Even though they are quite well paid and receive plenty of perks from the government, a "huge" number of civil servants own and run businesses on the side violating service rules, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission.
It said these government employees have either become contractors or opened businesses in their names or in the names of their dependents. They have accumulated a "huge" amount of wealth, the graft watchdog said in a letter.
The ACC said these employees do mention their wealth and their sources in the tax returns, but they do not have the government approval made mandatory in the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules, 1979, said the letter sent to the cabinet secretary on March 29.
"The commission thinks such unlawful practices should be stopped immediately," reads the letter, a copy of which The Daily Star has obtained.
Section 17 (1) of the rules says: "Subject to the other provisions of this rule, no government servant shall, except with the previous sanction of government, engage in any trade or undertake any employment or work, other than his official duties."
Section 17 (3) of the rules says: "A government servant shall not, without the previous sanction of the government, permit any member of his family to engage in any trade in the area over which such government servant has jurisdiction."
The ACC said they discovered the "huge" number of government employees involved in this while enquiring into allegations of people accumulating wealth beyond their known sources of incomes.
Surprisingly, the graft watchdog only asked the cabinet secretary to make all public servants aware of the rules, but did not ask him for further probe or to take punitive actions against the rules violators.
The Cabinet Division, in response to the ACC's letter, on April 8 only asked secretaries to make sure that the public servants under their jurisdiction were aware of the rules.
Different ministries and divisions have issued directives in this regard, sources said.
Road Transport and Highways Division on June 1 asked all its agencies, including Roads and Highways Department and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, to act according to the Cabinet Division's directives, they said.
Transparency International Bangladesh thinks only creating awareness is not enough. Departmental action should be taken to ensure accountability.
TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said it was praiseworthy that the ACC raised the issue before the Cabinet Division.
"But just drawing the attention of the government and requesting for creating awareness is not enough. Action must be taken to ensure accountability of those who are violating the rules."
He said this must be done not only through departmental action but also by the ACC, whose job is to ensure accountability of anyone with unlawful income and wealth.
Former cabinet secretary Ali lmam Majumder echoed Iftekharuzzaman.
He told The Daily Star yesterday that such activities were punishable. An offender could face departmental actions or even lose his or her job. "Such practices create problem for job discipline.
"Just making aware [of the rules] is not enough. Punitive action should be taken."
However, the former top bureaucrat said in some cases, some lower-ranking public servants can be seen engaged in small businesses to support their livelihood. "This is also in violation of rules and can't be supported. But the authorities can consider the ground reality.
"But if government officials run large businesses, actions should be taken …."
Earlier this month, the finance minister in his budget proposed the highest allocation -- 18.7 percent -- for salaries and other benefits of government employees.
Thanks to the restructured pay package in 2015, civil servants are getting regular salaries along with housing and transport facilities and a significant retirement benefit. They also get long-term housing and car loans at a subsidised rate.
The ACC's letter mentioned that the government employees were making a lot of money, but did not mention how much. It also did not mention how many government employees were involved.
This paper tried to contact ACC Secretary Anwar Hossain Howlader, who signed the letter, for comments yesterday evening, but his phone was apparently switched off.
Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam did not pick up phone calls of The Daily Star.