil Service and the Ways of Reforms by Umesh Mainali, former secretary of government of Nepal and The Reforms in the Public Administration for the Flow of Result-Oriented Service by professor Dr. Shree Krishna Shrestha, head of Central Public Administration Department, Jamal, TU.

The gist of Krishna Hari Baskota's paper:

The Nepalese bureaucracy is oriented towards delivering a hassle-free service to the people. For this, e-service needs to be developed and modern equipments should be brought into use. We should reform the ways the services are provided to the customers by identifying the problems. We have promoted the policy of providing the services by turning up on the doorsteps of the service seekers through the integrated mobile services such as the distribution of citizenship certificates, conduction of health camps and collection of public suggestions and advices.

The desire and enthusiasm of opening up the model government offices are rising. A variety of measures have been pursued. The decentralization of administrative federalism is now a burning issue. It is natural that the people fail to get service when all rights are concentrated at the centre. Likewise, they have to pass through various difficulties in getting services in the absence of all concerned offices in the districts. The idea that the existing four thousands VDCs should be reduced into one thousand with one officer level employee designated at every VDC has also come to the fore. This is for restructuring the local bodies into enhanced and effective institutions.

The measures suggested for the administrative reforms:

  • The administrative reform is a continuous process, which should be pursued by formulating standard operation procedure that will also help attain total quality management,
  • The concept of ombudsman should be applied in every government office by forming a quality circle, and an administrative court should be formed to review the decisions of the administrative sector. A Whistleblower Act is also necessary to be applied, at the same time there is the need to strike a balance between right to information and right to privacy acts wherein lies the vibrancy, activeness and popularity of the bureaucracy,
  • The function of the bureaucracy is to facilitate, enable, regulate, protect, coordinate, mobilize resource, monitor and evaluate. For the effective of which, directory and standards are to be devised. The principle of right man in right place should be implemented,
  • In essence, the bureaucracy should run on the basis of principal agent theory. The services provided by it should be time-bound. It should be client-centric, not the boss-centric. The civil service needs to be divided into two categories - professional and executive groups based on H3 principle and hierarchy system should b revived to strengthen it.
  • Effective, efficient, quality, transparent, impartial and complaint-free services should be given to the customers, which is also the final destination of good governance.

The gist of Umesh Mainali's paper

Irrespective of the nature of the government, the bureaucracy is a mechanism to impose the government's will and deliver the regime's values. It is also described as the cutting edge of the government, the government on the spot and the government in action. The state's laws are not implemented by themselves. So are the government's policies and the concept of good governance. For this, it requires a capable and disciplined mechanism, and the civil service is its very engine to execute its policies and programmes. The civil service provides impartial counseling to the political leadership through the neutral expertise; it implements approved policies and distributes public services through the implementation of laws. Besides, it is a messenger to distribute the values of loktantra to the people. It is not just a group of professionals appointed by the government to run its administration. It differs from other services by virtue of its distinct characteristics - its formal procedures, its selection criteria, meritocracy, impartiality, neutrality and pension system.

The Nepalese bureaucracy has often drawn flak because of its unreceptive culture, slow working style and unfriendly conduct it has developed over the years. Such a criticism leveled against it is not unnatural given that it has to work with different interest groups. Politicians say that the civil servants infringe upon their domain; the businessmen gripe that they exercise more control; the intellectuals chastise them for having little intelligence; citizens accuse them of restricting their freedom and service-recipient grouse that they promote red tape. These anomalies have grown within the bureaucracy owing to the internal weaknesses and lack of external favour. As a result, they have no longer become 'people's darling'. The strength of civil service lies in its expertise, experience, knowledge and access to secrecy. But, the tendency of depriving the people from their access to information under the cloak of secrecy, treating the people as a phantom public and preferring the participation experts to the citizens is high in the bureaucracy. The employees' unions formed for their professional rights and job security have been morphed into the sister organizations of the political parties. They are preoccupied with the managerial works such as transfer and starred promotion, inviting conflict with the people in the leadership. This has brought two anomalies in the sector: firstly, it has destroyed a command of unity; and secondly, even the service sector has been politicized. Following suggestions could be useful to carry out reforms in the sector:

  • Balancing the loktantrik and administrative values,
  • Transforming the civil service into multicultural entity from monoculture body,
  • Turning it into federal model from unitary system,
  • Checking the de-professionalisation of the service,
  • Managing diversity,
  • Developing pro-people culture within bureaucracy,
  • Making it accountable to the people,
  • Managing the trade unions,
  • And converting it into an organization of high moral values,

The gist of Professor Dr. Shree Krishna Shrestha's working papers:

Administrative reforms, which are a continual process, are driven by the need of the change in the surroundings and innovative researches being carried out in the field. The existing administrative system, mechanism and behaviour might not suit the changing circumstances. It should be goal-oriented. If the reforms are carried out by concentrating only on present problems, such an approach might bump up against even bigger challenges and be costly in the future. In the past, public administrative reform initiatives were confined only to the internal consolidation. The result-oriented service always attaches a greater importance to the target group. Therefore, this working paper argues that administrative reforms should be always citizen centric. It offers following measures for the administrative reforms:

  • Building a citizen-centric structure: The flow of the service could be effective if the existing 'program-oriented,' 'work-oriented,' 'procedure-oriented' structure is converted into 'customer-oriented' one. The hierarchical structure could pose as a big challenge. The people-centric structure gives emphasis on developing a mechanism to enquire about the citizens' needs, acting on the information received from the people, and formulating the service standards. It will be appropriate to apply the concept of the collaborative and connected government for the purpose.
  • Optimal use of technology: There should be optimal use of technology to simplify and make credible the process of the flow of the service
  • Effective management: An effective delivery of service requires an effective management. Human resource development, starred promotion, career development, financial incentive and evaluation are some important elements to make the management strong and efficient.
  • The participation of citizens: The citizens' participation in the service delivery is important in building the citizen-centric structures. It helps in framing the standard of service and implementing and monitoring of the service delivery.
  • Collaboration and networking with other agencies: The networking and collaboration with the private sector and civil society will further benefit the service seekers. This creates environment for further reform in the public administration.
  • Human resource development: The capacity building of the service providers is very important to bring about changes in their institutional culture and conduct. The human resources should be highly motivated and committed, and equipped with managerial skill and IT knowledge.
  • Political will and commitment: The political will and commitment is a first step towards bringing about administrative reforms. It is the political leadership that provides necessary resources, rights and term of references to the public administration. The efficient and objective monitoring of the public administration by the political leadership makes it dynamic and accountable.

Comments from the floor

Bimal Koirala, former chief secretary

Good governance is a broader concept and should not be confined only to the administrative reform. It requires the optimal use of available resources to ensure good governance. The bureaucrats should change their mindset and try to replicate the idea of inclusiveness in the administrative system. The lack of political will has hampered to bring about administrative reforms. In a clash between traditional and modern forces, it is the traditional forces that have always prevailed over the latter. The people's participation is a must to design the administrative service. Unless electoral, political, judiciary and police reforms are carried out, the administrative reforms are unlikely. Almost all institutions in the country are in decrepit condition and they need to be revamped. We have to develop a responsive bureaucracy. An ad hoc and patchy formula are unlikely to shake it up.

Bhoj Raj Pokharel, secretary

We should speak few and do more. We should develop the habit of implementing what is said instead of making voluminous promises. Change in the attitude is necessary.

Sambhu Sharan Kayastha, former secretary

A political reform is the key to the administrative reform. Political commitment has not so far been implemented. The partisan interests are dominant. The provision of civil service needs to be mentioned in the constitution. The political interference must be stopped. The permanent status the civil servants enjoy has been abused. As per the existing Civil Service Act, the employees are not bound to obey the unreasonable orders of the ministers. The maximum degree of action the secretaries face from the minister is their transfer. Not more than this. So, they should stand firm in their decision. The bureaucrats need to be responsive and focus on the supply side of the service.

Jyoti Baniya

The people have not realized the reforms in the administrative sector. The market is chaotic and behaves rudely towards the consumers while the private sector and the trade unions are pampered. This should be checked. No research has been carried out for reforms. Police's campaign to control the drunk-driving is praiseworthy. The people are terrorized when the election approaches because with election, the prices of essential commodities reach stratosphere.

Balananda Sharma, former retired general

When the predecessors fail to carry out timely reforms, their successors have to face a lot of problems. The women representation in the bureaucracy is scanty and their participation needs to be increased. Without a political will, the good governance is just a far cry. The bureaucracy should honestly take up the matters raised in this seminar and move to materialize them.

Bhimdev Bhatta, administration expert

Decentralization should be promoted by empowering of the local bodies. For this, minimum budget should be allocated. The experiment of federalism has begun and the bureaucracy should be restructured accordingly.

Som Lal Subedi, secretary

A sense of highhandedness is deeply ingrained in the bureaucracy with the trade unions exhibiting their overbearing manner. The secretaries face political interferences. Our hands and feet are tied by the de facto power of somebody. If the top down approach is taken, the reforms from the below will naturally take place. The existing laws should be implemented instead of formulating the new ones.

Krishna Gyawali, secretary

Forward-looking conclusions need to be adopted. The contexts and contents are interrelated. We should take into account as to in which context the reforms are feasible - during the time of transition or in the period of political stability. A reform implementation committee should be formed to translate the recommendations made for the promotion of good governance into action.


Lila Mani Poudel, chief secretary

In order to bring about timely changes in the bureaucracy, the senior bureaucrats should assume the risk-taking culture, not the risk-averse one. One cannot be innovative and risk-averse at the same time. The efforts should be made to make bureaucracy inclusive. The trade union members should not be the members of any political party.

Conclusion

  • Civil servants should adopt modern culture of bureaucracy,
  • They should be ready to adopt risk-culture,
  • Secretaries should not suck up to chief secretary
  • People's participation is necessary to design services
  • A balance between right to information and right to secrecy is necessary,
  • Political interference and highhandedness of trade unions need to be discouraged,
  • Bureaucracy is a vehicle to deliver democratic values to the people,
  • It should be citizen-centric to provide enhanced services to the customers,
  • Civil servants must be accountable to the people
 
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