"Bigger And Fewer Local Units Will Be Better" Dr.Som Lal Subedi

As many other senior civil servants, Chief Secretary Dr. SOM LAL SUBEDI also went to Japan for further training under JICA’s scholarship. As Nepal civil service is celebrating Civil Service Day and implementing the Immediate Civil Service Reforms, Dr

Aug. 31, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol 10.No.3, September 02,2016 (Bhadra 17, 2073)

What about the 28 directions of prime minister?

This includes 28 points of directives and 4 points of policy. It is, in all, a governance reform program. Initially, three days were given to the concerned ministries to prepare an annual program and many ministries have already submitted the draft of their annual program. It is a description of program and outcome for the year. We are now fine turning all the directions into six to seven points. This will give immediate results.

How do you see the Immediate Action Reform Program?

If you see our Immediate Action Reform Program, we have already completed 287 working procedures and 641 are in the process of implementation and some 200 are yet to start. Since the time of transition, governance reforms had not received any priority. However, I have initiated the reform program with Immediate Reform Action Plan. Along with Reform Action plan and prime minister’s guidelines, we are refreshing and fine tuning the program for one year. This includes improvement in service delivery and federal structure.

As the government is preparing to hold the elections, how is bureaucracy responding to the restructuring process?

There is a directive committee under the prime minister. We have already developed five thematic areas with five joint secretaries as coordinators. We have set up coordinative committees under my chairmanship. We have been doing functional analysis as per the constitution. We are forwarding them. However, the issues are related to political roadmap.

What five thematic committees will do?

The five thematic committees will prepare the list for federal structures as per the constitution. I have given 25 points directives as suggestion for Terms of References (TOR). The five thematic committees will work as per the directives and TOR.  This process will continue and it will not end. We have prepared 34 joint secretaries to handle federalism and they will be the leaders. If these joint secretaries come to me and share my knowledge, it will be very helpful in future in the course of implementation of federalism. This has been done with a futuristic approach.

As the government has announced that it will hold the elections for provinces and local levels, how will it work?

Bureaucracy has been taking all of them seriously. So far as local level delineation commission is concerned, I am also a member of one of the facilitation committees of the commission. Although we directed them to develop a roadmap before working, they did not abide by our directions and marched ahead as per their wish. However, we have deputed all the employees in the districts and other necessary logistic arrangements for their work. Personally, I have done many a facilitation.  I presented all their grievances proactively in the cabinet. I have even pursued the cabinet in this matter. The issue of local restructuring is very important in Nepal’s history. If we are not able to do it, it will be very difficult for future. Professionally speaking, the restructuring of the local bodies is necessary for the long run to make them effective. Even the political leadership needs to be serious about this to carry out the work making service delivery effective.

How do you see the role of Commission?

In the proposed restructuring, the commission has to reassure the people that the current ward level offices will provide all services to the people as in the past. In accordance to bureaucracy, restructuring is necessary. There is also a mandatory provision in the constitution. This is a milestone of democracy. If we are able to hold the elections following the restructuring of local bodies, it will have far reaching consequences for the future.

Having spent your long career in local development, how do you see the restructuring can be made non-controversial in the context of political opposition on the draft of Restructuring Commission?

Politicians need to analyze the professional suggestions looking at the long-term implications of the restructuring.  However, the commission also needs to make provisions so that the service delivery institutions reach near the doors of the people. There is the need to bring the institution as close as possible. There might be amendments in the numbers of local bodies but the politicians are debating without reading the whole report. There is the need to look for alternatives in case of rejection from the political forces. However, it is too early to comment on the draft report. There is the need to present the report with wider acceptability among the political parties, accommodating their views as much as possible.

How do you look the size of local bodies?

There is the need to make big local bodies by reducing their present numbers. We cannot provide effective delivery by keeping the present level intact. It is not good to follow the existing numbers. Population, geography and access to service delivery are three important components in restructuring of local bodies. As it is said that one single box does not fit all, we cannot restructure the local bodies on just the basis of population. We need to choose our own model. We need to be flexible in population, geography and service delivery. But, there should be local body institutions, serviceable in terms of delivery. The local bodies need to be independent and taking full responsibility.  Only then, there will be a feeling among the people that they belong to a unit.

Is the reform process easy?

Reform is a process to dilute the conflict between, old elites, new elites and pressure groups. This is a continuous process. Our country is now in a rocky transition as old elites continue to exist and new elites are rising. There is a tendency of conflict in this scenario. There are many social and interest groups. All of us need to rely on professionals to make our service delivery system effective. Reform is a process of certain give and take. Actually, it is a sacrifice of privileges. Our values should be deepening local democracy, viable, competent and accountable local government.  We need to solve the problems on these kinds of fundamentals. If we continue debate on the basis of this is my side, this is the other side, we cannot change it. Reform is always a painful process. The complaints and grievances are the expressions of pain of reform.

As you have always been saying that the post of chief secretary is not a public celebrity, how do you organize the Civil Service Day this year without any celebration?

The Civil Service Day will be celebrated as usual. We are not going to organize programs with a big bang. We will launch cleaning campaigns in all 217 municipalities. With the involvement of local level civil servants, executive officers of municipality and chief district officers, we will host the programs at local level. As Bagmati Cleaning is not alone a symbol of cleaning campaign, I also have experiences of cleaning campaign. During my tenure in the Ministry of Local Development, I proposed land-fill sites in all the municipalities. There is the need to launch the learning campaign all over Nepal with mobilization of community. There is the need to raise awareness. There are well functional landfill sites in Dhankuta, Dang and Pokhara, which were constructed when I was joint secretary at MoLD. There is the need to raise the awareness at all levels. During my tenure as secretary of Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, I took many decisions in cleaning. I issued 41 point directives. I do believe in the results. I don’t want to speak on what I have done. There is no sense to talk too much.

In your last one year tenure, you also held the elections for trade unions of civil service and other many reforms. How do you look at this?

As transition is prolonging, there is a complex political situation. I have already worked with three prime ministers in a matter of a year. This tells about the political situation of the country. This is a great opportunity for me. I am involved in three transitions and there was no controversy at all. Even in this critical period, we are trying to produce results. We don’t have any system marketing the good results. However, we civil servants are also exposing each other, denouncing colleagues. It is very unfortunate. I believe in harmony and positive thinking. I have been repeatedly saying that civil service is 'faceless' as it always works from behind. It should work maintaining professional integrity. This is our tradition.

I have implemented the clustering of secretary just a month after taking position. The promotion of secretary is going smoothly. Except few cases, there is a trend of regional administration in posting. The system is running smoothly. I don’t know whether this will continue or not given the present political transition.

As Nepal and Japan are celebrating the sixty years of relations, how do you see its importance in Nepal’s context?

A Nepal-Japan relations are friendly and deep-rooted at several levels. Our relations are also linked with handover of technology. As a leading bilateral donor, Japan has been supporting Nepal's economic, social and infrastructure development. Japan’s contribution in Nepal’s development sector is immense. I am myself involved in various community mediation programs supported by Japan and JICA. I also worked with JICA as a link in LGCDP. I wish to see our bilateral relations further strengthen in the coming decades. There is the need to promote people diplomacy. We have to learn technology from Japan and economic development. We do expect Japanese support in culture, architecture, and tourism and infrastructure development.



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