Literally, out of service | Nepali Times

An exhausting hour-long wait in line at the Kathmandu District Administration Office finally ends with a rude and unhelpful civil servant at the desk. Irritated with everything he has to attend to, he extends his hand and gestures for my citizenship certificate application. 

Disinterested, he scribbles lazily on my documents, examining them perfunctorily, and refers me to Desk 105 for the fourth time. He is bored, and he shows it. 

Civil servants, as the name implies, are supposed to serve citizens by making their lives easier. This man seems to think his job is to make things as inconvenient as possible. No wonder, Nepali youth today have little appeal for these paper-pusher jobs in government.

Being annoyed and irritated, and going home grumpy is not an exciting job prospect. Civil servants like the one I encountered also do not set a very good example for the Nepali state, and its primary job of addressing the needs of citizens.

In a competitive job market, there is a need to stand out in the crowd, and the definition of an attractive career has shifted from mundane nine-to-five jobs to one that is challenging and rewarding. 

But that is not what government jobs offer. What they do offer for the unscrupulous is to make a lot of money under the table. 

That said, today’s Nepali youth are also too easily discouraged. We put in the work, but we want results and we want them now. While this has fueled our distrust in government jobs, it need not be like that. 

Elsewhere in the world, the civil service is an important employer and can offer a fulfilling career of serving the people with pressing issues. 

Unfortunately, the most attractive part of a government job is also its most unsavoury aspect: ample opportunities to squeeze those seeking government services. The idea is to make it as difficult as possible to get the simplest things done so that desperate citizens will look for a short-cut – for a fee.

To increase earnings from under the table deals, the strategy is to make the process of completing the simplest task as complicated as possible. The mismanagement is deliberate. 

Everything is still running on pen and paper, complaints of unintelligible handwriting and endless rants about loss of information in torn record books is all that seems to be going on in these offices.

There is an easy solution to all of this through digitisation. But of course that would mean things are cleaned up, the process is more transparent, and the bureaucrats would lose their lucrative source of lucre.

Impatient service-seekers and cranky service providers engage in loud quarrels. Information is purposely made inaccessible, confusion is sown, every task is done in slow motion. The idea is to make you so fed up that in order to get the job done, you will engage the service of a lurking middle-man who is cahoots with the officers at their desks.

The promise of life-long job security, the luxury of having pension rolling in long after retirement, and the leeway to decide when and how much to work are the sole attractions of holding a government job. Once you get in, you never get kicked out.

The waste and inefficiency of this is incalculable. The system lets laziness and errors slide easily, idleness and lack of output do not induce consequences. Corruption not just goes unpunished, but is accepted as standard operating procedure. 

Despite this, the 62nd annual report of the Public Service Commision shows that the number of candidates recommended for permanent appointment last year hit an all-time-low. The pandemic might have a role to play in this, but it points towards an inescapable reality — new appointments to government posts are dwindling, weakening the civil service.

What is feeding this trend? Part of it is that the current bureaucratic system largely runs on whim. Each step of the administrative process necessitates approval from a superior and the process is excruciatingly slow. 

For fast and furious youngsters, this system fails to impress, because not only does it not reward innovation, but inventiveness is constrained to pave way for the same old schemes and tricks — manual instead of digital, middleman-infested instead of autonomous. 

The government sector fails to offer one key appeal for young Nepalis: it lacks meaning. Doing it for the country is not reason enough for someone to sit at a desk and be showered with complaints all day long. 

Show us all that has been done, what is currently happening, the social impact government jobs are making, the lives they are changing. Give us a much-needed ‘why’? Give us a cause. And then we might be interested.

We want risk, we want real-life experiences that shape our vision, that make us consequential as a people. We want to build, and to fail, and pick ourselves back up, celebrate ideas that we can call ‘ours’. This description sounds very distant from what a Nepal government job entails. 

The idealism of the youth is being stifled by the lethargy and ennui of government offices. It makes us angry, enraged, and determined to overhaul the system. It is only a question of time before Nepal’s young take over to give the civil service a makeover. A revolution is long-overdue. 

The UK’s Civil Service Fast Stream is a government leadership development program that guides new graduates into the civil service, placing just one thing front and centre: to serve fellow citizens.

By employing multiple schemes designed to fit youngsters interested in almost any field from finance and science to IT and commerce, it makes them feel valued. Serving the public is seen as an opportunity to make oneself better professionally, to learn, and excel. 

That is the premise of an ideal civil service sector. And that is the change we want to see here in Nepal.

It is up to the Nepal government to ensure that young graduates are interested in entering the civil service. Just like the local elections this year stirred up interest in independent candidates and sent ripples of renewed passion for politics, the civil service needs a similar upheaval.  

After endless hours of waiting in line and being given the runaround, I leave the DAO office, hoping to never have to step back in there. But, of course, I will have to come back tomorrow because my citizenship certificate was not ready today. 

Yugeshwor Koirala is a student at St. Xavier’s College, Kathmandu. 

Read more:  Nepal’s youth bulge, Trishna Rana

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