Nepali Times
Strictly Business
A civil servant


In 1979, then Finance Secretary Devendra Raj Panday resigned from his post after a dispute with Prime Minister and Finance Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa. Last Tuesday, Rameswor Khanal, Finance Secretary, allegedly tendered his resignation following a major disagreement with Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari. Between the two incidents lies a short history of Nepal's administrative service.

Nepal first drafted a Civil Service Act in 1957. By 1990, the act had gone through 29 revisions. Revisions were not meant to institutionalise the civil service, but to expand the discretionary power of top-level bureaucrats, ministers and the masters of them all, the Palace mandarins. During the Panchayat years frequent changes in the Act helped the Palace decide who was in and who was out among the ministers and, sometimes, among the bureaucrats. It was with the Palace's blessing that Thapa decided that Panday should be out, and out went Panday. Administrative procedure be damned!

Upon donors' advice, GP Koirala's government started the process of streamlining the bureaucracy in 1992. But as so often happens with technocratic advice applied without an understanding of the local context and capacity, the streamlining work soon mutated into an ill-thought out exercise. Laid-off civil servants sued the government, won their cases, and eventually returned to their jobs. Besides, the idea of creating a lean bureaucracy did not go well with political parties, who saw government as a painless source of many low to mid-level jobs for their cadres at the expense of taxpayers and donors.

With the stage set thus, the following 15 years saw party-political influence penetrating deep into the fibre of the civil service. Secretaries who agreed to help siphon funds to party headquarters or the pockets of politicians were tolerated and promoted. Those who did not cooperate were sidelined. Career paths for bureaucrats became unstable and unpredictable. For patronage, they started becoming fixtures at party headquarters and at politicians' homes. Trade unions with overt political affiliations started signing up civil servants as members, treating them as though they were wage labourers.

By the time of Jana Andolan II in 2006, the mood at government offices had become politically electric and polarised. In some way, that helped contribute to the protest movement against the king.

But the cost was that the virus of partisan politics became firmly entrenched in the fabric of the civil service. In the last two years, with stories of ministers assaulting civil servants and locking them up in bathrooms, Nepal's 'civil service' has become neither civil nor service-oriented. Years of political interference by democratically elected netas who outdid the Panchayat mandarins in weakening all potentially strong and independent institutions have meant that the civil service is now an 'anything goes' institution. As such, even if one were to start civil service reforms tomorrow, pushing the reforms through the system to make it independent and strong is not an easy task.

By most accounts, Khanal disagreed that the files on alleged tax cheats should be closed. The Finance Minister, apparently with the Prime Minister's backing, thought otherwise. Khanal therefore walked away from his job. And the optics surrounding a straightforward civil servant standing up to powerful vested interests make the government beholden to thugs who pass themselves off as businessmen who wear bespoke suits. In the absence of a sustained public outcry, Adhikari is likely to keep his head low for a few days and let the issue die out.    
Something similar happened in 1979. Thapa stayed powerful. Panday went on to become a democracy activist. On Wednesday, Khanal's comment on his Facebook page was: "There is a wider civil society in which we can work together . . . for the change that our country needs."

Read also:
Devendra Raj Panday's example, PRASHANT JHA
No, minister, Nagarik

1. Dev Batsya

It is very easy for corrupt crooked politicians to force honest people like Khanal, people with integrity in the civil service and elsewhere to leave, so that they can continue with their corrupt practices without hindrance. They keep on doing it because they know they can get away with it, because they believe they are accountable to no one, least of all to the people of the country. The victims have no recourse and nowhere to seek help.

It is very sad indeed that the people of the country have no one else but these law-breaking corrupt politicians to enforce the law of the land. The leaders are leading by example.

Do not blame the petty crooks out in the streets. All they are trying to do is emulate the leaders of the country, and become just like them.

No wonder the lawlessness in the country keeps on increasing.

2. Manish
knowing nepal's civil servants...isn't it a stretch to consider khanal white as a lily in this sordid saga??? i wonder why the media is going gaga over him

3. GB Banjara
By his resignation, Khanal has made Adhikari's job much more easier. Now Adhikari can appoint his own henchman as finane secretary and do whatver he likes through him.  

4. Mahendra Bahadur Singh
Kudos to Finance Secretary Khanal.  You may have opened a pandora's box.  Lets us hope that more and more people will oppose filthy politicians like Adhikari and Jhala Khanal. Both Khanal and FM- Adhikari deserve to publicly held accountable. They are nothing but crooks, servants of  Nepali Mafia   I hope they rot in their misery for abusing Nepal and Nepali people.  God Bless Nepal.    

5. Hem
Boycott Choudhary group and other tax evaders. Why are all the holier than thou Nepali media not covering this news?

6. Gheo Chaku Naran.
Don,t mix Rameswar with Devendra.
Devendra was a member of Jach Bugh Kendra and derailed Civil SErvice for his own promotion changing rules ,holding the result. It had a lasting effect for further decay.
He resigned with Chiran Thapa,s backing to challenge Surya Bahadur Thapa,but was out--manoeuvred  by Surya Bahadur Thapa,as he accepted his resignation and reported the palace after 3 days and made it a fiat accompli.
Please ask your grad-aunts about the events of those days before making such comments. ;so that you are not caught in a wrong foot.

7. Sunil
Thanks to media, Rameshwor Khanal has become a new talk of the country. The most talked about resignation by a civil servant is slowly fading and it will diminish in entirety in a few days to come. Khanal's resignation provided Nepali media an opportunity of increased sales.

According to reports, Khanal was a man of principal. He was determined to bring positive changes.  If everything that I as a commoner got to read in the newspaper are the only facts; my belief is that  a principled man remains in the system to change the system.  A man of such high morale wouldn't just walk out of his responsibilities. Shouldn't he have stayed head high and block the irregularities that Bharat Mohan reportedly wanted to stage?

8. Anonymous
"Years of political interference by democratically elected netas who outdid the Panchayat mandarins in weakening all potentially strong and independent institutions..." Absolutely true! This dire picture clearly shows that the party 'leaders' of New Nepal still bear the obsolete feudal character of the past. It is the duty of younger generation of politicians, professionals and bureaucrats to challenge the antidemocratic nature of our so-called "democratically elected netas". For even for any election to be declared fair, credible and democratic the independence of the core national institutions must be guarenteed.  Kudo to Secretary Khanal who had the guts to fight against the corrupt establishment. Had we have a dozens of Shrestha (CJ), Khanal (FS), and Kharel (SSP) with clear conviction and sense of duty on the job, our Nation would definitely be a better place to live. 

9. saru
Real Decline of Civil servant started after the misrule of Girija Prasad Koirala when he tried to politicised the beurocracy and use it for personal benefit. Compare to that Panchayat System was much better as corruption was less and people atleast felt more secure at home. Now post GPK we doubt if Nepal will remain united as these viruses has attacked and destroyed all the state structure including beurocracy.  This is actual grand design which late GPK was always harping about as he was one of the architecture of it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)