America took capitalism and the market economy as the basis for its economic model from the first day of its independence in the late 18th century. In the subsequent centuries, the US continued its progress as the market economy fosters the culture of competition and empowers the customers to choose the best out of many alternatives. Development continued until the early 20th century when the economy faced the Great Depression and the system came under strong criticism. Economist John Maynard Keynes argued that a strong government is always needed no matter what type of economic system you dwell in. However, as economist Paul Krugman points out, Keynes' objective was to fix capitalism, not replace it. And that fixing is possible in the presence of a robust government whose strength hinges on its fair and truly competitive recruitment policy.
In Bangladesh, quotas and viva voce are the two main barriers to fair recruitment in the public services. The number of vacant positions is already severely disproportionate to the size of the population and more specifically, the annual number of new entrants to the workforce, which is more than two million. The system of quotas, which occupies more than 50 percent of the public-sector jobs, is ruining the spirit of competitive hiring under Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC). It won't be an overstatement to say that this system, which has been in practice since Liberation, has become a symbol of institutional discrimination frustrating the general graduates. I think the percentage of job quotas should be reduced to, say, 10 percent for the sake of competitive recruitment. According to the Constitution, all citizens of the country should get equal treatment in all areas of public services.
From a theoretical perspective, quota-based recruitment is not conducive to labour productivity. The production function in economic theory is composed of three major things: labour, capital, and technology. Labour with medium quality cannot help develop high-quality capital and fails to invent or adopt the best technology for stimulating growth. A poorly-trained doctor cannot perform surgery efficiently. A half-educated dentist is likely to extract the wrong tooth. We see these symptoms of inefficiency when government administrators, once selected through quotas, cannot execute a project skillfully and in a timely fashion. Our economy cannot afford this type of system loss in the name of favouring multiple segments under the quota system in an otherwise homogenous society. It is simply unfair, and let us get rid of it gradually to ensure a purely talented administration.
Of course, the system cannot be eliminated entirely. When I worked for the Australian government, I had indigenous colleagues who entered the workforce through special consideration. Keeping some quotas for the candidates from aboriginal or indigenous communities is a universal practice. We should also honour that practice. Additionally, keeping a reasonable number of quotas for women is also imperative to ensure greater participation of women in the labour force and thus to foster women's empowerment. All other quotas, frankly speaking, are unnecessary and quite unjustified. An outright elimination of all quotas may not be a practical decision, hence the need for gradual elimination. Some quotas will also have proved unnecessary over time. Women, for example, will occupy better positions in the future as their academic results in recent years signal so.
After independence, the quota for freedom fighters in government jobs was justified, but its wholesale extension to their next generations has done more harm than good. There have been a number of reported incidents in which job applicants resorted to dishonesty to manufacture the freedom fighter identity, which is disturbing, to say the least. The relevant ministry's main job now seems to be focused on stretching out the list of freedom fighters. And we won't be surprised if the list one day engulfs the entire population. The freedom fighters fought for the nation in 1971 without any expectation of having quota advantages after independence. They did so because they loved their motherland. We owe a great debt of gratitude to them, but a bundle of salaried jobs cannot pay back that debt.
Secondly, the provision of giving too much importance to viva voce breeds nepotism, favoritism, and bribery, and ultimately fuels corruption to take a permanent seat in the public recruitment system. Viva voce may have a small allocation of marks, say, 10 percent, but passing the viva separately shouldn't be made mandatory for the job seekers. The meritorious candidates from poor backgrounds or from disadvantaged groups don't have their “uncles” to make fortune-changing phone calls to the members of the viva boards. There is no one to stand beside those “unlucky” jobseekers. Let us change these institutional systems that breed corruption and inefficiency in the public-sector recruitment process. We cannot expect a strong public administration until we go for a selection model almost entirely based on merit.
In an economy where the number of unemployed people is over 70 lakh, the public sector has to play a pioneering role in ensuring a fair and scientific recruitment system and set an example for all others—banks, corporations, private enterprises—to follow. This reform will make the young generation less frustrated, and motivate them to strive for the best by dint of merit and hard work, not by the unfair grace of quotas or “uncle-influenced” interviews.
Biru Paksha Paul is an associate professor of economics at the State University of New York at Cortland.