-By Anurag Pant
This article was originally published in The Himalayan Times on 16 August 2015.
Most governments use similar tools to ensure welfare — public service. Public service is usually provided in fields where spillovers or positive externalities make it difficult to capture returns from investment. There are a variety of activities conducted by the government which are funded using public funds. Education, health, agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, security such as police and armed forces are some of the areas where we find the government as the primary service provider in Nepal.
BORNE BY TAXPAYERS
However, the services provided through the government have costs involved and these costs are borne by taxpayers. The behaviour of taxpayers is instrumental in setting the course of the economy and fiscal measures because they alter the behaviour of the populace. Having to pay taxes also changes the behaviour of consumers. Since, a large cost, in aggregate, are borne by taxpayers, the public sector should increase efficiency in public service design and delivery.
The quality of public service depends on a variety of domestic factors. Social, geographical, and economic factors influence the nature of public service and the differences in these factors across different countries leads to variances in public service delivery mechanisms. And it is precisely because of these differences, one country cannot simply adopt procedures and technologies from other countries and implement them here. A certain degree of customisation is required to make any foreign practice or technology effective in Nepal. Hence, domestic research needs to be conducted to identify peculiarities of our country in order to identify areas that require public assistance and to design effective public service delivery mechanism.
PUBLIC SERVICE DELIVERY
There is a variety of factors that contribute to the success of public service delivery and the ability of the government to identify areas in need of public service is crucial. Natural disasters occur in all parts of the globe and the ability of the people and the government to develop resilience against such events contributes greatly to the outcome of the event. The recent earthquake in Nepal saw groups from the community, private sector, and government working to provide relief to those affected by the disaster.
The same event also brought to light the appallingly low levels of preparation from the government in providing immediate relief and long term solutions to those displaced. More importantly, the confusion and debate that is being prompted by the earthquake highlights some serious deficiencies in our public service delivery mechanisms. A factor that has contributed to inefficient public service delivery is our current education system. Rehabilitation of victims, is facing difficulties because of problems in identifying the linkages between households and livelihoods. This difficulty is due to deficiencies in research in anthropology, sociology, geography, and economics to name a few areas. It is precisely in these areas that private and public universities can come together and produce research that can aid to the market and for service delivery.
ENDS DEFINE THE MEANS
One thing that should come to mind when designing public service is that end it is trying to meet. Let me illustrate the ‘end’ by using the road expansion drive as an example. Almost all residents of Kathmandu were affected in some way during the road expansion drive and the public feeling about these roads can be described as ambivalent, at best. Many people lost houses and the people residing along the Sinamangal-Dillibazar stretch are yet to see the upturned mud-patch turn to proper roads. Through roads, the end that should ideally be met is the facilitation of the movement of people, goods, and services. Yet, our main roads are still prone to gridlock traffic that basically does not help in the movement of people and goods.
Hence, to meet a particular end, complementary procedures should be added to the mix. What could have complimented the road expansion? Safe pathways for bicycles, more public transportation, better footpaths et cetra all facilitate the movement of people. Likewise, repairing side roads that crisscross within wards and installing road signs and directions would have diverted traffic from main roads and could have reduced the need to widen the main roads. It seems the government has not comprehended that other mediums besides cars and motorcycles can be used for transportation. This is a case of how a lack of research restricted the success of a seemingly generous policy.
Another area that demands research is in the area of public service delivery itself. While most of the world is connected via information and communication technology, most of our public services can only be accessed on site. During the initial stages of disaster relief there were many complaints regarding lack of information about affected households. Our local government bodies not only did not know whether help had reached a particular location, they were at times even unable to provide information regarding the number of households, individuals, and the characteristics of the population residing in a particular area.
LACK OF RESEARCH
Let us go back to the argument that it is important to have an idea at the end any project is trying to meet. The lack of the same can even be seen in our newly drafted (proposed) constitution. In the preamble of the newly drafted constitution — in the second last paragraph, the ‘commitment to create the foundation of socialism by adopting democratic value.’ How is it possible to create the foundation of socialism by adopting democratic values? In a democracy, all groups and parties have the right to adhere to and express their own views. By restricting the ‘foundation’ to ‘socialism’ will we not, in turn, restrict democracy? Research on the recipients of public service is equally important as research on the procedures and processes of public service design and delivery because the former will help identify needs and the latter will visualise ends. Without proper acknowledgement of the needs of the people, it will not be possible to provide services (or goods). Therefore, cultivating a political climate that recognises the importance of academic research will increase the possibility of providing satisfactory public service and ensure efficiency at the same time.
Anurag Pant is Research Officer at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation.