“What Matters Is Determination To Work” Dr. Som Lal Subedi

As Nepal has been passing through a political transition from a unitary to federal state, chief secretary DR. SOM LAL SUBEDI spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues related to the changed context of civil service. Excerpts:

Aug. 1, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol 10, No.1,July 29,2016,(Shrawn,14,2073)

How do you view the changes that have happened in the last eleven months?

This is the most difficult year in the history of Nepal in terms of service delivery. We faced difficulties in managing the reconstruction work following the massive earthquake. We spent a lot of time in the areas of early recovery and reconstruction. Reform is a dream and there is the need of hard work to materialize the dream. One cannot find all the solutions in the public sector alone. Reforms depend on the political environment, social environment and so many other aspects. Despite this difficult situation, things have moved smoothly. Eighty percent of work has been implemented. We have devolved the authority of transfer of all the employees to Chief District Officer. Now no employee will have to come to the center for transfer.

How do you look at the transition?

Technical transitions are more complicated. For example, designing federalism and managing different tires of government requires more knowledge than needed in the previous forms. Administrative reforms are about implementing federalism from the zero state. The current situation is very critical in managing federalism and service delivery, particularly in facilitating work from VDC to center on reconstruction. I am facilitating boundary commission as well. Managing transition is managing uncertainties. I have to work amidst the growing uncertainties.

What other works have you been doing?

I have also regionalized the 'Hello Sarkar', giving more access to local people so they won’t have to come to the center. While implementing federalism, we shall follow the constitutional principles. This is also the time to convince the people and show the results. We don’t have a model to replicate the federalism in Nepal and there are also lack of experts. There is more activism, with so-called experts, with capacity deficit. There is a huge gap.

What are the steps taken by you following the promulgation of the constitution?

Following the promulgation of the new constitution, I issued directions to make the transition smooth. The directions include the TOR. The cabinet secretariat has also published the immediate reform plan prepared with the coordination from the secretary. This is not merely a plan of chief secretary as it was formulated with the participation of all the secretaries. As per the plan, many things have moved. We will review it on a yearly basis.

How do you see the coordination part?

So far as coordination is concerned, the government is able to achieve the target of revenue mobilization despite all difficulties. We met the target of revenue. Whether in the tax issue with Ncell or in others, we took a stand and forced them to pay the taxes. We are also able to get the reimbursement of money from the donor agencies. This year it was the highest compared to the previous years. The policy not to transfer the project chief prior to the end of fiscal year has been implemented more than eighty percent. We have also devolved the power to the local level. We have also made the decision not to pay dual salary for the pensioners. We have also formulated 14th plan as well. There is the need of a political stability and leadership at all level.

How is civil service preparing to implement federalism?

We have also formulated a high level committee to implement federalism. There is a coordination committee under the chairmanship of chief secretary. There are five task teams under the joint secretary. Along with the political pace, we are also implementing the program of federalism. This is a milestone. Other institutions are also carrying the reform program. All the government institutions are working in that direction. You cannot see the impact of the governance immediately. There is the need of a holistic approach to implement federalism. All the bureaucrats and stakeholders need to take the ownership.

How do you see our service delivery system?

Our previous service delivery system depended upon the domain of elected representatives with centrally extended officials. Despite the lack of elected representatives, the service delivery part is going quite well. I don’t see any reason for dissatisfaction. Our design and jurisdiction are faulty. Several institutions are given similar role. One thing is that the service holder always supports the officials who perform well. There is the need to have a strong determination to work.

It is reported that you rarely appear in the public and you are reported as shy to the media and public. How do you look at this?

I am not a celebrity, nor a politician. As a chief secretary of the government, my job is to implement the decision taken by the cabinet and facilitate and coordinate among the ministries. If I can improve the delivery system, it can improve my image as well. I don’t think publicity can help much. I believe in work. Everyone can see what I have done during my tenure. There is nothing to hide and boast. I am very proud that we met the revenue target despite all the difficulties.

How do you see your role?

Although I have seen two constitutions and two governments in a year in a fragile scenario, what I can claim is that everything is going smoothly. Just a few months after my promotion, the country entered into a new phase, with the promulgation of the new constitution. The new constitution has drastically changed the government structure of the country from semi-unitary state to federal structure with the seven provinces and local bodies with new structures. My work is now to manage the civil service as per the spirit of the constitution. There is also the need to set up provincial level bureaucracy, and also the local level and central level.

In the past, there used to be a lot of controversy and media campaign on the promotion of secretary. Now-a-days, nothing like that is coming up in the public. What changed the situation?

As everything is moving as per the law, the process is smooth. When I took the charge, there were a lot of problems in management of secretaries. The situation was fragile. I amended the regulation and implemented them. We have been recommending secretaries in fifteen days. Our competency and environment is not as per the big bang approach. With my own insistence, I saved almost 7 billion rupees, regarding opening new offices before the implementation of federalism. I convinced the political leadership to reverse the decision. I expressed my reservation over the creation of new positions in the name of federalism. My argument is that there is the need to add new positions only in the front line offices in the service delivery sector. After the implementation of federalism, there will be 15 ministries at the center to look after governance.

Are you satisfied with the performance?

You cannot improve the performance just by making public comments. It is possible only through work. Chief Secretary is in a position to work as a backup. It is not a duty of the chief secretary to speak all the time as a politician does. Except to those institutions with new service, specialized service and effective service, the decision has already been taken not to have any position till the implementation of federalism. I have advocated the article 302 of new Constitution in the management of civil service in the federalism. The article was included following a strong lobby under my leadership. However, I don’t want any credit for that. Those who worked on it know the suggestion.

Nepal’s development partners have been complaining that there is a lack of coordination in the national priority projects like expansion of Tribhuwan International Airport, Melamchi, Lumbini and others. How do you look at this?

My approach of dealing with donors is that we should be competent with adequate information. We have to understand that Nepal’s development partners are there to support us. We should take only that support which is necessary for us. I have good experiences, designing a project with the involvement of 14 donors at Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs. Local Governance and Community Development Program (LGCDP) has sustained Nepal’s decentralization and local bodies in the absence of elected representatives. Even during the last earthquake, they had mobilized effectively to reach the people. I have sorted out all the concerns of the donor agencies through the participation and discussion with the line ministries and representatives of donors.

What is the role of chief secretary?

The role of chief secretary is not to directly intervene in the process. The job of the chief secretary is to facilitate the work of public concern. The office of chief secretary is not to intervene in the day to day affairs of the government. We need to depend on competencies of other colleagues. Chief secretary is not an administrator but he is a facilitator.

 

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