The spirit of service

  • If we don’t strive to improve our state of affairs, nobody else will do it for us. There is no magic wand to make our streets clean, to make our restaurants hygienic, to make our air safe to breathe
- MOHAN GURAGAIN

Apr 21, 2018-

A few names stand out in the public service sector. The Bagmati Clean-up Campaign spearheaded by then-chief secretary Leela Mani Paudyal, who is currently Nepal’s ambassador to China, maintains its spirit even in his absence. Whenever there is chaos on the road, people remember Sitaram Hachhethu, the tough traffic cop. Kulman Ghishing lit up Nepalis’ faces by lifting the veil of endemic ‘load-shedding’. 

These people with such hearts for service are an oasis in the desert of apathetic government officials to shirk work, seek perks and to indulge in corruption. But there may also be countless police personnel who strive to establish secure societies, teachers who teach with dedication, doctors who skip meals to treat dozens of needy patients in a row, and office workers who don’t charge service seekers a penny for state businesses. 

These people, however, never make it to the public eye.

Public employees are the working hands of the state; the implementers of the government’s programmes. The political leadership only provides vision and direction; it is the bureaucracy, the teaching force, the police, the Army, the corporation workers and the medical staff that collectively represent the government for the people.

Public servants are making headlines once again as the government seeks to deploy them to the provincial and local governments from central service. General Administration Minister Lalbabu Pandit has rolled back the voluntary retirement scheme introduced by the Deuba government arguing that the civil servants’ role has never been more crucial as it is now when the country is exercising the federal system of governance for the first time. Pandit argues that trained and experienced workers can’t be sent home with retirement benefits when the country urgently needs their knowledge, experience and expertise.

Large numbers of government officials are reported to be refusing to take up their assigned duties, demanding promotions and better benefits. While they can press for better pay and facilities, they cannot do so by denying people essential services and crippling state mechanisms.

In fact, taking undue benefits by denting the image of the public governance sector backfires on civil servants’ welfare. While trying to earn an extra dime, they are dimming the country’s prospects by promoting red tape, frustrating citizens, discouraging investors and giving rise to ill practices. 

How does it serve their collective purpose when people have the perception that a police personnel can be bought to do a desired task with a petty cash? How does it contribute to the national treasury that pays them when they post tiny sums as revenue after taking their cuts and giving traders tax rebates? How does it bring dignity to the blue passport bearer when our officials and politicians give an impression to outsiders that they are people who don’t work hard, who serve their own petty interests rather than the collective goal or who are ready to do anything for small sums of money?

Public officials needn’t worry about their pays and benefits. It serves a country well to pay its servants adequately when it can. It adds to their productivity when they are content with what they earn at the end of the month. But there have to be enough resources for that to happen. 

In Dhankuta, back in my college days, Pokhrel Dai increased the rate of daal-bhat each time there was a hike in government employees’ pay. Later in Kathmandu, the landlord added to the rent of our room the same month that the finance minister announced a rise in state workers’ salary. The additional cost probably did not affect the beneficiaries much, but we students, along with wage workers and private sector employees who did not get an automatic raise, always bore the brunt. This shows the adverse effects of an inflationary trend on ordinary citizens. It’s unfair to serve those on the government payroll alone while things don’t get any better for the larger public.

For the greater good, government staff can do a lot when it comes to collecting optimum revenue, curbing crimes in society, checking unfair trade practices, controlling corruption, ensuring better services and inspiring people to be good and do good.

When we claim to be in a new political system, when we have written our own constitution and are implementing it, when we elect our own governments, we should get rid of a few factors that are hindering our national well-being. If we don’t strive to improve our state of affairs, there’s nobody else who will do it for us. There is no magic wand to make our streets clean, to make our restaurants hygienic, or to make our air safe to breathe. This requires our resolve and persistence to improve.

The time has come for everyone to determine their role in our collective nation-building. No one can get off the hook by solely blaming politicians for every ill the country suffers from.

If we care to banish our own ill-formed habits, there’s no alternative to doing things better in every sector. From farmers and shopkeepers to service-givers, there’s the need for everyone to be better, honest and efficient in what they do.

As more informed and responsible people, the role of public officials becomes first and foremost here. And what is more fitting of them: To work hard for a few years, lift the country out of poverty and claim better perks, or to fill their pockets by robbing the country and its people, and keep the nation poor forever? 

The writer tweets @GuragainMohan

Published: 21-04-2018 07:32

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