An exclusive APD interview with Lilamani Poudel, Chief Secretary of Nepal Government, Excerpts :
Has Nepal’s bureaucracy been able to meet common people’s aspirations?
In a single word: No. But that is not a complete answer. One should realize the working environment for civil servants. Civil servants had worked under adverse circumstances during the extremely difficult period of armed-conflict and still they delivered basic services, although their lives were at risk. Civil service conducted the Constituent Assembly elections twice under very difficult circumstances. It worked under harsh and extreme geographical condition with meagre physical facilities, perks and benefits. On top of that, there is politicization, which sends the working environment of the civil servants into chaos. Civil servants are working under pressure of ever changing governments. We have witnessed two dozen different leaderships in the last 25 years. Moreover, private sectors and non-governmental organisations largely remain sceptical to a strong and competent civil service. In view of all these factors combined, including lack of discipline and professionalism in civil servants, we should consider that Nepal’s civil service has contributed to a suboptimal performance.
As a top bureaucrat of the country, what are your recent efforts to make the civil service more people-oriented?
The government had integrated 18000 new positions from 2007 to 2013 by implementing a special provision of 24 Gha (1) of the Civil Service Act 1992. The provision of promotion without an available post was incorporated in 2007 and considered a major policy debacle in the history of Nepalese civil service. Although, we have removed that provision now, the remnant of that ill-conceived provision has continued to infect the civil service system. Management of so many unscientific promotions was a herculean task. Adding on to the improvement in the civil service system, we are going to introduce 12-hour working time for some of the offices with immense workload and urgency. Further, we have introduced IT-based service delivery system in the government offices so as to enhance efficiency, ensure transparency and reduce hassles. Likewise, we have doubled the training period from three months to six months for newly recruited civil servants.
Nepal’s bureaucracy is being politicized hugely in the recent days. Why?
Politicians prefer loyalty to proficiency from the civil servants. The civil servants also seek political patronage for private benefits rather than professionalism and career development. Party politics in civil service threatens the core principle of impartiality and neutrality. Despite civil servants’ official oath, which forbids them from any kind of involvement in politics, they continue to do so for their personal benefits. Likewise, the political parties are also reluctant to keep their nose out of civil services.
What can be good solutions to make Nepal’s bureaucracy free from political intervention?
We have not been able to make civil servants accountable to their duty. Likewise, it can be more motivating to the civil servants if we effectively introduce ‘performance-based reward-punishment system.’ Scientific and evaluative measures can be adopted for transfers and promotions of the civil servants, which will keep the hassle with trade unions at bay. But, being able to depoliticize the service will be an ultimate achievement in the civil service system. Both political leaders and civil servants should realize the adverse effect of politics in civil service.
You are retiring from the government service in coming July, what are your future plans after retirement?
Frankly speaking, I have hardly any time right now to think about post retirement plan. However, I might like to share my experience and knowledge to the students.