KATHMANDU, July 12: Caretaker Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai´s much-touted ´good governance´ initiative has received a major jolt after the government secretaries showed reluctance to sign an annual performance contract, terming it "meaningless exercise in the present situation of excessive political interference."
Bhattarai had initiated a 23-point Good Governance Action Plan six months ago, one of which was to improve the monitoring system of the secretaries´ performance.
But the secretaries´ reluctance to sign the contract itself has come as a major setback to the program´s implementation, as they were supposed to sign it within six months starting from new fiscal year. But there is little progress in that direction despite the fact the new fiscal year is just four days away.
"Though the concerned ministries are supposed to be prepared for [implementing the annual performance contract program], they are not ready for that," agreed Leela Mani Paudyal, secretary at the Prime Minister´s Office, when asked about the progress in the implementation of the program.
The program, included in the ambitious action plan amidst widespread allegation that the prime minister failed to usher good governance despite his political will and priority, aimed at turning the ´process-oriented´ bureaucracy into a ´result-oriented´ one besides making top bureaucrats accountable to their responsibilities.
But the government secretaries said they are reluctant to enter into a performance contract with their ministers because they fear that "too much interference" will not allow them to implement their commitments in the contract and their ministers will use their failure to perform as per the contract as a pretext to punish the secretaries whom they do not like.
Besides, they said such a contract will be a mere sheet of paper until the political level of the government commits to not transfer them for a certain time. It is a general trend in bureacuracy that the secretaries are transfered along with the change of guard in Singha Durbar and if the concerned ministers do not like the secretaries.
"We have seen transfers of our colleagues by ministers for even taking action against erring peons. What is the meaning of signing such a contract in the present situation of excessive political interference in our work, though introducing the annual performance contract is a good idea?" said an incumbent secretary, when Republica asked about his difficulty in signing the contract with his minister.
This is not the first time the government has tried to introduce annual performance contract for secretaries. Former Secretary Yubraj Pandey said the concept was floated some four years ago when he was general administration secretary but it never materialized.
A sitting secretary also said that the prime minister´s office had held a discussion with all the government secretaries on the concept of annual performance contract some two years ago. "In that meeting, the secretaries vehemently opposed the idea, citing excessive political interference in bureaucracy," the secretary said on condition of anonymity.
Pandey too agrees with the sitting secretaries and says, "The concept of annual performance contract is good if implemented. But there should be guarantee that the political level of the government allow them to work autonomously. In this situation, the secretaries will find themselves in difficulty in implementing the contract. It becomes risky for them to enter into such contract."
He further says that this program will not be effective unless the government assures the secretaries that they would be transferred through an objective evaluation of their performance.
"It is our reality that secretaries are transferred on the basis of flattery and nepotism. Unless secretaries are transferred on performance basis, such a contract will mean nothing even if they are introduced," said another incumbent secretary when asked about his stance on the prime minister announced program.