Akbar Ali Khan
Akbar Ali Khan File Photo

The coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on the country’s economy, former adviser to the caretaker government Akbar Ali Khan has said.

In an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo, Akbar Ali Khan, also the former cabinet secretary, said the RMG sector and overseas employment have been badly affected due to the COVID-19.

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The health sector broke down much earlier. There was no good governance when I was the finance secretary between 1996 and 2001.
Akbar Ali Khan

Service sector revenue, which generates a large portion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has decreased, he said.

Akbar Ali Khan said. “Our economy is now at risk. It may take three to five years to overcome the loss due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Asked about what steps should be taken to emerge from the crisis, the former top bureaucrat said the government has to formulate a policy.

He said the government has to ensure good governance and spend public money properly.

About the measures taken to deal with the coronavirus crisis, Akbar Ali Khan said the policy that was taken could not be implemented due to inefficiency.

He said the country lacked the governance required to implement policy. If the policy is right, it is not being implemented and as a result the crisis is being deepened further, he said.

About the state of the health system being exposed during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Akbar Ali Khan said it is not that the health system or the education system has broken down due to COVID-19.

“The health sector broke down much earlier. There was no good governance when I was the finance secretary between 1996 and 2001,” he said.

At that time foreign donors said a crisis was prevailing in the health sector as adequate funds were not allocated.

“I said that they had no capacity to properly spend money. The donors asked me to allocate more funds,” Akbar Ali said.

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After the allocation of funds, it was seen an item costing Tk 100 was being bought for Tk 4,000, he said, adding that a hearing is being held in the parliament over the alleged corruption, and that the Anti Corruption Commission is investigating the matter. Employees and officials of the finance ministry are being implicated in the investigation.

The former cabinet secretary said this is the scenario of 'good governance' and this existed two decades ago. Since then, the situation deteriorated further.

The former bureaucrat said a ten-year reform measure has to be taken to establish good governance and the government must have sincerity and commitment.

He said the public administration was not reformed as the consecutive governments did not want reforms.

There needs to be human elements in the administrative system and the institutions, he said, adding the administrative reforms and development were not possible unless the people were reformed.

Akbar Ali Khan said sweeping reforms should be carried in the election system, the administrative system, in the assessment of government officials and more.

He said merit is not evaluated here. Officials of lesser merit are promoted. This has to be changed.

Our democratic system has been diminished. As a result, various problems including the lack of transparency and accountability have surfaced. So the democratic system has to be strengthened.
Akbar Ali Khan

Those who are in already in service must also undergo assessment, the top bureaucrat added.

“In the ACR process, 90 per cent of the government officials are evaluated as 'extraordinarily efficient'. If so many officers were extraordinarily efficient, our administrative system was not in such a predicament,” the former cabinet secretary said.

Akbar Ali Khan said the democratic system has to be revived.

“Our democratic system has been diminished. As a result various problems including the lack of transparency and accountability have surfaced. So the democratic system has to be strengthened,” said the former adviser to the caretaker government.

Akbar Ali Khan has hopes for a good political leadership to lead the country and resolve the prevailing problems.

*This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in report form by Rabiul Islam.