Interview: Badiur Rahman

The corrupt are much more powerful now

Badiur Rahman is a former secretary and former chairman of the National Board of Revenue. He took voluntary retirement in 2007 during the caretaker government rule and has been busy with his writing since then. His book ‘Domurua Theke Shachibaloy O Sorkari Chakrite Amar Onubhuti Shomogro’ (From Domurua to the Secretariat and My Feelings in Government Service ), exposes much of the unknown machinations within the bureaucracy. In a recent interview with Prothom Alo’s Sohrab Hassan, Badiur Rahman spoke about the corruption and scams of the recently removed NBR member Matiur Rahman and first secretary Abu Mahmud Faisal. Details of the bureaucratic machinery have been exposed in the interview.

Prothom Alo :

There has been a buzz about corruption in the government administration in recent times. Is this something new or was this always there? What does your experience say?

Badiur Rahman: Corruption in the administration hasn’t suddenly sprung up. It was more or less always there. When news of corruption appears in the media or when power changes hands, there is a bit of hullabaloo. But then everything subsides and goes back to normal. Previously corrupt people were rejected and disliked in society, but that is not so any longer. The corrupt are much more powerful politically and socially now.

In the matter of corruption of the recently removed NBR member Matiur Rahman, the name of his first wife Laila Kaneez has also arisen. She is an election upazila chairman. I see no reaction from within the party that nominated her. I have not heard of anyone questioning her. As a people’s representative, she should be accountable to the people of her area. On the contrary, after a few days of absence following the Matiur fiasco, she is back in office. Who were those persons seen around her car? Whether government employee or people’s representative, everyone is above accountability. No one abhors the corrupt as before. They buy respect with their money and power. This is a matter of grave concern.

Prothom Alo :

There was corruption before in the government administration. How was that tackled then?

Badiur Rahman: If you do not want to compromise with corruption, you can protest no matter what level you are in your job. The corrupt can be punished too. I can relate an experience of a businessman relation of mine. He was being harassed in all sorts of ways by a joint secretary when he had gone to him on some business-related work. He had paid that joint secretary Tk 500,000 and still the joint secretary wasn’t releasing his file. He wanted more money. I advised him to take a tape recorder in his pocket the next time he went to see the secretary. He did so. The joint secretary once again asked for money. When the joint secretary continued to delay the work, one day he played the recording. The joint secretary not only returned the money, but even went to his office and apologized. But things are not like that anymore.

Prothom Alo :

You wrote about the four best secretaries in your book. They are Keramat Ali, Syed Shameem Ahsan, Mohammad Ali and Akbar Ali Khan. Wherein lies their excellence?

Badiur Rahman: During my career there certainly were many more honest and efficient secretaries. I spoke about these four. At various times they staunchly supported just and righteous work. They opposed injustice. They didn’t hesitate to speak back to ministers. Akbar Ali Khan had an eagle’s eye. He could catch any discrepancy in any file. Once when the lowest bidder was awarded a contract for some water resources ministry work, the bidder created pressure to bring in an Italian machine rather than a German one. Akbar Ali Khan asked me check the exchange rate of the deutsche mark and the lira at the time of the tender submission. When the tender had been submitted, the lira rate had been higher. The deutsche mark had been lower. Another time, a technical team was sent to South Korea to inspect an irrigation project. I was the only non-technical person in the team. The minister raised a question in this regard and Ali Akbar Khan replied, he had been working on this project for the past six months. The government will benefit if he goes.

Secretary Mohammad Ali once in a parliamentary committee meeting responded to a false statement by a minister, saying, “You are a liar.”    

When I wanted to be transferred from the cabinet division,  everyone said that you'll need the president's approval.  At that time Syed Shameem Ahsan got me posted to his office.

When Keramat Ali had been cabinet secretary, a cabinet meeting had been held at Mymensingh. He told the DC, you will not get any food for political touts and louts. Make sure of the arrangements. Can that be possible now?

Prothom Alo :

All governments put pressure on the administration. How did you all function under such pressure?

Badiur Rahman: Actually 95 per cent of the government officials could not bypass that pressure. At the most, 5 per cent managed to evade it. Then again, some officials see that pressure as an opportunity. They cater to the politicians in order to get extra benefits. They take on a subservient role and thus manage to get good postings and foreign trips. Then again, some bureaucrats save their skins by using the senior officials as scapegoats. A deputy secretary writes, "However, this has been recommended according to the wishes of the joint secretary." The joint secretary uses the Deputy Secretary as an excuse. Finally the secretary writes, "However, this is according to the wishes of the honorable minister." The entire bureaucracy runs on this "however". Most of the officers in the administration are not driven by their intellect or their conscience. They bow down to power. And I have seen officials who are harassed because their try to work honestly and within the rules. Their promotions are held back.

Prothom Alo :

You joined the civil service in 1979. You have seen the rules of Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Muhammad Ershad. After Ershad stepped down, you saw the rules of BNP and Awami League. You worked under the caretaker government for a few months too. From your experience, under which government did you feel the most political pressure?

Badiur Rahman: There was no political pressure or coercion during Ziaur Rahman's rule. Transfers and promotions were carried out according to the rules. Let me relate an incident. Mohammad Ali had been joint secretary. When there was a question of his being posted to ERD, many objected. They said, he is a follower of Bangabandhu. Ziaur Rahman asked, is he honest and efficient as an officer? When the others replied in the positive, Ziaur Rahman responded, "What is the problem if he is a supporter of Bangabandhu? I want an honest and efficient officer."

Even in Ershad's time, the administration was not used politically. But there was personal lobbying. In the 1984 BCS, an officer named Umme Hanif was posted to the police service, but there was pressure from a powerful person to post her to the administration. There were recommendations from 11 secretaries. It was said from the Chief Martial Law Administrator's office that this was the president's wish. But from the establishment, I said this will not be possible. The Rules of Business will have to be changed for this. The president does not have the authority to change the PSC's recommendations. Later Ershad accepted that.

There is another incident of that time. Kazi Jalal Uddin Ahmed had been the education secretary. He wanted to appointed 383 additional persons to the education cadre from those who had passed the BCS exam. Here too we objected from the establishment. After all, appointments are made according to demand and the merit list. Some good things transpired during Ershad's rule, particularly the administrative reforms under the Enam committee.

Prothom Alo :

Ershad's rule came to an end through the mass movement of the nineties. Did any change take place in the public administration?

Badiur Rahman: When BNP came to power in 1991, the first thing they did was place persons of the BNP camp in choice positions. They carried out mass promotions and fixed the promotion rules in such a manner that valiant freedom fighter officers were dropped out. The cadre of minister MK Anwar was changed, which was not in keeping with the law.

Prothom Alo :

Then what happened in 1996 when Awami League came to power?

Badiur Rahman: 'Janatar Mancha' was created before Awami League came to power. I would say that this boomeranged. Pro-Awami League bureaucrats and pro-BNP bureaucrats held separate meetings. There was extreme politicisation of the bureaucracy. BNP had given mass promotion to their supporters. Awami League came and started giving frequent promotions so that persons of their ilk got the best posts. Those who had lost their jobs during BNP's rule, were reinstated. They were paid substantial compensation. In the rules of both governments, there had been extensive politicisation in postings and promotions. In many ministries, a posting was made in the morning and then a transfer in the afternoon. Other than political influence, there are allegation that bribes and corruption played a significant role too. Some bureaucrats were extremely cunning. They catered to both governments.

Prothom Alo :

In your book you wrote that you had been deprived of promotion during BNP's rule. Will you elaborate?

Badiur Rahman: As I would call a spade a spade, the Awami League government would see me as a BNP man and the BNP government would see me as an Awami League man. During BNP's rule I was deprived of promotion four times. Many of my juniors superseded me and were made secretary and I was made OSD. In protest I did not attend office for eight months. I wrote a letter to the establishment ministry.

Army chief Moeen U Ahmed telephoned me and said, "I never made any request to anyone. I am requesting you to see if Matiur Rahman's transfer can be cancelled." I humbly said, transfer me first. He said nothing further

Prothom Alo :

After BNP, you were made secretary and then the NBR chairman. Tell us about your experience then.

Badiur Rahman:  In January 2007 I joined as the NBR chairman and the secretary of the Internal Resources Division. I did not attend the first meeting of the chief advisor because I still had the OSD stigma to my name. I had nothing against him, but I was not going to sit behind my juniors. The matter was discussed at the office of the chief advisor and I was placed in my new position.

Prothom Alo :

How was your experience at NBR?

Badiur Rahman: In my first meeting as NBR chairman, I decided to make some administrative transfers. This included the joint commissioner of Chattogram, Matiur Rahman. He was transferred to Rajshahi. But the four members of the board said that if you transfer him, it won't be possible to keep him there. I stuck to my decision. Then Brigadier General Hasan Nasir issued an office order saying that Matiur could not be moved from Chattogram without his approval. That was completely illegal. Matiur was an NBR officer, not a port official. The CGS Hasan Masud Chowdhury also telephoned. Finally the army chief Moeen U Ahmed telephoned me and said, "I never made any request to anyone. I am requesting you to see if Matiur Rahman's transfer can be cancelled." I humbly said, transfer me first. He said nothing further. For as long as I was the NBR chairman, Matiur had to remain in Rajshahi. Matiur even came to my house, my office. I did not meet with him. I had heard that this Matiur could even go up to finance minister Shah AMS Kibria's bedroom during Awami League's rule. He would go to BNP's finance minister Saifur Rahman's bedroom too. When Saifur Rahman's wife died, Matiur visited her grave and cried. I heard other stories of his pleasing those in power. The pictures that are coming up in social media now will certainly be disconcerting for those in power.

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Prothom Alo :

You retired voluntarily in 2007. After that you even wrote a book on your experience in the administration. How would you evaluate the present administration? Is it better than before or worse?

Badiur Rahman: Let me go back to the beginning. From the news appearing in the media, there certainly is no indication of any improvement. Earlier it was an individual who would be corrupt, now it had taken on an institutional form. Previously if anyone took bribe, he would hush it up. There was a fear of public shame. Now those taking bribes, those indulging in corruption, strut around with pride. No one is ashamed of taking bribes anymore. Fathers even look for bribe-takers as grooms for their daughters. Before, the state had control over bribery and corruption. That is now relaxed. As a result, corruption has spread all over. The social hatred or rejection of corruption that was visible before, no longer exists. Politicians talk about zero-tolerance towards corruption, but this is not manifest in their behaviour and actions. Quite to their contrary, there is hundred per cent tolerance. That is why we see a former president serving time in jail. Even a former chief justice has been convicted of corruption.

During the rule of all governments, political power also gave indulgence to corruption. A section of people perceived that politics can be bought with money. That is why Shahid Islam and his wife could become MPs. There was no problem in the country, but now Shahid is serving sentence in jail abroad.

Prothom Alo :

Thank you.

Thank you too.

* This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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