“Given Opportunity, Civil Servants Can Solve Problems”

Having served for more than two decades in civil service in various positions, Secretary at the Election Commission SARADA PRASAD TRITAL has developed a rich experience as a civil servant. As the country recently celebrated the Civil Service Day, Tri

Sept. 26, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 09, No. -7, September 25 2015 (Ashoj 8, 2072)

How do you look at the functional and structural aspects of Civil Service?

Civil service is the backbone for development of a country. Whatever be the political system, it is civil service which acts as the frontline agency for development and service delivery. It is the civil service to materialize the vision of political parties. So far as celebrating the Civil Service Day is concerned, it helps civil servants to review their work performances and to know where they stand. We need to start thinking about whether we have fulfilled our commitments or not.

What is your impression about the politicization of civil service?

Civil service is a neutral institution. Politically, a civil servant needs to maintain neutrality. Civil servants cannot take political sides except when they are casting their vote. Their code of conduct as well as laws and regulations want this. It is unfortunate that civil service is now completely politicized and political parties are themselves responsible for the politicization of bureaucracy. Civil servants should not be part of politics.

How did politicization begin?

Even democratic political parties have called the civil service to support their agitation -- this has made the situation worse.  It was suicidal and it has affected us badly.  In all kinds of agitation the civil servants are divided on the basis of their political affiliation. A government employee is even leading political organization in Terai. This is the continuation of 1990 movement. Political parties should not have done so. Civil servants cannot be a member of any union. However, the leaders of union are demanding political rights. This situation is sad. Due to this, the service delivery system and values of civil service are hit.

What about the structure of the civil service?

So far as the structure is concerned, it is too much centralized. The Ministry of Agriculture and Development and Ministry of Health and Population are good examples to show how they are centralized.  For instance, there are 64 first class gazette officers in the Ministry of Agriculture. Although Nepal is an agricultural country, there is no technical manpower at the village level. There are vacant positions in the district level. Nobody prefers to go to villages to serve the people. Given our country's geography, livestock is the most important area for us as we can produce more milk products for the country, we can even export them. It has a good potential. But you won't see a veterinary technician in places where they are needed. Farmers do not find technicians for help. During my tenure as the regional administrator in the mid-west, I had seen a lot of these problems. We can simply resolve them. This is the most important work we should be doing. In health, the situation is similar. There are vacancies of various health assistants at health posts. Nobody stays in the village of far remote Nepal and everybody wants to be in the center.

What do you say of the VDCs?

Since 2002, there have been no elected representatives and VDC secretaries are taking the lead. We have complained that the VDC secretaries are not in the villages. We blame them but we never see whether it is viable for them to stay or not. We have been saying that there is the need to strengthen VDC secretaries. It does not mean we need to strengthen secretaries personally; it means to strengthen the institution as a whole. We are sending 3 million rupees in VDCs. However, there are no institutions to spend them and there are no technicians. Had we provided all communications, the situation would have been different. Our structural problem is that the system is too centralized.

How do you see the role?

Despite all these things, we need to accept the fact that the civil servants under the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development have been doing hard work as much as they can.  During the earthquake, it proved that it VDC secretaries were the ones who had to work. The units at the local level functioned. We need to focus our administration at the villages.

What is the approach?

Our approach is bottom up. Actually, there is the need to have a top down-approach. So far as practice of the civil service is concerned, it is bottom up approach as VDC secretaries look at District Development Officer and DDOs look at the secretaries or ministers for their safety.

You have said our civil service is following a bottom-up approach. Can we say decentralization is working in Nepal?

Despite all these, we need to accept the fact that the employees working under MoFLD have been working hard as much as possible. In recent earthquakes, their contribution was immense. Actually, it was secretaries of VDCs who worked. Police stations, health posts and school teachers were the first to respond to the earthquakes. Nepal Police structures also showed how centralized our process is.

There are 11 Additional Inspector General Police at the center at the cost of police stations at the village. Do we really need such a large number of AIGPs? The police stations do not have even bicycles.

Do you mean, there is the need to reduce the number of police at the top?

There is the need to recruit additional 50,000 police if you want to improve the governance at the village but all of them should be in grass roots level. If there is a police station, there is peace and tranquility and innocent citizens get the opportunity to work. Vigilance of police also helps reduce poverty. This is my personal experience while serving as the Regional Administrator. Poverty alleviation and security are interlinked. We have to think about it. Whoever is there in a police station; there is a sense of security and order -- there is less possibility for fraud and other kinds of hanky-panky. Of course, police can be involved in fraud but there needs to be a mechanism to punish such persons.

What do you say about the frequent amendment of Civil Service Act?

Amending Civil Service Act in itself is a not a bad thing. However, there is the need to amend the act only after intense research, establishing the rationality of such amendments. We are amending the acts on whims and vested interests of particular individuals. Ministry of General Administration is now reportedly drafting the new amendment bill, increasing the retirement age from 58 to 60. As the drafting started without any research, there is already a heated debate over it. Younger civil servants are opposing it and older ones are supporting it. We don’t know why we need the amendment. Given the increase in the life expectancy, it is natural for the government to increase the retirement age. But we can only do so after a comprehensive study. How much money annually we are spending for pension. How will it affect our career development? It is unfortunate that our policies and acts are amended on the influence of particular individuals with political linkages.

How do you view the coordination between development and administration sectors in the country? How successful our civil service is to deal with the challenges of development?

Development and administration are interdependent. After 1960, development administration has emerged as a new subject. One of the good parts about it is that its motto is development for administration and administration for development. Since the last many years, we have been writing a separate chapter in our periodic planning documents on development administration.  However, it is just for the sake of writing or just as a ritual. When I was secretary at the National Planning Commission, I raised the question about the implementation of our planning agenda. I asked whether NPC has the capability or not to implement the policies as propounded by the commission.

What do you say about the state of decentralization in administration?

Local Governance Act 1998 is one of the best acts ever promulgated in Nepal in terms of devolution of power. One of the major characters of the act is the establishment of District Technical Office to coordinate and carry out development works. The act visualizes all the technical works and offices of the district. Irrigation, road, building and so on come under this act. There are a few employees but there is a lack of budget. Recently, even the Irrigation ministry has established the district level offices in 72 districts.  At a time when district technical office is virtually defunct without adequate budget, there is little sense to add another office under Ministry of Irrigation. This is an example. Our policy is to have technical officers at VDCs and Municipalities. There is a big gap in the implementation and provisions of the act.

How do you look at federalism in the context of devolution?

Appointment of minister is a political issue but one needs to study why do we need the Ministry. Our system is that we appoint the minister first and then we establish the ministry.  We establish the ministry on whims not on the basis of needs. For instance, we split the Ministry of Water Resurges into three. We always talk about the people but we don’t care about them much. We have adequate mechanism at the grassroots level including health, post office, irrigation and agriculture.  We need to strengthen the grass root level offices which are for service delivery. There are 101 Ministries in Sri Lanka and if we can sustain them, we don’t need to worry. We need to reform administration looking at the outside world. We should build the ministries based on our needs. However, we need institutions at the grass root level as well.

What should be the role of secretaries?

I have to admit the fact that secretaries are spending most of their time addressing the concerns of ministers, and advisors. The role of secretary is to lead the ministry. With growing political pressure, secretaries are spending much of their time addressing the problems raised by ministers and their advisors. I think this is an individual reason of secretary and overall political environment. My experience is that political factors are important but a secretary can make a difference. We need to convince the minister on what the secretary can do and what he cannot. If secretaries can work honestly with integrity, no one can dare touch them.

As the country is heading to federalism, do you believe that the current civil service can help the federal system succeed?

It will depend upon how we can manage our transition.  At present even village secretaries are the central civil service cadres. There is the need to have a vision and consider ecological factors, as well as political and social environments.  Given the present mindset of politicians, I don’t think any provincial leader can choose the central employees. Except some, they cannot transfer the employees.  There is the need to make arrangements to transfer the present central employees to local bodies. There is also a debate going on. The country is facing a serious crisis.  Civil servants need to work for the country.

How capable is the civil service to deal with the situation?

Nepal’s civil service is capable enough to face any kind of challenges and can address them. Given the opportunity, civil servants can handle most situations.

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