Let’s face it, Nepal’s civil service is not held in very high regard by Nepalis themselves. But in the past seven years after the affirmative action policies of the new Constitution, there are signs that the bureaucracy is more inclusive and efficient.
Take Manmaya Bhattarai Pangeni, who entered Nepal’s civil service as a junior branch officer in 2006. She rose up the ranks, serving as Chief District Officer (CDO) of Nawalparasi and is now secretary at the Gandaki Province Chief Minister’s office.
As CDO, Pangeni was committed to curbing illegal sand extraction and quarrying that worsened floods in the district. Serious crime, including violence against women, went down during her tenure. She completed stalled infrastructure projects.
“My experience has taught me that no matter what professional capacity we might work under, it is possible to change our society for the better if us civil servants are seriously committed to transformation,” says Pangeni, who was one of five civil servants to be honoured at the ‘Integrity Icon Nepal 2021’ last year.
Indra Dev Yadav served as CDO of Sunsari and Rautahat, and was appointed a joint secretary under the Madhesi quota two years ago. Yadav was known in the districts for his boots-on-the-ground approach to get things done.
Under Yadav, Rautahat climbed from the 60th position to 19th (and first place within Madhes Province) in the annual district performance appraisal of the Home Ministry.
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“You don’t know much about what people need just by sitting behind a desk,” Yadav says, “I engaged with communities to learn about their concerns like being cheated by manpower agencies, security issues, etc.”
Yadav is critical of Nepal’s bureaucracy, the red tape that makes it difficult for citizens to access services, and says he is determined to change that.
“The under-served and under-represented, including women and children, the elderly, the disabled, the Dalit community suffer disproportionately from an inefficient bureaucracy,” says Yadav. “It is our job to make the district administration more accountable to the people we are supposed to serve.”
Pangeni and Yadav would not have risen up the ranks of the bureaucracy without quotas for women or Madhesis in the civil service. There are now many others like the two.
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Quotas have ensured that there are increasing numbers of women, Dalit, Madhesi and indigenous people in the government service, and many of them proving their worth with decisions that reflect the priorities of hitherto excluded communities.
In Gulmi, CDO Rudradevi Sharma went house to house herself, to personally process the citizenship certificates of the elderly and the disabled. Gulmi ranked third among Nepal’s 77 districts in the Home Ministry’s performance evaluation. She is now CDO of Bhaktapur district.
Dilip Kumar Singh began his civil service in 2017 after having worked as a journalist for a decade, ranking first in the Civil Service exams. Singh’s first posting was in Baitadi where he made it mandatory to include the mother’s name on citizenship certificates.
“I urged both staff and those who came to get citizenship papers why it was important to include the mother’s name in the ID,” says Singh. “It became standard procedure.”
Singh was appointed under the Madhesi quota and is now an IT operator at the Immigration Department. But he is not happy that despite topping the civil service exam and his qualifications, he needed to rely on the reservation quota for his appointment.
Others like Shukra Devi Rai, however, may not have risen up the ranks of the bureaucracy if she had not been an indigenous woman. Rai has been the chief administrative officer of Chichila rural municipality in Sankhuwasabha district.
“I am committed to serve the people not because I am a woman or because of my ethnicity,” explains Rai. “I feel a responsibility towards my job and to serving citizens.”
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Maheshwari Bista entered the civil service 30 years ago and was posted to remote Dadeldhura as a Women’s Development Officer. She remembers taking her two-year-old child to work every day, and says she has witnessed the gradual socio-economic empowerment of Nepali women over the years.
“At times, I had to donate my salary to women in need,” says Bista, who is currently based at the Lalitpur Metropolitan City office. “Women’s Development Officers like me played a big role in the social inclusion of women, and have helped many women stand on their feet.”
The post of Women Development Officer was abolished under the 2015 federal Constitution, and the personnel were inducted into ministries, commissions and municipalities.
However, there has been concern over the government’s failure to institutionalise the achievements made through these offices.
Nepal began to appoint all-female teams to banking and law enforcement sectors in 2018 after the Attorney General’s Office set up a model office in each province.
Mona Singh led one such team at the Lalitpur Attorney General’s Office . Sushila Gyawali, who now heads the office that Singh headed, says women-led teams made it easier for issues of women and children to be resolved.
Says Gyawali: “When women survivors of abuse encounter other women in a government office, they find it much easier to speak about what they have been through and find justice.”
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