Instead of encouraging provinces, federal government went ahead with staff recruitment

Kathmandu , June 12th 2019

When the Public Service Commission issued a vacancy notice on May 29 to recruit 9,161 staffers at the local level, the Province 5 Assembly had already passed a law for the formation of its Provincial Public Service Commission.

Before that, in the third week of April, the Province 2 government had written to the Public Service Commission, asking it not to initiate the process of hiring employees for local governments. The Province 2 government had said recruiting staff for local governments was its responsibility.

As per Article 227 of the constitution, matters related to employees and offices of the village councils and municipalities shall be dealt with as per provincial laws.

But the commission went ahead with its vacancy notice citing Section 12 (5 and 6) of the Employees Adjustment Act, which states that the federal government can request the Public Service Commission to start the recruitment process for filling the vacant posts until Provincial Public Service Commissions come into place.

This invited criticism from provincial governments, particularly the Jankpur administration, which said the federal government was “overstepping” into the jurisdiction of the provinces. The vacancy announcement also invited widespread criticism--both from the streets and Parliament--for failing to ensure 45 percent seats for the marginalised.

Subsequently, on June 10, the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the House of Representatives directed the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration and the Public Service Commission to terminate the ongoing staff recruitment process, saying that it was against the spirit of the constitution.

The issue, however, has not died down.

In the vacancies announced by the constitutional commission, provincial governments see the federal government’s intention not to devolve power to the sub-national governments.

The service commission had announced the vacancies at the federal government’s request.

“We had raised this issue one and a half months ago in our letter to the Public Service Commission,” said Dipendra Jha, the chief attorney of Province 2.

The vacancies were announced at a time when most of the provincial governments were either preparing their laws to form their service commissions or had registered bills for the same at their respective assemblies.

According to Keshav Raj Acharya, secretary at the Province 5 Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law, the bill on Provincial Public Service Commission became law last week following authentication by the governor.

The provincial assembly had passed the bill last month.

Sher Bahadur Khatri, press adviser to Province 5 Chief Minister Shankar Pokharel, said the Provincial Assembly had fast-tracked the process in order to recruit staff for the local governments which were in urgent need of human resource.

“As we already have the required law, we are planning to appoint officials to the provincial public service commission,” Khatri told the Post.

A bill to govern the Provincial Public Service Commission is also under discussion in the Sudurpaschim Provincial Assembly.

Prakash Bahadur Shah, the Sudurpaschim minister for internal affairs and law, told the Post that discussions were underway to fast-track the bill.

“Once the law comes into effect, we will appoint officials to the provincial commission as early as possible,” he said.

According to Awadhkishore Kushwaha, information officer at the Province 2 Assembly, the bill on forming the commission is currently under discussion at an all-party committee of provincial lawmakers.

“The committee was formed to fast-track the process and the bill will be passed after the committee gives its report,” he said.

Provincial government officials said the federal government had requested the Public Service Commission to issue vacancy with a mala fide intention, as it knew that the provincial governments had either prepared the bills for forming their own commissions or had already presented them to their respective assemblies.

If the Public Service Commission continued with the vacancies and recruited staff, they would be hired for 30 years and that would have meant rendering the provincial public service commissions useless.

Jha, the chief attorney of Province 2, argued that the federal government had enough time to set the standards for the formation and operation of the Provincial Public Service Commission but it did not do so.

There is a provision in the constitution that the federal parliament defines the basis and standards for forming the provincial service commissions.

“When we were fast-tracking the process to introduce our laws after the standards were given to us recently, the federal government moved ahead with its plan to recruit staff for the local level,” Jha told the Post.

Shah, the Sudurpaschim minister for internal affairs and law, said that after the federal government failed to provide staff for provinces and local governments through the employee adjustment process, it was the constitutional right of the provincial governments to take their own initiatives to hire the required employees.

“We have long been demanding that the federal government start devolving power and rights to the provincial governments in line with the constitutional provisions,” Shah told the Post.

Even after the parliamentary committee’s directive, the federal government and the Public Service Commission have yet to decide whether to cancel the vacancy notice.

Yadav Prasad Koirala, secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, told the Post that the ministry has not received the directive from the parliamentary committee yet.

“Once we receive it, we will hold consultation with legal experts within the government to determine what is applicable as per the law,” Koirala told the Post.

Kiran Raj Sharma, spokesperson for the Public Service Commission, however, said his office has already received the instruction from the House committee.

“The office bearers of the commission will take necessary action soon,” said Sharma.

Experts on public administration, however, say the entire approach of the federal government was faulty and that led to the current mess.

“The federal government failed to ensure enough staff for local governments during the employee adjustment process,” said Bimal Koirala, a former chief secretary, “even though it kept making tall claims that the first priority would be meeting the staff needs of local governments.”

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