Will a slew of executive instructions fix bureaucracy?

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Will a slew of executive instructions fix bureaucracy?

Prime minister has issued a 30-point directive to improve service delivery in government offices, but experts say, that’s easier said than done

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Tuesday issued a 30-point directive to the government secretaries, urging them to take immediate steps to improve service delivery.

He warned of action against the bureaucrats if they fail to improve services within the next 30 days. Ironically, a few hours after his instruction, the Department of Passport issued a notice informing a halt in its services due to a technical glitch.

This clearly shows that our government agencies are not well-equipped in terms of logistics and resources. Effective service delivery remains one of the major challenges of any government but there has been hardly any improvement. People have to bribe middlemen to get things done faster in government offices. Experts say PM Dahal’s desire to improve service delivery became evident after he came to power for a third term on Dec 25 last year.

The first meeting of the Dahal Cabinet decided to take measures to improve public service delivery and strengthen his office for the same purpose. Umesh Mainali, former chairman of the Public Service Commission, says the PM should have done sufficient homework before issuing a stern directive. “Political will alone cannot yield substantial results, there are several other challenges obstructing effective service delivery for a long time,” says Mainali. “Before issuing a warning he should have studied the current status of human resources, logistics and legal hurdles of government agencies, so it is an immature step.”

Failure to implement the 30-point directive will ultimately boomerang on PM Dahal, adds Mainali.

Senior journalist Hari Bahadur Thapa too is not so optimistic. He says our bureaucracy is demoralized and the system is defunct, which cannot be revitalized just by issuing such directives.

“Instead of promoting and transforming the government officials, parties are picking loyalist bureaucrats in lucrative positions so it is meaningless to issue such directives,” he says.

Former prime minister KP Oli also tried to improve service delivery, to little avail.

Before issuing the directive, PM Dahal was briefed by the government secretaries. After hearing them out, he told them while their presentations suggested everything was going well, the situation on the ground was different. Dahal then urged the government to analyze the available data and complaints from citizens in order to identify the problems and work towards solutions.

The PM stressed the need to focus on issues related to public service delivery and development, as well as the management of citizens’ daily needs. He emphasized the importance of efficiently fulfilling the responsibilities given to the government secretaries, so as to improve public service delivery and address the needs of citizens.

Dahal attributed the decrease in revenues to economic recession and a decrease in imports, but also expressed his concern over income tax missing the target. Pointing out many hassles and long queues that taxpayers face when trying to pay their taxes, he highlighted the need for improved service delivery.

The PM also expressed dissatisfaction with a below-par development spending. “Why is development spending not picking up pace? Who is responsible? If there is a problem at the policy level, come up with reform proposals. But the weaknesses seen in implementation cannot be ignored anymore,” he said.

Dahal also called on the National Planning Commission (NPC) to prepare a plan for expediting development projects. He cautioned that if funds allocated for development projects cannot be spent, they will be transferred to other projects. “Make arrangements for proper work evaluation of officials who are unable to perform revenue collection and expedite development work according to the target,” he told NPC officials.

Highlighting long queues and hassles faced by citizens when trying to obtain basic services such as passports, driver’s licenses, national identity cards, and payment of taxes, Dahal conceded that things have not changed much for the people despite the adoption of a federal setup.

Dahal then called for a review of the causes of incomplete or abandoned development projects. He urged the senior government officials to find out whether problems with service delivery and development are related to policy, institutions, implementation, processes, or management, and to take needful action to address these issues.

Additionally, Dahal called for immediate filling of approximately one-third of the vacant staff positions at the provincial and local government agencies in order to improve service delivery and development works. He also directed the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration to provide human resources to these governments.

Dahal also called on senior government officials to make necessary arrangements to protect citizens from cold weather, including cold waves in the Tarai region and snowfall in the Himalayas. He also called relevant ministries to ensure a steady supply of daily necessities, and to monitor and inspect the market for quality consumer goods and to stamp out practices such as profiteering and the creation of artificial scarcity.

He emphasized the need to closely monitor individuals and organizations that may be prone to corruption and to hold them accountable for any wrongdoing. The PM also stressed the importance of implementing digital and faceless services, eliminating middlemen, and establishing a system for addressing and resolving complaints in areas such as public transport, license distribution, and more. These efforts should be guided by a citizen charter that includes provisions for compensation, he added.

Commenting on poor public transport services in the country, Dahal said the current service is not meeting standards and that road accidents are on the rise, disproportionately affecting the lower classes of society. The Prime Minister instructed officials to properly regulate public transport in order to reduce the number of traffic accidents and improve safety for all users.”

In addition, Dahal encouraged government officials to prioritize their work and limit their participation in meetings, conferences, seminars, and training during office hours. He also instructed them to focus on office management, including office time compliance and staff attendance, and to improve service flow and behavior toward service-seekers.

Dahal also emphasized the importance of fostering a positive environment for investment and business in the private sector, and called for development of plans to promote import substitution and increase the production of basic goods.

In terms of foreign relations, Dahal emphasized the need to maintain balanced and harmonious relationships with all friendly countries based on the principle of non-alignment. He called for the mobilization of bilateral and multilateral development aid by promoting economic diplomacy. He also instructed government officials to coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when conducting foreign diplomatic meetings, and called for the development of a code of conduct in this regard.

Dahal also expressed concern over the problems faced by Nepalis working abroad and called for immediate action to address structural and policy issues that may be contributing to these problems.

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