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Volume 5 Issue 08 | August 2011



Original Forum

Readers' Forum

State Policy, the Constitution and 6
Equal Rights for Disadvantaged Groups
--Devasish Roy Wangza

State Religion for Whom?
-- Dr. Anish Mondal
The Curious Case of Rohingya Refugees
---- Ziauddin Choudhury
Incorporating Religious Institutions in Climate Change Adaptation:
an Islamic perspective

-- Mohammed Abdul Baten
Bollywood and Dhallywood: Contentions and connections
-- Zakir Hossain Raju
Photo Feature: Life on the Margins
Education in Transition:English based learning in Bangladesh today
-- Olinda Hassan

RTIA and People's Right to Know
-- AJM Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan

Knowledge Society: Manifesto for a new world

-- Alamgir Khan

Good governance in Bangladesh: The role of the civil services
-- Hafeejul Alam

Tagore on Film
--Trisha Gupta

Your savings can hurt you, especially, if you are Belal...

-- Nofel Wahid


Forum Home

Good governance in Bangladesh:
The role of the civil services

HAFEEJUL ALAM stresses on the importance of the civil services in strengthening good governance and democracy.

Good governance is not only an acceptable goal for civil administration but also a measure of excellence for the government at large. It is quite natural that the civil administration would be asked to maintain professional excellence with more transparency and fairness in all of their transactions and respond with integrity to the demands of the citizens. Therefore, achieving wider goal of public interest becomes highly imperative. This requires a pro-people and value caring attitude.

Good governance must also lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness in delivering public goods and services and reducing corruption. However, nothing is achievable without a clear direction and policy support from the ruling political entity. Here the term good governance has been focused upon a highly professional civil administration, in contrast to the administration as is generally found in many under-developed countries where the elements of police states are widely rampant. Now that a draft law vis-à-vis the civil service is reportedly being placed before the parliament, its provisions must be thoroughly deliberated upon in the public domain and steps taken to perk up the civil administration.


Despite many criticisms against British colonialism, racism and the like, the civil administration in the sub-continental context has an elaborate history. The second Governor General of British India, Lord Cornwallis, had laid the foundations of the modern Indian civil services. He split the Company bureaucracy into two parts: the political branch responsible for civil governance and the commercial branch responsible for its commercial activities. On entry, an officer of the East India Company had to opt for one of these branches. Commercial officers retained access to commissions on their trading activities. Those who opted for the political branch were compensated by Cornwallis through a significant hike in salary. With this, corruption came to a grinding halt in the higher echelons of British India's government.

The political branch attracted talented British middle-class youth with scholarly tastes and policy interests. Wonderful writers emerged from amongst them who penned elegant and largely accurate accounts of the lives of ordinary Indian peoples. In some cases, these civil servants proved pivotal in rural development of India. The role of the District Collector, perhaps found only in India, also further evolved and became the hub of British administration. This office was particularly important given the poor means of communication available in those days, with the attendant need to empower local officials to make decisions on the ground without waiting for prior approval. It may be worth pointing out that the concept of democracy in British India was revealed as early as in 1885 by personalities like Lord Allan Octavian Hume, Sir Surendranath Banerjee (both belonged to Indian Civil Service) and other political reformers. They were all founding members of the Indian National Congress, a political party that was later to lead the Indian independence movement. The same political party is still holding the reins of Indian administration. It may also be recalled that the British elaborately developed a legal system highly inspired by British Common Law and also a civil bureaucracy to implement the government decision and deal with the day-to-day administration. Before leaving India, the British tried their best to impart democracy in the sub-continent. The police and military establishments were kept very much under the control of the civil set-up. The theme was that the personnel with arms had to be accountable to the personnel without arms. The same scheme is still prevalent in India, albeit not in other parts of the sub-continent. Till to-day, these higher echelons would distinguish themselves by remaining spotlessly clean. Meanwhile, the Indian Civil Service has been renamed as Indian Administrative Service and the IAS officers in general enjoy immense trust and respect from the cross section of the Indian people because of their integrity and efficiency. No wonder, the Indian Election Commission has traditionally been chaired by the senior IAS personnel and there has been no record of any major disapproval from the political quarters against their dispensing. Bangladesh had better learn from the vast Indian administrative experience.

After 1947, although Pakistan tried to keep the image of the civil services intact, it could not hold the clean image of the erstwhile Indian civil services. Bangladesh, as of corollary, inherited all the intrinsic worth and weakness of the Civil Service of Pakistan. Here, with not many honourable exceptions, the sagacity and far-sightedness of our political leadership in general were spectacularly lacking compared to those of either Pakistan or India. Besides, the establishment of the newly independent country depended heavily upon political activists and sycophants in preference to the professional civil servants. The successive elected governments, though depended upon the civil bureaucracy for routine administration and development work, resorted to political appointments in many important state establishments, including the Public Service Commission. On the other hand, in sharp contrast to what was available for the military establishments, little effort was given to standardise the recruitment procedure, training facilities, service structure, etc., of the civil bureaucracy. Virtually, nothing had been done to attract the brilliant university students in different superior services. Thus, the civil bureaucracy in general was subject to continuous apathy which ultimately resulted in the qualitative deterioration in the total system of governance and the country is still reeling as a consequence.

Over and above, a definite blunder was made by withdrawing the power of the District Magistrate/Deputy Commissioner to write Annual Confidential Report of the Superintendent of Police. This was an unbecoming faux pas, for this had ultimately broken the age-old balance and beauty of civil administration, very carefully and judiciously done by the British Government. As a result, at least at the field level, there remained none to rein in the men in uniform and the power of the District Magistrate to inspect the police stations became largely irrelevant. Obviously, such a shift encouraged inter services rivalry and resulted in unabated misuse of power, inefficiency and rampant corruption on the part of the police administration, let alone massive politicisation. No wonder, in course of time, the police department was no more able to deliver the goods and the government had to build different elite forces, taking personnel from the disciplined armed forces, a situation very familiar in a police state but not at all welcome in a civil set-up. Things have deteriorated to such a pass that even for sporadic cases of law and order situation, more often than not, the Home Minister herself has to face the press to answer or cover the inefficiencies of even the lower ranks of the law enforcing agencies. Very recently, the High Court had to issue suo moto rule to the police high-ups to arrest the alleged torturer husband of a professor of Dhaka University. It may sound amazing that although the police could not find the alleged culprit even after weeks of their so-called efforts, the accused offender was brought to book within two hours of issuing of the rule. It is unthinkable that the Home Minister or the High Court would notice every lacking on the part of the law enforcing agencies and take steps to redress the same. Amnesty International said recently that the government's dealing with the Limon issue was a mockery and it exposed contradictions and lack of accountability within the state system. “It's a blatant example of mockery. You play around with the life of young people and do not establish accountability in the system. There are hundreds of families in urgent need of justice after becoming victims of this force,” said Deputy Director of Asia-Pacific Programme of Amnesty International.

In the absence of the necessary checks and balance in the system and also as a result of sudden withdrawal of necessary magisterial power from the district magistrates, we have since been observing sharp deterioration in law and order situation. Obviously, people are losing their patience and are becoming aggressive at the slightest opportunity. Crimes such as robbery, eve-teasing and trafficking increasing beyond imagination. Only the other day, five policemen were confined by angry villagers while fleeing after allegedly committing a robbery at a house in Ghasiara village at Kaharol upazila in Dinajpur. In the mayhem that followed, mobs set aflame the vehicle which carried the policemen, besieged the police rescue team and assaulted the DC. Such was the backlash. The captured cops, including the OC of Kaharol police station, were later rescued by a team of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) and other agencies. Seven policemen were suspended and the ASP closed along with 18 constables of Birganj upazila.

For all we know, this is not an isolated incident because policemen were sometimes picked up indulging in offences. It is also a reflection of the declining law and order situation, especially in the rural areas where people's hearths and homes are susceptible to crimes. And there's the regular complaint against police highhandedness at rural police stations. Villagers are sometimes denied their basic rights to lodge complaints with the police. It is still a police-state ambiance in many places, where police act more like masters. This must change. In the face of such a deteriorating situation, a series of seminars and talk-shows in the electronic media castigating the home ministry or the police personnel is not going to solve the law and order problem. The government needs to find out where the shoe pinches and get a down-to-earth policy shift. Suspending one or two police officers here and there is not a sensible solution.

It is very interesting to note that although most of the politicians try to belittle the role of the civil bureaucrats in every possible way, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the opposition have picked out a group of erstwhile civil bureaucrats as their advisers and they prominently accompany the top leaders in important policy meetings, meeting with the foreign delegates or even when they visit foreign countries to reach important MOU or agreements. Obviously, these former bureaucrats with vast experience, most of whom were members of erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan, play a crucial role for the nation. Bangladesh would invariably need such meritorious officers in the coming days also and that's precisely the reason why the present government should also build up a core cadre of worthy civil officers through nation-wide open competitive examinations. Again, in order to attract the talents, the system of recruitment, service-structure, compensation package, etc., should also be overhauled. If the government pays a Secretary of a Ministry Tk. 40,000 per month and a CEO of a bank 10 times more, there is no reason that our gifted young men and women would ever opt for poorly paid and poorly regarded civil services. While we find our talented teachers teaching different disciplines at different universities of the developed world including Harvard and Princeton, we frequently notice how unimpressively our official representatives sometimes act before the imposing delegates from foreign countries. This needs to be changed.

For a country like Bangladesh, where the majority of people are still virtually illiterate and living below the poverty-line, there is no alternative to efficient civil services. While elected representatives of the people can give direction or formulate policy on total national advancement or local development, the professional part of doing the job of good governance rests primarily on the efficiency of the civil servants. Therefore, it's time to re-evaluate and recast the entire system of civil services. May we not forget that the civil administration is a specialised job and there is no scope to belittle the role of the civil servants in the socio-economic advancement of the people as also in maintaining the law and order and administrative discipline in the society which comprises people of varying views and dispositions. Running the administration of a country like Bangladesh requires efficient management of its natural, economic and human resources. That, precisely, is the responsibility of the civil services. Let the civil bureaucracy serve as an essential element of good governance, speak out freely, without fear of persecution or financial insecurity and act as the "steel frame" of democracy and development, not of any rule or raj.

Hafeejul Alam is a former civil servant and can be reached at hafeej2002@yahoo.com.

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