Reading at public expense!
We're surprised to learn of an initiative by the ministry of public administration that ostensibly aims to cultivate reading habits among government officials. Although the idea may sound appealing, the devil is in the details. According a report by Prothom Alo, more than Tk 9 crore was allocated to the zila and upazila administrations as part of the project, while the deputy commissioners (DCs) and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) were handed a list of 1,477 books to purchase them. Worryingly, however, over a hundred books from the list were found to be written by around 25 public officials, many covering similar topics.
If intellectual stimulation among officials is the goal, why select books without engaging experts who could make a list tailored to their needs? Why exclude more prominent writers in favour of bureaucrats?
Among them are top bureaucrats, and even an MP who has four books, including three on the same subject. The biggest share of the pie goes to an additional secretary of the ministry, who has a total of 29 books in the list, mostly on poetry. There are various other secretary-level writers as well. In total, there are 166 books on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman alone, 40 of which were written by 15 public officials. Other subjects include law, various administrative issues, history, philosophy, etc. But books by many important writers were left out, which raises questions about the selection method. Reportedly, no committee was formed to undertake this initiative, nor was any expert engaged to select books. There is also no clarity on where the books would be kept, and no reading-related instructions for government officials either.
The whimsical manner in which the project was undertaken and its timing, coming as it does amid a national economic crisis, put a question mark on the integrity of project officials, and potentially cancel out any expected gain from this. We cannot help but ask: If intellectual stimulation among officials is the goal, why select books without engaging experts who could make a list tailored to their needs? Why exclude more prominent writers in favour of bureaucrats? And, as an expert rightly pointed out, should public servants read using time that should be spent in serving the public? The personal (and financial) motivations of those involved with the project seem to have overridden the bigger objective of what is, frankly, a pointless project at a time when the head of state has been repeatedly urging us to undertake austerity measures and avoid overspending.
This is but an example of wastefulness typical of many projects of the government that serve no useful purpose but end up squandering huge amounts of public money. We're told that the public administration ministry has plans to continue this initiative through the next three fiscal years. This will be a bad idea in its present state. We urge the ministry to reconsider the decision, or redirect the money where it is best suited to serve public interests.