By P. Kharel
Bureaucracy in Nepal has always been the subject of public criticism. Thing have aggravated for from bad to worse since the early 1990s after the restoration of multiparty polity to the present “loktantrik” times introduced since the spring of 2006.
According to press reports last week, the Government of Nepal is on the lookout for loans to the tune of Rs 26.40 billion from foreign agencies to encourage early retirement in the bureaucracy. The money thus envisaged is to dangle the sweetener to civil servants whose combined strength is apparently in excess of the actual requirement. At the same time, the government might be harbouring the hope that the loans would probably be written off as grants in the eventual run.
WHIMSICAL: Actually, the bloated size of staff members is not confined to the bureaucracy. Government-owned and run corporations, too, are infected with similar problems. Creation unnecessary posts to suit the personal whims and convenience of ministers and corporate chiefs obliged to politicians bend backwards to employ party cadres or relatives of those in power have lead to the existing mess.
In the education sector, for instance, almost all bureaucrats have faith in private schools and not government schools. It would be interesting to make a study of how many staffs at the Ministry of Education enroll their wards in schools run and paid for by the state. In tens of thousands of state-financed schools, teachers’ attendance and regularity of classes are extremely poor, though the salaries and facilities they are entitled are more attractive than those offered to an average teacher in the private sector.
In effect, civil servants who have no faith in government schools are the ones involved in making policies and recommending budgetary provisions for such public institutes. The press regularly reports of the infamous practice of “subcontracts” given to teachers. Permanent or temporary teachers pay less than half their monthly take home pay packet to individuals as a form of “sub-contract” in exchange of taking the load of classes assigned to the teacher turned educational feudal. It is a blatant case of a better-placed teacher exploiting a hapless fellow teacher. Barring exceptions, such gross dereliction of duty on such large scale did not occur.
To reiterate, who created this? Is the responsibility with partyless Panchayat, monarchical “autocracy” or the so-called democrats and pretentious loktantriks that have neither the roots nor the branches firm enough to support their claims of bringing a “new Nepal”? People now realise that “new” does not necessarily mean better. All along they have been taken for a ride with promises never meant to be fulfilled. In hindsight, the selection process was more credible during the bad old panchayat days.
We are familiar with frequent demands that all temporary staffs in various public sectors be made permanent “after fulfilling due procedure”. In other words, shun any fair and objective process but pretend to complete the demands of nominal technicality, shun meritocracy and make mockery of meritocracy.
DEMOCRACY MOCKED: In a country like ours, civil service is a super-privilege for those recruited. Where educated employment and underemployment is severe, the need for equal opportunity would exact the best of democratic practices.
Rampant politicisation of the bureaucracy and public corporate sector negates the very claim of “democracy” and the principle of reward and punishment based on merit. In the 1950s, too, the practice infected Nepal’s bureaucracy. Things improved during the partyless Panchayat decades, only to revive in the early 1990s, which has worsened to outrageous proportions in the past decade.
As the saying goes, leopards do not change their spots. The first elected government headed by Girija Prasasd Koirala, after the ban on political parties was lifted in 1990, persecuted civil servants by introducing a three-exit approach to forcibly retiring civil servants and employees in public corporation. Tens of thousands of employees were, as a result, victims of the government’s blatantly biased policy.
No reason was given for the enforced retirement and caused great suffering to the victims and their families. Quite a few victims moved the court and were eventually reinstated as the court of law found the multiple-exit policy without giving specific ground for the marching order outright discriminatory.
COMPLICITY CORRUPTS: The biased retrenchment order was privately welcomed by employees who had much to gain by enhanced prospects of early promotion. Their complicity in silence over the charade was a sin they carry to the end of their presence on Planet Earth. Premature promotions overnight led to the loss of rich experience and still active skills that the upstarts hurriedly installed in the higher echelon of the bureaucracy could not match.
Over the years, civil servants are by law allowed to be affiliated with political parties. Those elected to the individual units of the association concerned are not required to work at office, as they are supposed to be preoccupied with the “welfare” of their fellow employees.
As a result, the bureaucracy risks being seen as unscrupulous, undignified and undemocratic in both scope and orientation.