Power to the party

  • Govt bill legalising a single union to represent all civil servants could make ruling CPN even stronger

May 28, 2018-

It is widely known that the politicisation of the civil service has been a major reason for its underperformance, especially since the democratic transition of 1990. There are trade unions affiliated to all major parties in the bureaucracy, and this has led to factionalism and service delivery. The current government has now come up with a draft bill to address this problem. The bill proposes abolishing unions affiliated to parties and creating in its place a single union, which is supposed to be apolitical in nature, to represent all civil servants.

While it may look fine on the surface, this could set a bad precedent on the future of democratic institutions in Nepal. For one, the entire civil service—or any other large body of professionals for that matter—cannot be a monolith. Corralling all people within a certain field to participate in a single entity is the same as forcing them to adopt a particular opinion. Not all civil servants will have the same opinions on issues at a particular time. In a proper democracy, people should have the right to organise on the basis of issues close to them.

More importantly, it is necessary to analyse how and why the civil service became politicised after 1990. When one looks at the underlying causes, it becomes clear that this was not because of the vested interests of civil servants themselves. Rather, the politicisation was the result of concerted efforts by the political parties themselves. Through the 1990s and beyond, the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and—much later—the Maoists, organised civil servants as a way to expand their own power. The UML and Maoists—the two constituents of the newly formed Nepal Communist Party (NCP)—have expended tremendous energy over the past decade in cultivating power bases in various sections of society. Given this background, the proposal to create a single civil service appears suspiciously as an effort by the NCP to establish hegemony over the entire civil service, while pushing out rivals belonging from the Nepali Congress and other parties.

Clearly, efforts need to be taken to reduce politicisation in the civil service. But the drastic measure of abolishing political party-affiliated unions would mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

There are numerous other measures that can be taken to improve efficiency without undermining democratic principles. A code of conduct can be devised that prohibit civil servants from engaging in acts that undermine the integrity of the bureaucracy. Mechanisms can be established to punish civil servants who breach norms. The umbrella union of all parties can be strengthened to foster discussion and consensus among various unions. The very worst thing to do in this context would be to abolish politically affiliated unions outright.

Published: 28-05-2018 07:14

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