Politicisation of bureaucracy and its consequences

Bureaucracy has become a universal phenomenon. It is a pre-requisite for modernisation of every society. Most developing countries are engaged in nation building and bringing about socio-economic development, i.e., providing social services such as health, education, infrastructure like roads, electricity, productive activities in agriculture, industry etc. Thus, public administration becomes the key agency for development. Bureaucracy can immensely contribute to development by serving as adviser, inventor, and decision-maker.
Politicisation of bureaucracy is not a new phenomenon in democracy. However, the intensity of application and reasons for politicisation vary from country to country. There are some levels of political involvement in personnel matters in all countries. For instance, the United States has over 4,000 political appointments at federal level. Even Britain, which was considered to have a strong tradition of neutral civil servants, has shown evidence of greater politicisation.
Politicisation of bureaucracy in a descriptive sense refers to the right of governments to appoint their own people to senior public service positions, and pejorative politicisation on the other hand refers to the substitution of political criteria for merit based criteria. Even in the latter category, officials are appointed or promoted not on the basis of their party membership but because of their ideological commitment and their association with particular policy commitments.
Although developed countries politicise bureaucracy from the descriptive perspective, governments of developing countries like Bangladesh do not follow the principle of pejorative politicisation in letter and spirit. Instead, they consider party "loyalty" as one and only guiding principle for appointment and promotion in the civil services. Thus, the bureaucracy in Bangladesh, which was once considered as the "steel frame" of the British Empire, is now hanging between professional neutrality and political loyalty. Since 1991, almost all the democratic governments politicised the civil services for serving their narrow political interests.
Due to widespread politicisation, it is now generally perceived that bureaucracy has been divided into pro-AL and pro-BNP groups. As a result, every government tries to recruit its supporters in the civil services. Thus, supporters of the ruling party are getting promotion while supporters of the opposition are being made Officer on Special Duty (OSD). In fact, politicisation of civil service has become institutionalised in such a way that the government thinks seriously about the composition of the Public Service Commission (PSC). This is done with the expectation that the PSC would recruit supporters of the ruling party.
Now a pertinent question is: what is the consequence of politicisation on bureaucracy? An obvious consequence is that bureaucracy is becoming inefficient and ineffective in the absence of professionalisation, fairness and impartiality. If unqualified candidates get recruited in the civil services and promoted to various important positions they will not be able to provide quality services to the state.
Another important point is that bureaucrats remain busy in tadbir management instead of trying to improve their capabilities since party "loyalty" and strength of tadbir are the only requirements for getting promotion. The most threatening thing is that thousands of brilliant civil servants have been penalised from time to time in the name of "loyalty." Such a situation will certainly discourage qualified and talented graduates from competing for the civil services.
In a democracy it is essential that the politicians play the role of masters assisted by the civil servants. However, the extent of interference of the bureaucracy in the affairs of the state is crossing every limit. This is mostly because of the bow-down policy and inefficiency of our political leadership. The political leaders should be able to spell out their requirement to the bureaucracy and distinguish the jurisdiction of the bureaucracy in the affairs of the state. Only then will the bureaucracy remain confined within their jurisdiction and consider themselves as the servants of the people.
Finally, the bureaucracy in Bangladesh is not ready to face the challenges of globalisation. Time has come for the government to think about revitalising our bureaucracy. First, the government will have to take necessary initiative to recruit competent graduates at the entry level. For doing so, the PSC should be constituted with qualified persons who would be allowed to work without any interference. Second, the government will have to refrain from the policy of politicisation, meaning that recruitment and promotion would be made on the basis of merit. Third, the government will have to take initiative to train our bureaucrats for increasing their efficiency. For doing all of the above, commitment of the political parties is an utmost necessity since they form the government every five years.

The writer is a visiting Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University, US and an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Administration at Rajshahi University, Bangladesh.


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