Cases of people not receiving proper attention when they visit government offices are common among a lot of Nepalese. These experience range from being lost in the maze of cryptic compliances to losing all hope of getting the job done. As a researcher, I end up talking to a lot of members from the bureaucracy (on the phone or face-to-face) to gather information. Based on five different conversations I had with bureaucrats over the past couple of months, I am able to draw some common answers you will be given when you happen to cross paths with it. These answers might help you better prepare to deal with Nepalese bureaucracy next time you need to get something done out of their offices.
1. There is more information out there. But it is not with me, right now.
Bureaucrats seem to be often lost about their role in the bigger picture, except for some vague statements about their contribution to building the nation.
A conversation with an official at Trasport Management Office, Ekantakuna:
Me: I have been trying to develop a process map for acquisition of green number plate (tourist vehicle) licenses. I have checked the Citizens’ Charter posted on the walls of your office premises. They seem to be a decade old. I’ve been told that procedures have changed. Could you…
Him: It has only been three months since I was transferred to this department. I don’t know the complete procedure as of yet. I am not sure about the exact steps.
Me: Is there anyone who you know I can talk to for this?
Him: Why don’t you check the official website and dig into related Acts and Regulations………..
2. It is not in the policy.
A conversation with an official at Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), a Public Enterprise
Me: Ma’am, we are doing a research on the petroleum supply and the trade policy of NOC. I will need the agreement that NOC has entered into with Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOC). How can I access the document?
Her: I don’t think there is a policy of availing the agreement between NOC and IOC to the ‘public’. These could be confidential agreements and not everybody can access these…
Me: But NOC is a public enterprise. How can NOC hide its operations from the public?
Her: There is no such policy of giving you the agreement.
3. The ball must be in somebody else’s court.
A telephone conversation with an official at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport
Me: Sir, I am currently doing a research on banning of taxi registration in Bagmati Zone, Nepal. I have learned that the Ministry signed an agreement with the Federation of Transport Entrepreneurs in 2006 whereby it is agreed that one needs to take the permission of the federation to operate a transport enterprise in Bagmati. Could you give me the document?
Him: I’m sorry to inform you that we don’t have it.
Me: What do you mean?
Him: There used to be this Ministry of Labor and Transport in the past. Now we are a separate ministry and while in the process of resettlement, some papers might have got here and there. So we might not have the document you are looking for.
Me: How do I get the document then?
Him: I suggest you call the Department of Transport Management. They should have the paper.
4. The person you are looking for is out of station. Please try again later.
A telephone conversation with an official at the Department of Transport Management (August, 2014)
Me: Sir, I have learned that the Ministry has entered into an agreement with the federation … Can you give me the document?
Him: All gazetted officers are in India to attend some program and will be back in September only. All we are left here are a few non-gazetted officers and we do not have access to the kind of document you are referring to. You should call back in September.
5. The ball must be in somebody else’s court…again!
A telephone conversation with a Division head (supposed) at the Ministry of Transport
Me: hello! Is this Mr. XYZ?
Me: Namaskar Sir! My name is Akash and I am calling from Samriddhi Foundation. We are currently doing a research on …
Him: Oh wait, who did you say you wanted to talk to?
Me: Mr. XYZ!
Him: Oh, that’s not me. He is in India and will be flying back only today. Try again after a few days.
My experience in short: In the end, bureaucracy is never really about the delivery of service. It is about compliance. Furthermore, these characteristics of Nepalese bureaucracy compel one to think – is it just about creating jobs and fulfilling the posts?