Why do bureaucrats always get the blame?
Criticising civil bureaucrats has become a trend for journalists. While it is true that bureaucracy is associated with procrastination, it is important to understand the role of civil servants under the Constitution of Bangladesh. Politicians, mostly ministers, formulate policies and civil servants implement these policies. This is their defined role by the Constitution. Accordingly, the job of members of parliament is to make laws. Nowhere in the job description of MPs is distributing relief mentioned, as suggested by the reporter who wrote "The republic of bureaucrats!" in The Daily Star. MPs got involved in this task because there is money in it—this is an open secret. Nowadays, they are even becoming chairpersons of school committees for the same reason. It is not an MP's job to worry about the appointment of teachers at a primary school. They are public servants paid with taxpayers' money to do their job.
The reason the Prime Minister asked secretaries to take over relief distribution from MPs was because of widespread corruption in it. This was reported by all newspapers. Once the secretaries took over, the relief distribution was efficient, and the poor received what was meant for them. But no newspaper reported this. So, something to think about—journalists, who are supposed to be the "conscience" of society, are taking the side of corrupt politicians who have no problem stealing food and cash from the poor during a pandemic. Instead, they are criticising public servants who performed their job well. This is not to say that public servants are more honest than politicians. Such comparisons can be murky in a country like ours. Who is honest? Who is efficient? You be the judge.
There is no reason the top jobs of the Public Service Commission (PSC) should go to academics. The reporter argues that these jobs should go to experts. He doesn't seem to understand that academics are not experts in public service, public servants are! For inexplicable reasons, there has been a culture of appointing university professors in these roles. So, professors now feel entitled to these. They teach theories about public service, but they have actually never implemented these theories. That is why professors have failed so miserably as administrators (vice chancellors) of public universities. It may be news to you that in India, bureaucrats are often appointed vice chancellors of central universities such as Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and so on. It may be even more surprising that the central Indian government feels quite comfortable appointing joint secretaries in these roles. Public servants have historically performed efficiently in these roles. Indian journalists do not question why bureaucrats were appointed there instead of professors. Do you think professors are doing a good job as vice chancellors of public universities here?
The reporter also asks why bureaucrats are appointed as election commissioners or CECs. Let me ask another question. Why are army officers being appointed as election commissioners? In the current election commission, there is a brigadier. In previous election commissions also, brigadiers were appointed members. Army officers are appointed as director generals of medical colleges and other government bodies. Has the efficiency of these institutions increased? News reports show that they have not. Under the constitution, the role of the army is to defend the country from external enemies. In special circumstances like natural disasters or other emergencies, they will aid the civil government.
It may be popular to blame bureaucrats. The truth is that a country needs an efficient bureaucracy to run the affairs of the government and serve the public. Politicians should formulate policies. Professors should teach. Civil servants should govern. That is how it should be in a democracy. In India, the military has never been able to take over civilian governments. Have you ever thought why this is so? It is said that the Indian Administrative Service is the steel frame of Indian democracy. India is not a perfect example, especially under PM Modi. But even its staunch critics like myself would admit that it is a functioning democracy, which remains a distant dream to many nations, including ours.
Are public servants corrupt and inefficient? You bet. Then again, who is not in Bangladesh? A skilled and efficient bureaucracy is a fundamental pillar of democracy. There are many examples of bureaucrats, mostly former CSPs (Civil Service of Pakistan) who have done excellent jobs in different roles. For example, Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, who was President of Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001, was a CSP officer. He started his career as a CSP officer in 1954 and then was transferred to the Judicial Branch, where he ultimately became the Chief Justice of Bangladesh. Justice Shahabuddin was one of the finest and most effective presidents in the history of Bangladesh. Bureaucrats like Dr Akbar Ali Khan, Dr ATM Shamsul Huda and Khaled Shams (all former CSPs) have done way more for the nation than most academics.
I have heard some people say, what's the big deal? Bureaucrats are paid to do their job. That's true. But aren't teachers paid to teach? Aren't journalists paid to do whatever it is that they do? Is there anyone who does their job for free?
Military rulers undermine and weaken civil administrations to pursue their own interests. Sometimes, they give prized jobs to professors that should not go to them. But that does not mean that they are the ones who are more suitable in these roles. Like the army should mind its own business, professors should pay attention to teaching, the job they are paid to do. God knows the state of education in our universities is not good. The job of the media should be to look after public interests. When journalists and the media take the side of corrupt politicians and academics and stay silent about the increasing role of the army in the administration, something is seriously wrong.
In conclusion, however, I must say that the current state of the civil administration is dismal. Politicisation, nepotism, widespread corruption and inefficiency are ruining the bureaucracy that is supposed to be a vanguard of democracy. Then again, the state of higher education is even worse.
Dina S is writing from South Carolina.