Two months earlier the government shut down all 25 state-owned jute mills operated by Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) retrenching about 25,000 workers. The reason is simple, these 25 mills were incurring huge losses. Last week, the government promoted 98 joint secretaries to the rank of additional secretary beyond the sanctioned posts in the organogram for the civil administration.
When the government closed the jute mills to end losses, there is no clear indication what profit it will make by promoting so many additional secretaries as the current bureaucracy is widely considered as mammoth in size.
There are already 568 additional secretaries against 120 posts in the organogram and many of them were already doing jobs below their ranks. In October 2019, the government promoted 156 joint secretaries to the rank of additional secretary at a time. In August 2018, the government promoted 154 joint secretaries to additional secretaries. Most of them were from the 10th batch of Bangladesh Civil Service.
Reengineering, restructuring and reorganisation of the government's overall size is a longtime ambition as our public service system led by systematised bureaucracy, originated during the colonial era, is top-heavy in structure, coterie in thought, addicted to protocol and authoritarian in dealing with the public. In every step, it is felt that the capacity of the state to deliver to its citizens has been eroded to an unimaginable low due to ineffective, corrupt and sycophant bureaucracy.
Immediate after the 2008 elections, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her first secretary-level meeting in January 2009, asked the officials to work neutrally with all their talents and efforts for the people. In another speech in 2016, she said, "Do not indulge in corruption and do not let others indulge in corruption. You must discharge your duties with honesty as public servants because all of your salaries and allowances come from the hard-earned money of the common people."
Certainly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina always thinks of a bureaucracy that is efficient and corruption-free. To prevent corruption in the public sector, the salaries and benefits of government employees had been increased by her government at a high rate. Yet corruption is the most pronounced word in every sphere of the country where the public service providers are involved.
There are calls for sustainable reforms of service delivery systems to aware bureaucrats about their service responsibilities. Rightsizing initiatives are discussed everywhere through comprehensive planning at the centre and in the periphery. While arguments for a pay increase for bureaucrats came from the government, there was a call from the society to scrutinise the bloated and overstaffed aspects of the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, it was never dissected properly.
Politicians always talk about a corruption-free administration, but they give little thoughts on the efficiency of the bureaucracy through making it rightsized and smart. Almost all the ministries, departments and directorates are congested with a large number of additional and joint secretaries resulting in hundreds of them are kept as OSD (officer on special duty) for years together while many are posted in places which are usually for their juniors. This indicates the breakdown of the usual pyramid structure that is offering the nation gross corruption and poor delivery of public services.
As the BCS (Administrative Cadre) is enjoying the maximum of these promotions and related fringe benefits, there are visible commotions among other cadres. This sort of dissatisfaction and inter-cadre rivalry has emerged as a kind of hindrance towards governance.
While the size of the government is getting bigger and bigger because of unabated promotions to the higher positions beyond sanctioned positions, demands came from other cadres that the deputy secretary and equivalent positions can be designated as the top most permanent position. There should be an open competition among all cadres to get promotions to the levels of joint secretaries and additional secretaries.
The country needs a system where civil servants' performance is accurately measured, evaluated and subsequently rewarded (or punished). When the reward generating mechanism (raising salaries and benefits) is welcomed, the performance of government employees needed to be evaluated properly.
The central bureaucracy must delegate powers to regions, divisions, districts and other periphery areas in spirit to strengthen the local government system. We really need a working culture instead of controlling the entire country from Dhaka's secretariat.
To draw the best national talents in the top structure of the bureaucracy, apart from the cadre services, the government can open the field for private sectors and non-resident Bangladeshi scholars to compete as senior government officials have to possess the qualities to deliver. This can be a way to select appropriate officers for specific posts.
This will bring efficiency and real honesty in the overall service delivery system and establish the context of integrity. A civil servant is paid to perform, to deliver, not to enjoy benefits only. There has to be a credible mechanism in place so that preference is not given to flamboyant officers who ultimately end up offering bad governance.
Syed Ishtiaque Reza, is the Editor in Chief of GTV