What is the main problem of our administration, lack of capacity or honesty?

This would not be proper to think that there is a lack of capacity in administration. As those, who are involved in Bangladesh administration activities, all join after receiving primary training. In some cases, they receive training after joining their work place. And this training is the precondition of their promotion. This cannot be denied that questions have recently been raised over the lacking of honesty. The government has a strategy of integrity and strict discipline rules. But still the question of honesty is being raised. In fact, legal steps and internal and departmental observation are being weakened gradually, which is attributing to the image crisis of the administration.

During the launching of last wage board, it was said the corruption would decrease if wages of government officials and employees were raised. Alongside wages, many facilities and benefits have been raised. But corruption has not decreased, what is the reason?

The corruption issue does not entirely depend on the increase and decrease of wages. Obscurity in the delivery of government services, failure to finish work despite fixing deadline, negligence of the service recipients to provide information, tendency to have work done quickly and the role of middlemen are the main causes of corruption.  

Although digital service is being delivered, marginal people are unable to avail this. In this regard, the service recipients have to come forward while government work system has to be made easier. In addition to making government work system transparent, bureaucratic steps have to be lessened. Something has been done in this regard.

Women’s position in public administration still does not reflect their nearly equal presence in higher education. When can we expect their equal presence in administration?

Efforts are on comprehensively on the inclusion of women in administrative process over the past two decades and, I think, that effort is still on. Here we have noticed a hopeful scenario. Currently, we are seeing comparatively huge number of female students in the top universities and not only that, they are securing positions in the merit list. I think women’s interest and merit to join the civil service will increase over the next 5 to 6 years. A time will also come when no women quota will be necessary. I am very hopeful that this is imminent.

Students had demonstrated demanding reforms to the quota system, but the government abolished the entire system. Did it not affected the marginal people?

Merit-based recruitment and quota system cannot go hand in hand. However, evaluation is necessary on quota for marginal people and women in this case. Though the rate of women education, skills of women candidates has increased, equality based on number has not come yet. So, quota for marginal community must be considered and quota for woman can be scrutinised and considered.

Political leadership formulates policy to govern the state, the administration implements it. How are relations between these two?

Administrative dichotomy is the main theoretical foundation in public administration system, that means public representatives will set the main framework and goal of policy while professional government employees will implement it. But, it must be accepted that there have been some theoretical change in some fields, especially in various social development; new thoughts have been created, and that the professionals know. In case of policy formulation, work on scientific method or logic of implementation of political wills must be done by professionals, and political commitment must be prioritised here. Bureaucracy will have to take the responsibility of formulating the policy with their technical and professional skills to implement that commitment and that is also happening, but more effective measures can still be taken for and professional skills.

There are thousands of educated unemployed, yet posts remain vacant in the administration. Why?

There is no doubt the number of people with higher education has increased over the past one and a half decades, but at the same time, many people also raise questions on the quality of higher education. Bu tit is not logical that all vacant posts will be fulfilled at once just because there is an abundance of educated unemployed. Firstly, there will never be vacant position for those who will come to the job market in future.  Here government must consider how many vacant posts should be fulfilled. How many posts will be vacant in future will also depend on new recruitment. Abundant recruitment will damage the balance of supply and demand.

When it comes to criminal case, civil servants enjoy special privilege under the government service act. Is it not discriminatory?

From my point of view, I will not say it is discriminatory. Had such system not existed, no decision or policy of the government would have been implemented. Anyone can obstruct government employees from performing their duties by filing a criminal case. Anyone can create hassle. In that case, that certain government employee will have to go spend all their time going back and forth to the court. If there is any special allegation, there are processes to place it to the higher authorities. Departmental investigation is carried out in that case. However, cases can be filed over any specific ‘crime’ and that is happening too.

The constitution talks of an ombudsman to bring transparency and accountability to the administration. Yet no government has had an ombudsman. The tax ombudsman act was passed once, but it was repealed. What are your thoughts on it?

I think in principle that the matter of ‘ombudsman’ should be taken seriously. Though tax ombudsman was cancelled, there is alternative system to it. It is necessary to take measure to make this system more effective.

There is discrimination among various cadres in civil service, especially administration and police cadres are getting various facilities including quick promotion. What are the remedies?

The number of posts in these two cadres is many and their scope of work is vast. Usually, speedy promotion and work sprit of these two cadres troubles officials from other cadres. Now, it should be taken into consideration whether a similar policy can be formulated on the promotion of all cadres. Public administration ministry will have to consider the matter. Otherwise, overall inter-cadre harmony, cooperation and solidarity will be disrupted.

Usually, administrative organogram is a pyramid shape, but the opposite happens here. Can such a top-heavy administration be pro-people at all?

The pyramid shape administration system has a classical theoretical base, though many has raised logical question now on how much this theoretical base is  effective and necessary in light of present day reality. Promotion is being made in top post breaking that tradition recently. Critics call it ‘top-heavy’ administration. Since top posts have not been vacant for long, lower-tier officials are not getting promotion despite having requirements and other qualifications. This also creates  frustration for the deprived. This issue is very important in our social system. Work should start now to create an outline on how this system of government, semi-government and autonomous institutions can be institutional and effective in coming days.

*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Hasanul Banna