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Bureaucracy: Selected Articles

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Selected Articles:


Interview with Chief Secretary of GoN MADHAV GHIMIRE

From Ekantipur | Dec 27, 2010



Good bureaucracy helps build trust between govt and people


Bureaucracy in Nepal has often been accused of being non-responsive in service delivery. In the new political openness that started after the restoration of democracy in 1990, bureaucracy unfortunately became the victim of overt politicisation. In the current political transition, and in the polarized political context, it is even more important that the bureaucracy functions smoothly. So, what are the challenges and problems facing the country’s “permanent government?”  Pranab Kharel and Anil Giri met with Chief Secretary, Government of Nepal, Madhav P.Ghimire to solicit his views.


How do you see the evolution of bureaucracy over the years given that many commissions were instituted to look into reforming bureaucracy?


Nepali bureaucracy has a long history. Its role has been changing with the changes that have taken place in Nepal. In that sense, the role of bureaucracy is relative. It has to deliver services to the people, whose aspirations change with time. Also, the role and function of bureaucracy is affected by the change in the international context. So to keep the bureaucracy up to date with these changes and accordingly define its role, commissions are instituted. Among all the commissions formed, the one constituted under late Kul Shekhar Sharma in 1991 was the most important one, as it laid the foundation of modernising the bureaucracy. But not many recommendations made by the Sharma Commission or any other commission have been implemented. And there are reasons for that. One is that the recommendations made by Administrative Reform Commission could not be implemented on time. As a result, they became obsolete. And again the next commission is formed, but its recommendations are either unimplemented or only partially implemented. And the cycle goes on. As of now, we have the Administrative Restructuring Commission looking into the issues of administrative reforms. However, some of the recommendations made by earlier commissions can also be used as they are still relevant.


Now that the country is heading for a federal structure, has there been any preparation to bring the bureaucracy in line with it?


As the Chief Secretary of Government of Nepal, I have prioritised three things for the administration to focus on:


  • First, prompt and effective delivery of services to the people.
  • Second, we have to correct some of the  problems the past, in particular improvement in the promotion system as provisioned in (24gha1) the Civil Service Act to enhanced the morale of the thousands of civil servants to drive the country as per the changed context.
  • Third, since the country is heading towards a federal set up and we are in the midst of writing a new constitution, it is now time to think of the administrative mechanism in the federal context. And there are two schools of thoughts in this regard. One of them argues that the administrative reforms should take place only after determining the forms of governance. But I subscribe to the school of thought which argues that since the country is heading for federal structure, preparations must begin now to determine the administrative structure. If the State Restructuring Commission had been instituted, many of these concerns would have been taken care of. But we are trying to figure out things through the Administrative Reform Commission. Also we are doing a functional analysis of all the ministries to see how they would perform in the federal set up. We would also need to come up with a white paper on the overall administrative challenges facing the country [Why has this report/white paper not been prepared before? Isn't this supposed to be part of a continuous process evaluation for course correction even in the previous administrative reform attempts?]. This would also provide a guideline for the kind of federal system that we may opt for.


It is believed that in a federal system, strong local governance is a must. Is there any effort being made to strengthen local governments, which are perceived to be weak?


In the absence of the elected representatives for a decade, the local bodies have become weak. And it is the bureaucracy which has been managing the local governance. We have been running a lot of community based programmes. For instance, we have been handing over the management of schools to School Management Committees. And in other instances, communities have been managing health posts. For these activities, government has been providing grants. A lot of resources are going into the local governments, but the process of institutionalization has not been to the desired level. [Yes, but are there any objective evaluations of their successes? Is this a scalable approach at a national scale?]


There has been deep politicisation of local governance, as far as the distributions of resources are concerned.


What has been seen at the local level is the mismatch between accountability and responsibility. For instance, the bureaucracy working at the local bodies is responsible for ensuring the prudent use of resources. But the decision to distribute those resources is taken by local political mechanism. This mechanism does not bear the financial accountability. Hence it dilutes the sense of responsibility even when selecting programmes. In comparison, the community managed programmes tend to do well.


Let us go back to the question of evolution of Nepali bureaucracy. In the post-1990 situation, the bureaucracy became politicised. How do you compare the bureaucracy in the pre- and post-1990 Nepal?


It is difficult to compare the two set ups. Rather, we need to understand the context. In the pre-1990 stage, we were working in a closed system. The system of governance had a top-down approach. But if you look at the system today, it is completely different. It is more open, given that we work under a democratic regime and is more accountable towards people as against the pre-1990 set up, which only ensured bureaucratic accountability. But the openness, transparency and rule of law have also presented huge challenges and opportunities before the bureaucracy. Of late, there has been a perception that the bureaucracy is politicised. But, Nepal’s bureaucracy is highly professional and apolitical. It has to be understood that bureaucracy has to work closely with the political leadership to implement the programmes and policies of the government. And in doing so it has to maintain a its neutrality. But it has been noticed that there are certain problems. And sometimes they come from both sides—bureaucracy and politicians. Ideally, bureaucracy must remain apolitical. This will help both sides as I have said earlier. With a smooth and effective bureaucracy, policies and programmes of a government can be implemented, which in turn will increase the trust between the government and people.


How can we ensure an effective bureaucracy in such a politically charged environment?


If we have a system that is performance-based, then the bureaucrats will focus on his/her job. Secondly, we have to ensure that the governance is hassle-free and people can easily make use of the services available. For that we are focusing on transparency and accountability systems,  for example. Thirdly, there has to be a realisation than only an effective bureaucracy can deliver services and therefore the bureaucracy needs to be strengthened.


It seems that the reform programmes have only been confined at Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. And not much is taking place at other ministries and government agencies?


As the Office of the Prime Minister is the focal point where major policy related decisions take place, we have initiated certain reforms here. However, we are planning to take these programmes to various ministries as well. We have asked line ministries to send in the feedback on governance and corruption, corruption being a major challenge to governance. In fact there is a plan to form a committee of secretaries on governance. We are also prioritising the system of promotion based both on seniority and on performance to ensure quality in bureaucracy.


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