When worker layoffs and salary cuts have, of late, become a usual sight in the private sector amid the pandemic, government service-holders seem to be painting the town red with increasing benefits as well as regular payments.
They have been staying beyond the heat as usual even though the Covid-19 crisis has caused a significant decline in the government's revenue earnings.
They are rather getting regular promotions, salary hikes, monthly Tk50,000 for car maintenance, even without doing office during general holidays, along with attractive Covid-19 compensations. Moreover, they have golden offers before them of owning flats and plots on subsidised government loans.
Since the implementation of the new pay scale in 2010, benefits in government service have been increasing. The 2015 national pay scale hiked government servants' salaries and allowances by almost 100 percent along with various other financial benefits.
As a result, about 20 percent of the national budget is being spent on salaries and allowances of government employees. The Tk568,000cr budget of the current financial year has allocated Tk65,860 crore for their salaries and allowances and Tk27,637 crore for their pensions and gratuities.
Quick promotions, regular salary hikes, pensions, power and various financial benefits as well as new facilities every year have been luring the young to government jobs, which have become more attractive now because of job security along with all regular benefits even in this pandemic.
In spite of getting all these facilities, government officials have failed to serve the people as per their needs in the ongoing crisis.
The prime minister's initiative of "Eid gift" (Tk2,500 cash aid) to 50 lakh jobless families countrywide could not be executed owing to sweeping irregularities in the preparation of the lists of beneficiaries. Nor could the secretaries, assigned in each district for relief management, play their roles successfully. Additionally, mismanagement and corruption in the Tk10-a-kg rice sales, in the form of food aid to the poor, brought the enterprise to a halt within only a week after its initiation.
That the government offices could not function as before has been highlighted in a letter undersigned by Rowshan Ara Labony, senior assistant secretary in the Cabinet Division.
The letter sent to all secretaries and divisional commissioners on July 4 said the activities of government offices had been limited since March 26 due to Covid-19, which had hampered the achievement of some targets under the Annual Performance Agreement. It also said if the targets set to be achieved after March 25 were not attained, the ministries would get 70 marks out of 100.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, told The Business Standard that the increasing facilities for government employees even in this pandemic situation should stop.
He added that government jobs around the world offered fewer financial benefits than private ones did because the risks were higher in private employment. However, after salaries and allowances were doubled in 2015 in Bangladesh, government employees had been getting more benefits than private job holders did.
"The general public have fallen into a big crisis amid the pandemic whereas government employees are getting increasing facilities. This is hurting the people who, in reality, are paying these government employees," Mansur said.
Considering the cost-cutting amid the pandemic, it is time to review their benefits as they could not serve the people properly, he opined.
Benefits of govt employees
The government declared general holidays from March 26 after the first Covid case had been detected in the country. The Pahela Baishakh celebration was banned in mid-April. Yet government employees got Baishakhi allowance for the Bengali new year.
After they got an increment on July 1, they are going to get another festival allowance on their increased basic pay on the occasion of Eid-ul-Adha.
Amid the present crisis, 123 deputy secretaries were promoted to joint secretaries on June 5. An initiative is also on to promote the 27th BCS cadres to the position of deputy secretary.
Thanks to frequent promotions, many additional secretaries are now performing the desk duties of deputy secretaries.
During 2013-14, there was one additional secretary in the commerce ministry whereas their number is five now. Even four years ago, a deputy secretary was the director of trade organisations in the ministry, but now, an additional secretary holds the same position.
Similarly, five years ago, the Financial Institutions Division had no post of an additional secretary. Now, 5 additional secretaries are working in this division.
Since 2011, joint secretaries have been getting interest-free loans to buy cars. Since 2017, the deputy secretaries of the administration and economic cadres have also been getting Tk30 lakh interest-free loans for the same reason. Excluding depreciation facilities, the officials have to repay around Tk10 lakh. So far, 3,791 officials have taken interest-free loans of Tk1,017 crore. They get Tk50,000 every month for their drivers' salaries, fuel cost and maintenance.
When asked about it, State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain told The Business Standard that there had been no discussion on the issue at the government level. Moreover, many officers were also doing office amid the pandemic, he asserted.
Additional secretary of Finance Division Habibur Rahman also said nothing like any cut in privileges of government employees has so far been discussed.
Meanwhile, although almost all government offices were closed during the 68-day public holiday, their fuel costs were not cut. Since June, 25 percent of officers have been working in offices and 75 percent from homes, but the facilities are still in place.
Senior secretaries, secretaries and secretary-level officials of the government are getting 250 liters of petrol or octane or 356 cubic meters of CNG per month against the vehicles allotted to them.
The number of borrowers of interest-free advance loans in 2012-13 was 323 and the government spent Tk1,068 crore on petrol and lubricants. The borrowers in 2018-19 increased in number to 3,608 in number and the expenditure to Tk1,418 crore. Although the prices of petrol and lubricants did not increase in this period, the government's expenditure in this sector did.
Arrangements have been made for government employees since 2018 to own flats or houses soon after their entry into service. Employees can take a loan up to Tk75 lakh to buy flats or plots at a simple interest of 5 percent for a period of 20 years. The government subsidises the remaining 4 percent of the interest on their loans.
Employees can pursue higher degrees abroad at government expense. In fiscal year 2018-19, about 340 officers took advantage of this benefit.
Secretaries get Tk75,000 to buy mobile phones as well as Tk3,800 per month against phone bills and internet expenses. They also receive monthly Tk32,000 in cash for cooks and security guards since 2018.
The 2009 national pay scale introduced education allowance for the children of government employees. In 2015, the annual increment was doubled from the previous 3.75 percent to 5 percent. Despite the corona epidemic, all government employees received this increment on July 1. With Eid-ul-Adha on August 1, festival allowance based on the increased basic pay is being given to them in advance.
The government has set a maximum interest rate of 6 percent on bank deposits and imposed strict measures on investment in savings and post office deposit schemes. However, the interest rate on General Provident Fund (GPF) and Central Provident Fund (CPF) of government employees has been maintained at 13 percent. Earlier, employees could keep a maximum of 80 percent of their basic salary in the GPF but now they can do 25 percent.
In 2016, the government launched Baishakhi allowance (20% of the basic pay) which the employees received from home during general holidays.
The encashment facility of earned leave after the employees' retirement has been increased from 12 months to 18 months. Simultaneously, the gratuity rate has been increased to Tk230 per Tk1, which was Tk200 previously.
There is no end to the benefits of government employees after retirement. After the death of 100% pensioners, their wives and disabled children will get lifelong and their widows 15 years of family pension. During this time, they will also get monthly medical allowance and two festival allowances a year.
Besides, the pensionable service period has been increased from 10-25 years to 5-25 years. The pension rate has been increased from 80 percent to 90 percent of the last-month basic salary drawn out. Government pensioners and family pensioners are being given an annual increment of 5 percent in their monthly pension.