Sensitive But Neglected

Some of the public offices are seen less important in public eyes than others which seem more focused on issues that are of least public concerns. In fact a few offices, which are shouldering responsibilities related to the daily lives of the people viz security, employment etc. are so much resourced-constrained that they cannot  respond to the public grievances effectively. For example the Ministry of Labor is said to be the least resourced agency of the government judged against its functions to manage the foreign employment.

This author was visiting the departments of passport and consular matters last week, which have been established in the recent years under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was amazed to see the personnel working there with remarkably low morale. Question arises as to why is this occurring even at a time when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has become the most sought after government office even surpassing the Finance Ministry, that is in charge of state coffers, based on the aspirations of Nepali citizens, who wish to join government service.

Available statistics in the Public Service Commission reveal that a good number of Finance Ministry officials are more inclined to test their abilities by deciding to sit for competitive examinations conducted by Public Service Commission, should there be advertisements for vacancies to enter into Foreign Service. There is a growing craze among many job seekers to be a part of Foreign Service, which is a new service in vogue for the last few years. However, this exclusive service existed in the 1960s but was later dismantled making it a group of service under General Administration.

Until the Civil Service Act was amended following persistent efforts by those working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all personnel working for the ministry did not enjoy the special privileges vis-à-vis their transfer, promotion etc. In this regard the issue of promotion, both through two options, either based on seniority or free competition, has been conspicuous as it directly impacts on a civil servant’s career in the related profession. The enactment of concerned act providing for a separate foreign service has brought a sea change in offering opportunities of career promotion to the personnel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, utilizing which they are rising the ladders of promotion very quickly.

An instance of this can be had from the Gorkhapatra notices of the Public Service Commission related to promotion of officials belonging to Foreign Service and Administrative Service that were published in Magh. A very recent decision of the promotion committee led by one of the members of the Public Service Commission, has demonstrated that for the post of first class gazetted officer, any second class officer from Administrative Service has to score almost the full marks (100) to get promoted. Whereas the second class gazetted officer of Foreign Service gets promoted to the post of joint secretary by scoring less than 85 marks. Such marks are calculated on the basis of seniority, educational qualifications, and assignment to remote areas etc. How ironical it is!

One would be totally surprised to find a large number of the foreign service personnel now assigned to the departments of passport and consular affairs demoralized, who are always waiting for an opportunity to get transferred from their respective offices. Let us take the example of passport department, where increasing crowds form every day for applying and obtaining passports. In terms of public relations, this department is the one of the busiest government offices, besides the district administration offices and land revenue offices.

Despite extended hours of work and extra collection counters, the queues in the passport department are still disappointing. The problems here are not the timing of preparing and the distribution of the passports, but the long pending cases of applicants, whose errors have not been promptly sorted at the points of collection. As explained to this scribe by the concerned officials of the passport department, many avoidable errors are ignored by the personnel either in missions abroad or the district administration offices in the country.

An example of this was noticed when an applicant was seen appealing to expedite the issuance of the passport, the delay for which was caused by a simple mistake of spelling errors in names and address, which should tally with the one provided for in the old passport. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been denying the applicants the new passport unless they pay the fees of passport for the second time even though the mistake that led to the cancellation of the prepared passport is due to the negligence of government employees in charge of collecting the application forms. Had they screened the information with utmost care, the applicant wouldn’t be compelled to reapply.

It seems that there is lack of proper coordination between ministries of foreign and home affairs and moreover, embassies/missions abroad are less attentive to this public service as a result of which applications remain pending at central office, Kathmandu for several months. The responsible officers of the passport department have assured that they are now committed to achieving zero level of pending cases to better serve the Nepali people. Actions rather than words really count.

A pitiable condition prevails in consular department located in Tripureshore, where lack of physical facilities, including uninterrupted supply of electricity, impedes its work. This is the office that has to handle all the grievances of relatives of those in the foreign employment, whose cases range from bringing dead bodies to Nepal to rescuing the Nepali laborers in distress. Additionally, it issues attestation papers concerning date of birth, educational certificates, and marriage registration certificates etc. The manpower associated with the consular department is hardly sufficient considering the work load it has to handle.

The government has expanded the missions abroad and the number is 36 including all consulates-general, which is significant taking Nepal’s size of economy into account. Operating such offices in the foreign land involves a huge amount of hard currencies. However, there has not been proper review of the functioning of some hastily opened embassies. A few of them may have proved even white elephants making negligible contribution to the realization of Nepal’s foreign policy goals, including enhanced economic ties with the destination countries.

While some of the offices under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs like the two departments as mentioned above suffer for lack of necessary resources, whose services directly impact on the lives of the Nepali people, it may be prudent to reorder our priorities and ensure that scarce resources are properly allocated for greater productivity.

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