KATHMANDU: With every sector in the country reeling under political influence or political stalemate of one kind or another, what differs is the degree of influence. While political interference has plagued the country and political instability is the number one cause for poor
economic performance, interference in the bureaucracy is not something new. Though it has been more than five decades since the Civil Service Act was introduced in 1956, there is a very fine line between bureaucracy and political leadership. Even now, appointing and transferring, hiring and firing of bureaucrats depends on their political affiliations, and even bureaucrats largely influence the political leadership.
Padma Jyoti, chairman of Jyoti Group of Companies complained, “Politicisation has crossed all boundaries and has extremely influenced almost all the sectors from labour to bureaucracy.” According to him, the bureaucracy is being overly politicised. “If politics and bureaucracy are not returned back on track, the country will suffer great loss,” said Jyoti, adding that political interference poses a huge threat to development of the country and the economy.
The recent much hyped incident of former Finance Secretary Rameshwor Khanal resigning was just another sign of things gone badly wrong. However, this is not the first time that the tussle between a secretary and a minister has come out in the open; there have been numerous such incidents in the past. The bureaucracy
itself has also enjoyed manipulating political leaders for their own interests. Last July the then Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s decision to appoint Madhav Prasad Ghimire as chief secretary received a denigration as the two other secretaries — Umesh Prasad Mainali and Janak Raj Joshi — publicly announced Ghimire’s appointment a political one rather than one based on
performance or seniority. Both Mainali and Joshi resigned.
Similar is the case of Energy Secretary Shankar Koirala’s row with then Energy Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat over the appointment of Arjun Karki as executive director of Tamakoshi Hydropower Project in August last year. One of the most highlighted incidents is that of former Minister Karima Begum slapping the Birgunj CDO Durga Prasad Bhandari, for which there are still no signs of her facing any charges.
Almost all government secretaries face similar pressures all the time. In Khanal’s case, he went public, thus, this came into the spotlight; otherwise, there are many other secretaries who still suffer unnecessary political pressure while doing their jobs.
According to the international practices, the bureaucracy is generally considered as the permanent government, which operates without much political interference or bias. However, in Nepal, bureaucracy itself was politically guided during the Panchayat system and even since the wake of democracy in 1990, it has often functioned under the shadow of political parties. Abuse of power in governance and the practice of nepotism has been practised by all political parties with unveiled attempts to control the bureaucracy and implement their vested interests.
“During the Panchayat regime, bureaucrats themselves used to impose the political interests of the government. But after the introduction of democracy, bureaucracy was largely influenced by political parties,” said former Home Secretary Umesh Prasad Mainali adding that today politics has extreme influence over the bureaucracy. Stating that today most secretaries are working under undue pressures from concerned ministers, he said, “If this sort of unhealthy practice continues, the morale of bureaucrats will be low and the nation will suffer.”
He also accepted that corruption in the bureaucracy itself is to be blamed to some extent for the present sorry situation. “Those (bureaucrats) who are corrupt seek favours from ministers for promotion and transfers to lucrative government posts while others simply work under political pressure or quit the job.” Accusing ministers of believing that bureaucrats can be dictated and solely accountable only to them, he said, “Until and unless political leaders realise the value of the bureaucratic system we can
never make progress.”
Contrary to Mainali’s views, political analyst CK Lal has a different take on the relationship between politics and bureaucracy. “It is not that politics has dominated the bureaucracy, rather the bureaucracy has been controlling politics otherwise there would be more than just a handful of such complaints lodged by bureaucrats,” he stated. According to him, since the country is in a transitional phase and acceptability of politicians is low, bureaucracy is not under their control at this point. He advocates that the constitution should clearly state whether to follow the spoils system or permanent government system to ensure the actual functioning model of bureaucracy.
In Nepal, the culture of appointing bureaucrats close to political leaders and transferring those who do not agree with them is deeply entrenched in the system. In fact the first duty of every government and minister after resuming office is the shuffle of civil servants.
“Bureaucrats are compelled to knock on the doors of ministers. Had they been left truly free and independent to perform their duties, they would not have to appease anyone,” said Jyoti. He also stressed on the need to formulate a law to guarantee that the bureaucracy will be an autonomous body, which will not come under anyone’s shadow.
“Politicians are certainly to be blamed for their favouritism,” said Pradip Giri, another political analyst. However he added that it was the bureaucracy which taught them the rule of the game and induced them to corruption. “Bureaucrats have not helped resolve problems, rather they have been playing along and adding fuel to the fire,” he complained. “Politicians might have failed in many aspects, but the bureaucracy instead of correcting them, helped them dodge the laws and commit corruption,” he speculated. “The bureaucracy should have autonomy and security, but it has to be completely disciplined while executing duties.”