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      Volume 10 |Issue 32 | August 19, 2011 |


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Misled by the Minions ?


I have always wondered how it was possible for a politician or a non-, with no relevant experience in the field to become overnight a minister, and then be in charge of the nation's fate in matters of grave significance and consequence.

I have never wondered however why such a ministry should fail, or for that matter we as a nation.

I have also wondered why we call only for the minister's resignation following a debacle, but assume that the bureaucrats (once upon a time known as government servants when they were), who (supposedly) have expertise in governance, fill the minister with all the data that emits from the minister's lips, move all the files (or not), maintain liaison with other government branches, and stand as a shadow next to him during peacetime press briefings, remain untouchables when the axe falls. They become tight-lipped and silent when the dark clouds are a forming. In respect of day-to-day matters they are the more responsible. They may even misguide the minister, who of course should have that much intelligence as not to be misguided.

Take for instance the case of the roads or non-. Critics say the minister was seen smiling on TV when many parts of the country have been cut off from each other and the country. Given that some people have a natural smile (remember 'Falu'), what else can the minister do? He knows naught. Those around him apparently do, but their jobs are deceptively safe.

Does the minister have the experience of knowing which road requires repair and when? The ministry does, as do the concerned government departments and local authorities. Have they moved any file for road repair or upgrading that the minister refused to pass? Why should he? He knows naught. Those on whom the roads depend failed the minister and the nation. The minister is smiling (or so it seems) on TV; by contrast the bureaucrats are having a good laugh but away from public gaze.

About two months back, after the rains, it took me five hours to go from the city to Joydebpur and another five to come back. The reason I found was the 12meter road at Bogra had been reduced to 1.25meter wide. Those who dared to venture out of line with their vehicles fell in the ditches covered by water. Cowards like us reached our destination ultimately. This was a national highway connecting the capital to the north. A move taken by the concerned department and the desk at the ministry then could perhaps have ensured that many home-bound people were not destined to spend Eid in Dhaka. That could also include some important personage unless of course they are booking flights to elsewhere.

A road does not break in a day. It gives enough time to an officer to observe, gauge, plan, design, and propose an action that would resolve a problem before the bus owners have to go on 'strike', which was a very polite gesture on their part because actually the road is not pliable.

It is not possible for a minister, smiling or not, to go and find out which section of a road requires ministerial action and when. That is the job of his staff. But since the minister has to shoulder responsibility of his charge, fair it is to say that he should at least even as a symbolic token deed declare that he was willing to leave. That very brave action (natural in higher civilisations) should precede or follow departmental action against the officers who did not do their job. But they have always gone into the ditch under water until the arrival of another minister. The cycle goes on.

To be of service and doing justice to their undertaking in the government, bureaucrats must learn to pick up work without being told. They must take the initiative long before a crisis. Only then the government shall be less embarrassed. Presently it may appear that government servants, well at least some of them at the top, are out to put the minister and the ruling regime in a tight spot. They do not care. Their job is secure.

Accountability and service at every ministry must range from the bottom to top, and bottom again. Only then shall secretaries stop saying 'Yes, minister!' to put the minister in difficulty. They must also develop the tact to say 'No, minister', when the interest of the country so requires. I thought we had training academies where such diplomacy was taught. But often diplomacy is a cultural inheritance.

Due to lack of sincerity and to some extent patriotism, little do they realise that their lackadaisical attitude is the spade that is digging this country's abyss of hopelessness. Taxpayers deserve better, and we demand only that much.



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