Dangerous collusion – Service With Compensation!

It would be surprising to claim that government offices in Nepal are functioning properly providing all kinds of services on time with no hassle. But government records say exactly that. Following several complaints from various walks of life, the government launched a programme “service with compensation” at the beginning of Nepali New Year.
The plan was targeted at six government offices with the highest traffic of people and monetary transactions, and where corruption was more likely, including Department of Foreign Employment, Department of Immigration, Department of Land Tax, and Department of Transport Management.
The plan states that if any public work is delayed for whatever reason at these offices, line officials will be liable to pay compensations. The compensations may not be just monetary; the official may lose out on government facilities including foreign visits and promotions.
However, in the past five months, none of the offices received even a single complaint from service seekers. This indicates that government officials are working perfectly and responding to service seekers promptly. But we know that there is hardly anyone who hasn’t bribed to get some work done at a government office. Then why this anomaly?
Is it because service seekers across the country are ignorant of the fact that the government has introduced such a provision? Or are there complaints not registered?
Assuming that people are unaware of government plan will be an injustice to the government, which has publicized it through various medium including mass media. Most government offices have a big board of Citizens Charter hanging at the main gate, listing all the information.
Not everyone can read this, but those who visit government offices are not all illiterate.
So, where is the problem?
I visited almost all the pertinent offices to find out what’s cooking behind the scenes, at a time Transparency International has listed Nepal as one of the most corrupt countries in South Asia. Similarly, data from National Vigilance Center, a government body, shows more than 70 percent of service seekers were asked to pay some amount to get their done on time.
In my visit to almost every office where the program was launched, I encountered a middleman who welcomed me with a smile, claiming he would be ready to do just about anything for the right price. His fee raged from hundreds to thousands, depending on the nature of the work. Such persons seemed to be perfect in managing paper work, making service seekers life easier. Interestingly, if anyone ignored the proposal, they would have to go through a hassling procedure, involving a long queue and officials asking service seekers to produce more papers. So, one is better off bribing a middleman and get everything done on the same day rather than following bureaucratic processes.
None of the service seekers dared speak against the official for the fear of having to go through the long hassle.
The first thing any service seeker does is look for someone they know, either a friend or a relative, and if not, a middleman. This has been practiced for so long that it has become a routine for Nepalis. They believe they can get their work done only through someone they know.
Not just in government offices; people have to queue up even at hospitals. And even in hospitals, everyone looks for someone who can violate the rules and get the checkup done before his/her turn.
In most cases people do not trust government officials, as they have been treated this way for a long time. There have been so many incidents of poor people or people with no right access running from pillar to post for months, to no avail. A retired secretary of the Nepal government, shared that if work was done on time without extorting money, people were suspicious. That is because the government system has taught them that unless they know someone or offer bribe, they cannot get work done. This mindset cannot be changed in a day or two. And so is the mindset of government official, who never realizes their responsibilities and are not accountable for what they do. Both these parties are equally responsible for the current situation. People proudly say that they offered 200 rupees to sort out a traffic violation case, or bribed 500 rupees to get their work done in an hour.
Another reason people do not react to these malpractices is that hardly five percent of the population pays tax.
The government has recently been mulling a plan to introduce biometric National Identity Card that will bring all nationals into the tax net, making everything transparent. If such plans are implemented the current scenario will definitely change.
The service with compensation program is appreciable, but for it to be effective, both service providers and service seekers need to change. The government that has been unsuccessful in uprooting the middleman should build trust among the people. It should make the public realize that government employee works for the benefit of the public.
The public shouldn’t go through a middleman. The public also needs to develop the habit of questioning government officials and even complaining if they smell anything fishy. Rather than looking for ways to get their work done in the wrong way, they should follow the system. There should always be unity among consumers or service seekers, who should support one another.
I remember the secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office Krishna Hari Baskota’s statement in an episode of BBC Sajha Sawal “the public should speak against the official. If he or she is delaying any work, the person will definitely feel humiliated, and I am sure will not repeat such act again”. The public should build a culture of speaking out against wrong things, and for this, the public themselves have to be transparent.

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