Ram Bahadur Kurumbang, the Chief District Officer of Bardiya, who brought ‘government to people’s homes,’ emerged victorious in the final round of the Integrity Idol 2018 held on Dec 7 at Karki Banquet, Maitighar, Kathmandu. A panel of judges had selected five contestants among thousands of nominees. Then it was left to the public to pick one winner.
Selecting the top five was difficult. “We had to compile and analyze reports from numerous sources. Besides the large volume of information, it was also difficult to separate reliable sources from unreliable ones,” said public administration expert and former secretary of the government of Nepal Dr. Kashi Raj Dahal, and one of the Integrity Idol judges. “But the endeavor was worth it. We must reward honesty in order to build a corruption-free Nepal.”
Asked how he was feeling on being selected Interiority Idol 2018, Kurumbang said, “The joy of winning faded quickly and was replaced by an immense sense of responsibility to maintain the good work which brought me to this stage.” During his tenure as the CDO of eight districts, including Bardiya, he established and ran ghumti sivirs that brought governmental services to individual households in some of the most inaccessible parts of the country.
Other Integrity Idol 2018 finalists didn’t go home empty-handed either. Sita Kumari Sharma, a senior A.N.M. of Birendranagar Municipal health office, Surkhet, won the ‘Integrity with compassion’ award; Mahedra Prasad Paudyal, an undersecretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, bagged the ‘Integrity with inspiration’ award; Arun Kafle, a senior horticulture development officer, Khumaltar, Lalitpur was given the ‘Integrity with Innovation’; likewise, the ‘Integrity with Action’ prize was given to Dhruba Raj Acharya, the chief administrative officer of Tikapur Municipality, Kailali.
Integrity Idol started in Nepal in 2014, following its global success. The number of votes in Nepal for the final five contestants has risen steadily in past four years, from 400 in 2014 to approximately 4,000 in 2018. Similarly, the number of volunteers doing the selection has also steadily increased. In 2014 nominees were selected from only 33 districts. This year the nominations came from 77 districts.
Can you tell us a bit about your career in government service?
I have been working as a government official for the past 30 years, even though my tenure was briefly interrupted by military service. When people find out that I am the CDO, they like to stereotype me as an unapproachable bureaucrat, but I consider myself no more than a devoted public servant. Before I was stationed in Bardiya, I had already worked as the CDO of seven other districts including Taplejung, Solukhumbu, Achham and Pyuthan. Throughout my career I have considered the people I am supposed to serve an integral part of my work.
What inspired you to enter public service?
I was a studious child born into a middle-class family. I thus felt obligated to work hard for a living. But I wouldn’t take a job where I had to know someone to be eligible. So I ended up taking the Public Service Commission examinations, where only my knowledge counted. I entered government service in 1988 and I am still a happy civil servant.
How has your experience as a civil servant been?
Being a civil servant in a country where people have lost faith in the government has been challenging. I believe that the absence of dedicated and honest officials is one reason why our country lags behind others. We have also been unable to utilize our resources, time most importantly. There are officials who do not work full time. Since people stereotype all government officials as bigots who care only about money, it is difficult to convince them there are also public officials who operate within the bounds of morality and are committed to the country’s development. I feel immense pride in saying that I am among the honest officials with high moral values and dedication for my work, and one who is not intimidated by challenges.
What inspired you to go to remote homes to offer government services?
There was an interaction program in an inaccessible village in the district of Myagdi. In that program I noticed that the villagers were reluctant to go to district headquarters and that they didn’t even have citizenship certificates. They had not heard about land revenue and survey departments. Their health was deplorable and the disabled had no identification certificates. There were other problems too. It was then I thought of the ghumti shivir, a government camp that would visit the most inaccessible parts and render government services.
We not only distributed citizenship certificates, but also all sorts of state documents like questionnaires for survey, disabled identification card, to altogether 117 inaccessible destinations. While residents of those communities benefitted, we government officials too got to hear people’s concerns and complaints firsthand. Government-citizen bond was thus strengthened. I have since carried over this idea to the other districts where I have served as the CDO.
Organizing the ghumti shivirs must have been challenging.
The primary challenge was to motivate other officials to join me in my quest to offer quality services to the people. They were reluctant as there would be no modern amenities in the remote areas we were visiting. Another big challenge was ensuring that the goods that we were delivering actually reached their destination. For example, often, the medications that were supposed to be delivered to health posts would not get there. The situation was worse during the monsoon where rains would make the process of delivering goods and services almost impossible.
How do you feel about winning Integrity Idol Nepal?
To be honest, I am quite intimidated, as public expectations have greatly increased. This may require me to double my output, but I am happy to do so. I may not have specific plans at the moment but I will continue with the work that I have been doing, with even more dedication.
What message would you like to give to the youths who want to join public service?
The applicant pool for Public Service Commission examinations is fairly big because of limited job opportunities in our country. Despite such a large pool, most of the talented individuals are not attracted to government jobs. This should not be happening. Government officials are the ones who make plans and policies that have the biggest impact on the society. So until those who are honest and talented do not get into public service, we as a country cannot develop. The youngsters should view public sector as a platform to serve their motherland and its people.