‘UNDP made expertise available to undertake administrative reforms’: Rekha SharmaDec 24, 2017
In September 2015, the Constituent Assembly promulgated the Constitution of Nepal 2015, adopting the major principles of federalism, secularism and republicanism, and paving the way for the restructuring of the state into three tiers. Following the launch of the new statute, Community Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) leader Rekha Sharma had been appointed the first Minister for General Administration. As the Minister responsible for drafting and forwarding plans for the restructuring process, Sharma had worked closely with the Project to Prepare the Public Administration for State Reform (PREPARE)—a joint Government of Nepal (GoN) and UNDP programme—to support the country in its transition from a unitary to a federal structure. UNDP recently spoke to her about her role in the administrative reforms and the nature of UNDP’s support on the matter. Excerpts:
How do you reflect back on your tenure as the first Minister for General Administration following the promulgation of the Constitution?
The key responsibility of the GoN is the implementation of the Constitution, and restructuring of the country is one of its major components—and as the bureaucracy comprises the permanent government, its restructuring is the first step towards decentralizing the state authority. The Ministry of General Administration (MoGA) is mandated with setting up the necessary legal frameworks to facilitate this task. Over the course of the eight months that I worked in the capacity of Minister, our attention was therefore devoted to formulating relevant laws and policies, and we made ample progress in this regard.
Our next point of focus was to end the long-existing malpractices in the country’s civil service, particularly those related to transfer of civil servants and their deputation. Our efforts were geared, for instance, towards discouraging political influence on deployment of government staff, and we additionally took a stand against the culture of refusing postings in rural areas and insisting on assignments in the Capital.
What kind of support did the Ministry receive from PREPARE in the process of drafting laws and policies?
PREPARE had been working with the GoN long before the new Constitution came to be—since 2013, in fact—and its main areas of support to the MoGA were in building the capacity of government institutions during the transition period, and in reforming their working modality accordingly.
But with the promulgation of the statute, the MoGA was now charged with restructuring and developing capacity of the new institutions at the federal, provincial and local levels, an undertaking in which the project provided constructive support. PREPARE brought in expertise from different sectors and made recommendations based on international practices and lessons learned, which were exceedingly helpful for us in drafting of laws and policies that upheld the spirit of the Constitution.
What are the key tasks that now need to be completed in decentralizing the state in a true sense, and how much progress would you say has been made so far?
During my short time at the Ministry, I feel we were able to lay the required groundwork for many of the reforms to come. We issued a white paper highlighting all that needs to be done in the new set-up, and did our utmost to implement the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission, while separate committees were formed led by the Prime Minister and Chief Secretary to do rigorous homework on addressing the challenges inherent in restructuring the civil service. We also drafted the Civil Service Adjustment Act, which is in the process of being endorsed by the Parliament, and carried out various other works for setting up bases for institutional arrangements within the impending federal structure.
Decentralizing the Public Service Commission, setting up different training institutions—at least at the provincial levels, and strengthening government agencies at the local level are among the key steps to be taken in the effort to decentralize power from Singhadurbar in a true sense. The new statute has called for a reform of the entire government system, increased accountability and transparency within it, along with assurances of inclusion.
However, given that we have functioned under a centralized system for centuries, it is important to remember that a federal, decentralized state as envisioned by the Constitution will take time to become fully realized. The successful completion of the local elections has already set the foundation in this regard, and now, with the elections of the federal and provincial parliaments coming up, we will be moving another step closer to creating a more enabling environment for implementation of the statute.