The state emblem | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 13, 2008

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The state emblem

FOR sometime now, an enlightened debate in the country has been revolving around whether the head of the government under the parliamentary system (the prime minister/chief adviser) in Bangladesh can use the national/state emblem on his/her letterhead, since the state emblem is only meant for the use of the head of the state/president.
The separation between state and government is known to all. A state is composed of three organs:

  • Government,
  • Parliament, and
  • Judiciary.

Simply put, the government runs the administration, parliament enacts laws and judiciary interprets the laws. Each organ has its own limits of power enumerated under the constitution, and that is the essence of constitutional democracy in a Republic.
Under the doctrine of separation of powers, each organ of the state has been allocated certain functions under the Bangladesh Constitution of 1972, as amended from time to time.
Each organ has its own emblem, and uses it on its letterhead for communication with other agencies for the sake of identification.
Between elections, the administration is run by a non-party caretaker government (CTG), headed by a chief adviser (the chief adviser has the status of a prime minister as specified under the constitution). The CTG is collectively responsible to the president.
The president is the head of the state
The president is the head of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. When a government resigns or falls or finishes its term, it does not affect the office of the president, who remains as the head of the state.
Under the parliamentary system, the position of the president is largely ceremonial. However, the Republic is run in the name of the president. The president is the supreme commander of armed forces. All the appointments in the Republic are made by the president (on the advice of the head of the government). The president consents to legislations and appoints the chief justice.
Many argue that the fact that the president is the supreme commander of armed forces emphasises the point that the armed forces are under civil authority and, accordingly, officers from three services are placed as ADCs under the president.
Traditionally, administration of the President's House (Bangabhavan) is managed by the military secretary.
The national emblem of the Republic is the national flower Shapla (nympoea-nouchali) resting on water, having on each side an ear of paddy and surmounted by connected leaves of jute with two stars on either side of the leaves. Ordinarily, only the president, as the head of the state, is entitled to use it.

Prime minister heads the government
When Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was the prime minister, he never used the state/national emblem on his letterhead. He used the emblem of the government, just as his cabinet ministers did. He had no military secretary or ADCs when he was prime minister, although security officials protected him. When he became the president of the country in 1975, under the amended constitution, he used the state emblem (shapla flower) on his letterhead.
The government has its own emblem, i.e. the map of Bangladesh with four stars embedded within a circle, and all government officials including the head of the government are entitled to use it on their letterheads while communicating with other agencies. Parliament has its own emblem, and so also has the apex judiciary, the Supreme Court.
From 1975 until 1990, the country was governed under presidential system, where all executive powers were vested in the president. The prime minister, under the presidential system, had no executive powers and was given a portfolio (a ministry) to manage.

Post-1991 period
It appears that the use of state/national emblem and other trappings of the office of the president, such as the military secretary and ADCs, had been transferred to the prime minister's office when the presidential system was converted to parliamentary system in 1991.
The prime minister is not the supreme commander of the armed forces, therefore, officials from the armed services should not be placed with the office of the head of the government. Of course, adequate personal security must be provided by appropriate agencies.
Does the British or Indian prime minister have a military secretary or ADCs attached to the office? Does either of them use the national emblem in his letterhead? The answers are in the negative.
Some say there has been a law or rule since 1991 that gives the prime minister such privileges. It is argued that the law or the rule is untenable under the constitution. It has been strongly argued by constitutional experts that the prime minister (the chief adviser) may not use national emblem on his/her letterhead.

The separation between the head of the state (the president) and the head of the government (the prime minister) must be seen to exist in terms of the constitution, and it is argued that the national emblem (Shapla flower) may not be used by both the head of the state and head of the government. It is exclusively reserved for the head of the state.
The caretaker government has initiated and adopted many commendable reforms. It will be appropriate if it seriously considers rectifying the current use of national emblem and other privileges of the head of the state by the head of the government. Such an action will be consistent with the provisions of the constitution of Bangladesh.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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