Rain or shine, the western gate of what used to be the Royal Palace is a crowded place. After the country became a republic in 2008, part of the palace has been turned into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where hundreds of youths line up to apply for passports every day.
Many of them have travelled for days from the far-off districts to the capital to finalise the papers before they fly off to the Middle East or to Southeast Asia as migrant labourers.
But it’s not easy to get the necessary papers. The would-be migrants stay in the line for 3-4 days just to file applications.
Although all of Nepal’s public offices are required to display a Citizens’ Charter — a part of the Good Governance Act of 2008 — that specifies the time, duration and cost of particular services, and the telephone number for filing complaints, the provisions are ignored in practice.
“They’ve put it there, but the government employees don’t follow it,” says Kedar Khadka, president of the Gogo Foundation, an NGO that advocates good governance, “that’s because there’s little awareness of the Charter.”
About 1,500 Nepalis get a permit from the Ministry of Labour and Employment to go abroad as migrant labourers every day.
Critics allege that Nepal’s government is increasingly adopting a two-tier system for public service delivery: those who can pay extra get faster service; others must wait. Paying an extra 5,000 rupees can get you a passport in seven days, but with the regular fee it takes four times longer.
Similarly, in public hospitals, paying extra gets you to a doctor faster, and an urban neighbourhood gets roads fixed faster if it contributes part of the expenses.
“As long it’s only an expedited service, a two-tier system isn’t a problem,” says Bandita Sijapati, who researches migrant labour, “but it doesn’t mean that public service delivery should be inefficient to those who pay less.”