At a time when the country is heading towards federalism, the government has promoted Secretary Dr. SOM LAL SUBEDI, an expert on fiscal federalism, as its chief secretary. Having served for more than three decades in civil service in various positions, Chief Secretary Dr. Subedi is known for his bold and quick decision making. During his tenure as secretary, Dr. Subedi served in six ministries, including Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development. During the relief distribution, Dr. Subedi effectively mobilized the local bodies, distributing the first installment of relief to the victims through the local mechanism. Strong believer and practitioner of decentralization, Dr. Subedi is the only person, who started his job from a non-gazette position and successfully got promoted up to the top slot of civil service while, at the same time, acquiring a Ph.D for his academic credentials. He holds the view that decentralization is the key to improving the delivery system. As Nepal is celebrating Civil Service Day, Dr. Subedi spoke to KESHAB POUDEL. Excerpts:
What are the important factors to become successful in career?
Tolerance, patience, respect to others and positive thinking are the most important things to be successful in any career. During my whole time in civil service, theses attitudes helped me to maintain my working spirit and motto for the betterment of public delivery. Another important element is to work through collective approach and constructive and positive mindset, for decentralization to work effectively. If you centralize the power on your own, the decision making process will badly suffer. If you share the responsibility with all your colleagues, it will bring the desired results and improve the service delivery. Centralized mindset needs to change.
Where did you learn moderation and this kind of philosophy in your life?
I learned about development and the need of serving people from my father late Phanindra Nath Subedi and tolerance and patience from my mother Saraswati Subedi. I have grown up in an atmosphere where I learned modesty and simplicity. With adequate land to grow the foodstuff, I also learned to share the things with my neighbors, friends and others as I have never lived in scarcity of anything. This has shaped my whole career and way of thinking.
I believe in learning by doing. One has to look at the same issues from various angles.
I have built my career in civil service and academia block by block. I joined the civil service just after completing the School Leaving Certificate as a non-gazette second class. I was too young. In my three decades, I was promoted up to the top slot of chief secretary in the profession. I also completed my Ph.D. I achieved success academically, professionally and hierarchically. Thus, I see this happened block by block. I built each of block in my career one by one. I don’t think anybody can do just by wishing this. The most important thing behind success is dedication, dynamism and doing things in continuity.
What do others say about you as someone from the grass roots level?
Of course, I started my professional career from the grass roots. However, I have grown up in a middle-class family in the hills. I never faced scarcity and starvation in my life. My family did not have hand-to-mouth problem. I learnt modesty and decency in my family. That is the part of my family culture. I learnt to respect my elders and others in my family. Last week, when I was felicitated in Pokhara by my fellows, I saw the person who had encouraged me to contest the Civil Service Commission Examination. I don’t have any hesitation to respect and admire the persons who have supported me in my career. I treat my colleagues equally and share the problems and give respect to their opinion. I do discuss with my colleagues before taking any major decision. This helped to me to make all my decisions qualitatively better.
What things matter to you now?
Everyone has to learn from hierarchical order and take note of good practices and give up bad habits. One needs practice all useful precedents.
What is the modality of your work?
I always work with a participatory model. You cannot run the administration successfully without using a participatory model. I worked as a secretary in five ministries in my tenure. I pursued the model of participatory decision making. This helps to improve service delivery and provide efficient administrative service. As a secretary of Labor and Transport Management, I devolved the authority to traffic police to fine up to Rs. 1500.00. This has brought a major transformation. Similarly, I have set a record in Ministry of Education by reducing the unsettled account (Beruju) beyond the target of the government. At the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, we have brought the much-needed policy change. All this success is possible because of participatory approach. One individual cannot do everything.
How do you look at the problems of civil service?
We are working in the policy crowded environment and what is lacking is the implementation. Most of us are working with a centralistic mindset. There are a few in the frontline to materialize the policy. This is the crux of the problem.
Some people complain that the post of chief secretary is like an Island, isolated from the common people? How do you look at this?
This position is not an Island. It is a place where all the policy decisions of various ministries come under better coordination. This is the most open place for civil service and people. We have to look at the proposals tabled by various ministries and read them and prepare the proper modalities for them. If the proposals do not meet the modalities, the cabinet secretariat sends them to the cabinet committee. We have to involve all the ministries in the entire decision making. We cannot isolate anybody. We cannot take any decision without the participation of concerned ministries. Cabinet decision is a collective decision. However, it is the ministry which brings the agenda. The work of chief secretary is to put the agenda of concerned ministries to the process.
What is your role then?
Our major role is facilitation and coordination. However, the understanding is different. The bad practice arises out of inefficiency here. What I have seen is inefficiency in the policy implementation. It takes the problem to the frontline or it appears at the head office, project head, and departmental head. It is not a good practice to see that all implementation issues here bypass all the frontline offices. It is natural to forward the problems to the cabinet if it does not get settled at the frontline. However, many problems are coming here without lower bodies dealing with the problems of implementation. It should go to the implementers. Since we have so much of centralist tendency, with all the elites living here, they want to influence the decision here indefinitely. This is the nutshell of our administration problem: sending all complications and difficulties to the top, not to the implementation level. The voice of needy people and people at the grass roots is not coming up as desired or required. The agenda are coming on their behalf. You cannot find perfect results if you work in an agenda coming from somebody else on the people’s behalf.
We have been celebrating the Civil Service Day as a ritual for a long time. Do you want to make some changes here?
We have already issued a notice to celebrate the day at the district level. There is a question about what the people will get by celebrating the day with a high fanfare. We need to celebrate the day not to recall the rights but to do the duties. We need to take rights and duties together while celebrating the day. This is the day to quietly think about the role played by individuals. We need to think quietly about our role and responsibility and how others perceive us -- how to reduce or personal, professional, institutional and collective weaknesses to make our service delivery more efficient. I don’t see any rationale to bring a demonstration of civil servants around Tundikhel. There is no sense to give a message to those people who know it. That has no meaning. We need to generate a kind of awareness in far and remote areas where people don’t know the civil servants as service providers and servants of people and citizens also need to support the civil servants. We need to give this message.
You have shown some remarkable works as secretary of Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development during the relief operation after the devastating earthquakes. How do you replicate this in the last leg of your career?
We do not need a participatory approach for cheap popularity. We need participation for quality improvement.
Continual work, no jealousy with others who do their own job and discipline in the food habits are something I have learnt from my grandmother, who passed away at the age of 96. This behavior, I believe, gives people a healthy long life and high thinking.