Tuesday, 16 July, 2024

Civil Service, Politics And Politicians

Mukti Rijal


Nepali bureaucracy has been placed in an ad hoc and transient form from legal point of view in the absence of the federal civil service law. The draft of the law has been under consideration for almost three years at different levels due to one or the other reasons. Finally, it has reached the table in the parliament after a long haggling a few months ago. But the dissolution of the House of Representatives has thrown it into the vortex of uncertainty. It was expected to receive the seal of approval of the parliament during the winter session. Given the importance of the law to bring about certainty and give a boost the morale of the civil servants, it is also conjectured that the government will enact the law through promulgation of an ordinance. However, this seems unlikely as doing so will be construed and interpreted to influence the process of elections through an appeasement of bureaucracy.

Civil servants’ demand
Needless to say, the draft legislation reportedly does have the provision to revise upward the compulsory retirement age from fifty eight to sixty which was a long held demand of the civil servants. If enacted without any tampering further, the law can respond one of the major concerns of the civil bureaucracy. When we talk of the character of the Nepali bureaucracy, it has been assessed as a ritualistic and traditional institution. It has been argued that the bureaucracy in Nepal has acted as a brake to the pace of progressive social change and transformation.
Political leaders time and again complain of the non-cooperation of bureaucracy in realising their vision for forward looking development. Even the prime ministers and leaders are reported to have made pronouncement quite often against bureaucracy allegedly failing to keep pace and act accordingly in line with the drastic political change in the country. Talking about genesis of the institution of current model of bureaucracy in Nepal, it can be said that India’s bureaucratic milieu patterned along the line advocated and architecture by the British colonial administrators has been said to have lent its impact on it.
The Indian Public Service has been structured on the British pattern of division of services into the higher administration class and other subordinate technical services. The origin of such division can be traced to the emphasis in the famous Macaulay Report on the Indian Civil Service 1854 in colonial India. However, with the growth in the functions of government following its independence in 1947, some alterations have been made. But fundamental basis and character has not been changed very much.
The problem arises with respect to defining with precision the terms generalists and specialists in civil bureaucracy. A generalist may be defined as a public servant who does not have a specialised background. He or she is easily transferable to any department or branch of government. He or she has also been defined as a civil servant, who belongs to the managerial class and who is well up in rules, regulations and procedure of administration. On the other hand, specialist is generally meant a person who has special knowledge or skill in a specific field, for example, agriculture, engineering and so on.
In the Nepali bureaucracy, dominance and precedence of the generalist exists and civil servants are transferred to different government departments without considering their academic background assuming that they can handle their tasks due to their generalist background. Though different service categories are established and recruitment is carried out accordingly, this does not make any difference as generalists are placed at the commanding helm of the affairs. Another very fundamental aspect of the Nepali bureaucracy is its permanent tenure ensured through career progression in bureaucratic hierarchic order. Once a civil servant is recruited, he or she enjoys permanent tenure. A bureaucrat exits after he or she completes the age limit for compulsory retirement prescribed according to law. The permanent nature of bureaucracy is also said to be one of the causes of the stagnation and immobility in the civil service system.
Those enjoying permanent tenure seldom feel threatened. Neither do they feel challenged to update and equip themselves to respond to the contemporary needs and aspiration of the people. Sometimes, ministers and leaders feel helpless for their failure to make bureaucracy work effectively in delivering services to the people. The pathology of Nepal’s bureaucracy is that it is yet to adapt and develop itself into the organisation characterised by legal-rational authority. The legal rational authority encompasses the fundamentals such as defined competence of each office and officials, selection of officials by merit and achievement, universalism and impersonal operations, separation of public funds from private use and so on.

Conversely, it is more or less based on nepotism and personalised norms in official behaviour, widespread official corruption and so on. The bureaucracy is beholden to party politics and fragmented along the partisan lines. The civil servants organisations are tied to the factions within the political parties. News reports do indicate that the ongoing conflict in the ruling Nepal Communist Party has sent its ripples in the civil servants union too.
The civil bureaucracy is swallowing the bigger chunk of the national revenue indicated by ever growing size of the recurrent budget in the country. Even then it has failed miserably to perform according to the expectations of the people. Since the effective implementation of the government policy and programme is dependent upon the bureaucracy in federal set up, it is expected that the bureaucratic organisation is reformed and restructured as a citizen responsive and accountable apparatus of the state. Unless bureaucracy is made result-oriented, the devolved structural and functional arrangements at the sub-national level will make no sense for the common people.

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