Politics and administration are two sides of the same coin. Despite some dichotomy, they are designed for same purpose. This purpose is to serve the country and her people in a more and better ways so that country developmental status is improved. In realising this objective, politics is more focused on formulating public policies while the main task of administration is to implement these public policies. It is observed that administration also provides crucial policy advice in the formulation of public policies. Public service delivery improves if politics and administration work together with harmony and trust with each other. Both need to be proactively sharpened and upgraded for an efficient and people-oriented public service delivery and thereby enabling national development. Such sharpening is taken place through different and time-bound political and administrative reform measures.
Public service delivery
Political reforms are crucial for democracy and pro-people development. Nepal has taken a long course in this area. Political systems governed by autocrats and oligarchs in Nepal such as the Shah and Rana dynasties have been overthrown by people for securing their economic, political and cultural rights and enjoying better living conditions. The nation’s journey from absolute monarchy to republicanism with federal governance system is a testament of big political reform. The country’s political reforms in the last 30 years are unprecedented by any measure. The new political system empowers people, they rule by themselves through their representatives elected in the periodic elections and sovereignty is based on the people. Nepal’s constitution grants 31 rights and guarantees public service delivery related to these rights. In this process, people’s quality of life improves and the country moves upward in the development ladder. However, this is only possible if such political reforms are complemented and supplemented by administrative reforms.
It is in this context that the Prime Minister has recently declared the government’s intention to constitute a high-level administrative reform commission. Nepal has a long history of forming such commissions but underlying common feature of these commissions is to align the administrative system with the changed political order. It is equally true that such reforms were also guided by a sense of growing need to structure and restructure the administrative system to make it more orderly, systematic, rule-based, meritocratic and productive. Catering the growing demand of the politically-aware people for better service delivery was another determinant of administrative reform. A critical review of literature shows that the recommendations provided by the past administrative reform commissions were only partly implemented. Had all the recommendations implemented honestly, Nepal’s administration would have become much stronger, efficient and less prone to criticism and complaint. This would also have lifted the country to a more developed stage. There are evidences showing a positive relationship between better administration and improved developmental status of the country.
The nature of the composition of the said commission also partly determines whether the body is going to add any value in our mission to create an effective and accountable bureaucracy. One fact is that the commission must be formed under the chairmanship of the prime minister, for political will is a must for any administrative reform efforts. The commission must include both internal and external experts who can provide strategic and practical direction for administrative reforms. While internal experts tend to have practical experiences with many years of service in the nation’s bureaucratic system, external experts know the theory of reforms and cases of success and failure around the world. The mixture of such expertise is likely to identify key challenges and suggest actionable remedial measures.
The most crucial need for administrative reform is to address people’s demand for effective, efficient and accountable administration. It has been a long time that our bureaucracy has not delivered as per the demand of the citizens due to one reason or the other. Delays and disturbances in the service delivery are frequently heard although all levels of government are trying their best to address this issue. Quality of service has also been complained. It has been found that online and other technology-based services are also not satisfactory. Online service has also failed to change the attitude of the civil servants. Revenue and expenditure are not met and one reason behind this is pointed out as the weaknesses of the staff. Managing the lapses in administrative federalism is long overdue. All these reasons have demanded for urgent reforms in our administration.
The proposed reform commission must identify the most crucial areas for reforms. Hardware side such as laws and bylaws, structures, physical facilities, manpower still needs to be calibrated to satisfy citizen’s demands. Many administrative tasks are still discretionary and public offices are under-equipped both with physical facilities and skilled manpower. Provincial and local governments face inadequate staff. Capacity development is a burning issue. We are still relying on non-performing organisational structures and strict hierarchies. Needless to say, performing structures are foundation stones for bringing out better service delivery.
On the software side, we must concentrate on improving the attitude of civil employees. Citizens must feel that they are here to serve us and not rule us. Federal democracy will truly deepen if we have such employees. Morale and motivations of the employees must be improved so that they are focused on official work and their works contribute to national development.
The upcoming reform commission must prioritise these reform areas and priority should also be sequenced. Reform process should be made clear and simplified. The commission should understand the limits of reform. Global experiences show that incremental reforms work whereas big-bang reforms tend to be highly risky. Reform should also create a win-win situation for all so that change resistance will be prevented and managed. Moreover, it must be understood that administrative reform is a precondition for development. Administration is heart of development.
(Dr. Bhusal is an expert in poverty, employment and social protection.)