Dr. Narendra Raj Paudel
Today, we are celebrating the 16th Civil Service Day in Nepal. It is the day to review our working culture, dissect our efforts and their consequences and plan for the future action keeping citizens at the centre of the system. Constitutionally, the Nepali Civil Service (NCS) is assumed the right hand of the Government of Nepal (GoN) to implement commitments and promises made before citizens by political parties in order to promote national interest and human rights, abolish discrimination against women, children, elderly people, ethnicity and regions and maintain justice in the Nepali society through good governance.
Meritocracy is the main principle adopted in the constitution to execute each decision for serving the Nepalis. The NCS as a permanent government has to deliver the public services at the doorstep of the citizens.
With the realisation of such discrepancy between constitutional prescriptions and the reality of the NCS, many reform strategies such as rightsising, downsising, contracting out, outsourcing, inclusion, performance evaluation/appraisal, social accountability in the Civil Service Act and Regulations and other associated policies in the NCS are introduced by the government amid growing criticism about policy implementation in Nepal against NCS and incumbent government.
The impact of such reform measures in the NCS has been negligible. As per annual reports submitted to the President of Nepal, the judiciary settles only 50 per cent of cases registered in the court. The Commission for Investigation of the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) shows a drastic increase of corruption-related cases in all tiers of government. The Auditor General’s Office shows only about 50 per cent of the developmental budget is spent in capital formation projects. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also outlines the cases of human rights violation have increased throughout the country.
Likewise, Multiple Poverty Index as per the National Planning Commission (NPC) shows that one out of four Nepali is below the poverty line. The Human Development Index of Nepal is neither good nor bad. Nepali’s per capita income is comparatively in low bracket. If we analyse this figure among the ordinary people, we find a much serious situation of the income level of rural and ordinary citizens.
If we talk about employability of the quality education service delivery, we find it in a seriously questionable condition in both school and higher education levels. Other livelihood related public services such as drinking water supply, road and transportation, peace and security, health service delivery, and other public services are also below satisfactory level.
Likewise, the legislature-parliament formulates a few policies because the representatives have more interest in running the administration and mobilising financial resources rather than focusing on policy formulation and its analysis whereas civil servants are found interested in policy formulation rather than its implementation for an effective service delivery. Politicians are seen blaming the NCS for not supporting them and vice-versa. This tendency has worsened the situation day by day for ordinary and independent citizens. Whatever their tug-of-war, ordinary citizens are not getting public services on time even though politicians are elected by the citizens and the civil servants are recruited through the PSC only for the service of citizens.
To make both the people’s representatives and civil servants accountable, the government has introduced the provision of performance contract. This performance-enhancing mechanism is applicable from the top to the bottom level (minister to section officer). A performance contract is a written document which explains the result to be achieved by the incumbent, the responsibility to fulfill and the target to meet. More specifically, the performance contract made by the government emphasises the goal of the office, the human and non-human resources required for, timeframe for accomplishment, result to achieve, evaluation criteria/indicators of performance, situation to cancel performance indicator and given authority to the incumbent.
Keeping these ideas in mind, the performance contract can be analysed from result, behaviour and consequences/impact perspectives. The standard set by the government basically focuses on the result and associated factors. However, this contract is silent about the behavioural part of his/her boss, peer, and sub-ordinates along with unseen cadres of the political master. There are other evil issues that need more inter-departmental coordination and collaboration for better performance. The contract is totally silent about consequences/impact-oriented performance. No civil servant and elected representative is ready to be accounted for their job accomplishment when it concerns the consequences of their job.
Therefore, pertinent questions before us include: Are we able to reward the best contributors and new idea generators in the NCS? Do we want to retain the best performer in the NCS? Do we stop pleasing and policing attitude in the NCS? If we do not improve our working culture/environment, whatever policy we introduce we may not get success. The past experiences of Nepal also support this argument. The example can be drawn from incentive plan in four ministries later on extended to other departments and implementation of the Minimum Conditions and Performance Measurement in the local bodies previously. We never discuss what were the merits and demerits of these attempts made by the GoN. Without learning from our attempts, we never improve our performance level even if the attempt is the best success.
In this case, honesty and cooperation among civil servants and politically elected representatives play a vital role in the implementation and delivery of public services to the people. Likewise, the experience of England also highlights the cross-sector partnership of public, private and civil society a success of performance contract. In the Netherlands, the performance-based contract has generated new ideas for public service delivery. Each organizational theory in public administration discipline has explained the economy, effectiveness, equity and efficiency of the efforts when it concerns performance. However, the discourse in this regard is going on. What kinds of factors may enhance or impede performance contract in Nepal is too early to predict specifically.
Despite these facts, there are few flaws which concern performance contract in view of global experience. Old working culture of the specific country dominates the performance contract and turns into a ritual as earlier. Top management (minister and secretary) is not ready to listen to and receive feedback and there is deficiency of honest interaction among actors and stakeholders when it concerns performance contract. Many top-position leaders are much interested to take credit of innovative service delivery without making their effort for it. This performance contract may treat the incumbent like a machine. Such tendency may erode the collaboration of the incumbent. In case of Nepal, frequent transfer of civil servant, welcome to the civil servant who has nexus, rule breaching attitude for personal benefit rather than institution are serious concerns in regard to performance contract implementation. Such tendency disturbs the working culture in the NCS.
Thus, rationality of civil service day in the NCS is that civil servants and political masters should collaborate with each other keeping citizens at the centre. They are duty bearers for citizens. Therefore, citizens have a right to hold them, account their performances and finally reward/punish them.
(Dr. Paudel is an Associate Professor at Tribhuvan University)