-This article has been originally published by Sneha Pradhan in The Himalayan Times on March 4, 2018.
Change – it is incredible how much emotion this simple word so competently elicits. That of fear and uncertainty, but more importantly, of opportunity and hope. As Nepal rides the waves of historic changes in the form of promulgation of the new constitution, the transition to a federal government, successful elections and of what we hope a stable government appointment; we are optimistic. Needless to say, the journey ahead will be full of challenges – one of which is certain to be public service delivery.
It should come as no surprise that economists and private sector representatives alike have voiced the urgent need for effective governance, particularly in the form of better public administration and service delivery. The citizens of Nepal have faced the brunt of political turmoil and disjointed red tape for decades. Delayed project implementation, inadequate infrastructure, and low FDI inflows have all been unfortunate by-products. It is high time that the government listens to the needs of our people and provides services that make our lives easier and subsequently help our businesses and the economy flourish.
In 2006, Portugal faced similar difficulties and sought to address it through the launch of the Simplex programme. Having gone through years of deep-seated structural and economic problems, civil servants and political leaders understood the importance of transforming the administrative culture altogether, primarily by implementing cost-efficient administrative simplification and promoting e-governance. The programme has been widely successful in garnering strong political support, reducing compliance costs and uncoordinated bureaucracy, as well as delivering better public service. This can be reflected through the achieved simplification of laws and procedures, elimination of unnecessary certificates, consolidation of existing legal rules and easier access to public services.
The simplex programme and how it works.
Simplex aims at making the everyday lives of citizens and businesses easier by bringing together policies that reduce red-tape and promote e-governance under one programme. Not only does it strive to reduce the administrative burden from Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), but also tries to facilitate investment and innovation through smart regulation by encouraging digital solutions. It makes a conscious effort to ensure that the regulations proposed and implemented do not add unnecessary burdens to the people. This is done with the help of the Simplex Test via impact assessment.
Every year government offices from different departments propose a plan for simplifying specific processes and set deadlines for its implementation. Additionally, simplification initiatives are also proposed by bureaucrats in the ‘Simplex Idea Awards’ and by external stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, citizens, and associations during public consultations. Moreover, municipalities partner with the central government to carry out a joint simplification programme for local government. Transparency and accountability are crucial parts of this equation. Therefore, the executive releases the results of all the projects each year and also discloses the reasons for any delay in implementation.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Presidency of Council of Ministers are directly responsible for the Simplex programme and efforts that concern cutting red tape and e-governance. The coordination and monitoring of these programmes are carried out by the Secretary of State for Administrative Modernisation. The Agency for Administrative Modernisation serves to provide technical support to modernise public services by carrying out cross-departmental initiatives and ensuring cooperation among all relevant agencies.
Lessons for Nepal
The government of Portugal has compiled a list of best practices they have been able to achieve. Some that are particularly relevant to Nepal are:
On the spot firm
A firm can be set up in less than an hour. No application has to be filled since all required information is internally exchanged among relevant public agencies: registry, social security, tax and economy.
A firm can be created entirely online by using a digital certificate number for authentication.
Simplified company information
Companies have to only fill a single form which is available online to submit financial and accounting information. Earlier, entrepreneurs had to fill in different forms while adhering to various deadlines and report the same information to four government bodies: Directorate General for Taxation, Business Register Centre, National Statistics Agency and the Portuguese Central Bank.
One-stop house service
A single counter can handle numerous procedures such as tax payment, contract drafting and signing, municipal tax exemption and property registration.
‘I lost my wallet’ counter
This integrated service available at the one-stop office can reissue and renew several IDs at once.
This card replaces five different cards from different public services. It can also be used for online identification and digital signatures.
Valuable lessons and parallels can be drawn from the Simplex Model. The commitment to reduce bureaucracy by both modernising and simplifying the structures and procedures of public services were made by the then new government, building on the momentum of their recent victory. They chose easy wins in the beginning so they could build from their successes. Staff capacity building was an integral part of the process of reform which was supplemented by rigorous training. Further, they changed the criteria for civil servant promotion according to merit instead of previously stated seniority. The time now is perfect to follow suit and strike while the iron is still hot. Let’s use this momentum and work towards effective reform. Let’s make all these historic changes count!