The republic of BUREAUCRATS!
Over the years, the government has put present and former bureaucrats at the helm of almost all state bodies, some of which should be led by professionals with specific expertise.
This development, as seen by governance experts, is a kind of government's no-confidence in public representatives or professionals outside the civil service.
This, however, is not due to the dearth of qualified people beyond the bureaucracy but the lack of political commitment and lack of respect for competition and specialisation, they observed.
"During the British era, we were under colonial rule. During the Pakistani period, we were under military bureaucracy. Then we fought to have the country governed by elected representatives. But the bureaucratic system still prevails," Dhaka UniversityEmeritus Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury told The Daily Star.
"There is a parliament but that is not effective. An elected government is there but elections are not transparent," he said.
"Ministers have become too dependent on bureaucrats. All power has gone to the bureaucrats and they are controlling everything."
Recently, the government appointed a retired bureaucrat as the treasurer of Bangamata Sheikh Fojilatunnesa Mujib Science and Technology University, stirring criticism among the teachers.
They argued that a teacher is more suitable for the post since the budget and financial issues are related to academic activities of the university. They also termed the appointment "unethical" and "unacceptable".
Earlier, the government appointed two former additional secretaries as treasurer and registrar of Islamic Arabic University and a government college teacher as treasurer of Jashore University of Science and Technology.
Legally, there is no bar to appointing a retired bureaucrat to the top post of a constitutional, statutory, or independent government body.
But the recent trend is an aberration in the standard practice of some specialised sectors where the guiding principle has been to appoint the most professionally qualified and experienced persons in that particular field.
For instance, renowned educationalist Dr AQM Bazlul Karim was the first chairman of the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (PSC), established on April 8, 1972. He won the Independence Award in 1999 for his contribution to education.
The trend of a renowned educationalist holding the top PSC post continued till 2007. The high-profile list included Mohiuddin Ahmed, M Moydul Islam, Faiz Uddin Ahmed, SM Al Hussaini, Iajuddin Ahmed, SMA Foyaz, Md Mustafa Chowdhury, and ZN Tahomida Begum.
Dr Sadat Hossain became the first retired government bureaucrat to hold the PSC chairman's post in November 2007. Since then it has been a show of retired government officials -- AT Ahmedul Huq Chowdhury, a retired police official, and retired bureaucrats Ikram Ahmed and Muhammed Sadique.
A similar deviating trend has also been prevalent in the Election Commission. A retired judge used to hold the post of the chief election commissioner from 1972 to 1996. The five out of six CECs after that have been retired bureaucrats.
Dr Mizanur Rahman, a Dhaka University law professor, was the first chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), established in 2007. But his successor Reazul Hoque was a retired bureaucrat as are current chair Nasima Begum and her two associates -- Dr Kamal Uddin Ahmed and Nomita Halder.
The Information Commission was set up in 2009 for the sole purpose of ensuring that the general public can demand information from the government.
The Commission's website states that its duty is "to issue directives for the preservation, management, publication, publicity of and access to information by authority" and to "oversee the Right to Information Act".
However, except for Golam Rahman, a former Dhaka University teacher, all the chairpersons of the Commission came from the bureaucracy.
Martuza Ahmed, current chief information commissioner, and two commissioners -- Suraiya Begum and Abdul Malek -- are from the civil service, a sector which the Commission is tasked with holding accountable.
Experts believe that accessing vital information in the public interest, especially from the government, will be made more difficult when the body's heads are from the bureaucracy itself.
The Anti-Corruption Commission is also no exception though its first chairman was Justice Sultan Hossain. The incumbent chairman, Md Mainuddin Abdullah, and two of the three commissioners are retired public servants.
In 2018, the government added a clause in the Public Service Act that said no public servants could be arrested without the permission of the authorities concerned, a decision that various organisations including Transparency International Bangladesh opposed.
The ACC did not raise a voice against this though it makes their job more difficult. When the clause was included, retired bureaucrat Iqbal Mahmud was the ACC chairman.
The Bangladesh Bank governor post had been exclusive territory for economists, with the first five governors -- from 1972 to 1992 -- being renowned economists. Still, retired bureaucrats Fakruddin Ahmed, Dr Salehuddin Ahmed, and incumbent BB governor Fazle Kabir are examples of a break with tradition since.
The government had to pass a bill in parliament, extending the age limit for governor from 65 to 67 years, to accommodate Fazle Kabir in the post.
National flag carrier Bangladesh Biman has also seen retired bureaucrats holding top posts in recent times, after it was turned into a public limited company.
Although the CEO and MD of Biman had always been people with vast experience in the highly technical aviation sector, irrespective of Bangladeshi or foreign citizenship, the trend curiously changed in 2019.
That year, the Biman authorities published an ad for the post of its CEO and MD, asking people with 20 years' experience in the field to apply. Seventy aspirants, including 12 foreign nationals, applied for the hot seat.
However, the government appointed Mokabbir Hossain, then additional secretary of the Civil Aviation and Tourism ministry, as the Biman CEO and MD. His successor was also a bureaucrat, Abu Salah Mostafa, who took over in 2021.
The current chairman of the Biman executive board is also a retired public servant. Before him, two former Air Force chiefs -- Air Marshal (retd) Jamal Uddin Ahmed and Air Marshal (retd) Muhammad Enamul Bari -- held the post.
Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited, the authority implementing the metro rail project, and Dhaka Bus Rapid Transit Company Ltd, which aims at providing low-cost, quick and improved public bus service, were established in 2013 with two retired bureaucrats as their chairmen. But experts opined that experienced engineers deserved to be at the wheel.
The government formed the Wage Earners' Welfare Fund in 1990 to support the family members of destitute migrant workers.
The fund was built around contributions from the country's expatriate labour force. Surprisingly, the 16-member board that the government formed to take care of it has no less than 12 bureaucrats.
Top bureaucrats have also been recently empowered to dictate domains reserved for politicians as public representatives, such as relief operations.
Last year, the government formed committees headed by secretaries in 64 districts to oversee relief operations among the poor and jobless due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A government circular said the 64 secretaries will consult the lawmakers of the respective districts and others while conducting relief operations.
In the time of Covid, bureaucrats are doing the job of people's representatives, said Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon. "But at the end of the day, politicians have to face all the criticism."
He observed that everything is being controlled by civil bureaucrats when politics has become subordinate to the state machinery.
"Once we were under military rule and everything was run by military bureaucracy," the veteran politician said. "Now it has turned into a bureaucratic regime under political rule."
He, however, thinks the failure of politicians is also responsible for this.
In this context, Menon recalled Bangabandhu's remark that the administration should always be under political leadership to serve the people.
"When we are celebrating Bangabandhu's birth centenary, the country is run totally going against his ideology," he added.
Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder told this correspondent that decay has taken place in all organs of the state. Lack of political commitment and qualified people not appointed to proper places are the major reasons behind this.
It is not wise to be fully dependent on bureaucracy, he said, but it is also true that professionals from other sectors are failing to deliver on many occasions.
Giving an example, "MA Aziz was a very qualified justice. We know what Aziz has done as the chief election commissioner of Bangladesh. On the other hand, ATM Shamsul Huda did well as the chief election commissioner. Shamsul Huda was a former bureaucrat," Imam said.
Dr Shantanu Majumder, professor of political science at Dhaka University, said it is frustrating that the present political government is relying on bureaucrats instead of their own people.
"Urban civil society will also have to take responsibility as they have singled out political leaders and labelled them as dirty. Political leaders have also been portrayed as incapable. There is a conception that there will be corruption under the political leaders," he told The Daily Star.
It has led to the young generation hating politicians and growing apathy towards politics. Due to the trend of character assassination, politicians are ignored while distributing many responsibilities, observed Dr Shantanu.
Ruling Awami League lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury believes capable and experienced personnel should lead the institutions. "Our expectation will be limited if the right person is not in the right place," he told this newspaper yesterday.
He further said education and experience in the related field should be considered for appointing personnel -- being able to just follow the instructions should not be the criteria.
Competent people -- whether from the civil service or other sectors -- should be appointed to the right position, said Saber Hossain, also the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The way the bureaucrats are being appointed in different government or statutory bodies, it seems there has been a change in the government policy, he observed.