As many as 136 civil servants were promoted to the rank of joint secretary on 16 June. Most of them are from the 17th batch of Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS). They joined civil service in 1998. These officials deserve this promotion. Some officials senior to them, too, were also promoted, who did not get promotion in the past. We congratulate them all.
There are around 430 posts for joint secretaries in the government. The number of joint secretaries stood at around one thousand with the last phase of promotion. As a result, a big number of officials would be made OSD (Officer on Special Duty) or they would work in lower rank. So, more officials would join in the stiff competition for available posts. It is known to all that these competitions would not be based on competence only. A similar situation is prevailing in additional secretary and even in secretary posts.
According to rules, government officials should be promoted against vacant posts. This rule is being strictly followed in other cadres except in administration. This ‘irregularity’ was started by promoting all officials of 1979 batch to the additional secretary at a time. That trend still exists today. The problem did not intensify then as the number of officials in 1979 and 1981 batches was relatively few due to the tough enrollment examinations. But all the rules and regulations in admin cadre started falling apart following the pressure of a huge number of recruitment from 1982 onwards. Alongside, the question of standard has been compromised.
After the liberation war in 1971, the first and biggest recruitment was held through mere viva voce in 1973. Applicants’ contribution to the liberation war was mainly considered. The enrollment through a regular standard examination stared in 1979. It continued in 1981 too. A few number of officers passed in these two batches due to higher standard of examinations.
The recruitment of higher number of officers started from 1982. More than 1,600 officers were recruited in admin cadre in three years. Among them, 650 were recruited as upazila magistrates only through a viva voce, who were later included in admin cadre. Trends of recruiting big number of officers and merging different cadres to administration are still going on. Number of admin cadre officials is now around 5,000. The number of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers is more or less same in our neighbouring country India which is a much bigger country.
It is difficult to maintain the standard when a lot of people are recruited. A question is often raised about the quality of even a secretary level official, let alone of lower-ranking official. The country which wants to be a developed one in 2041 cannot lead such luxury.
I recently heard a statement. A powerful bureaucrat said all secretaries need not to be competent. Some brilliant officers are enough. If the engine of a train is strong, the rest compartment will run smoothly. It is difficult to agree with him. All the secretaries of the government are supposed to be engines, not normal compartments.
>Another problem of big recruitment is lobbying for the appointment to higher posts. While top 10 of a batch of 200 gets promotion, the last 10 may feel dejected over their little prospect. If the promotion had been given on merit, it would not have created much problem. But it is unthinkable in our present socio-political condition. Many of the lower-tier officials start to think of getting promotion by superseding others since the day they join the job. Many top-level officials also join in the fight. This leads to shameless politicisation of bureaucracy. An official who could have been a cabinet secretary may end up retiring as additional secretary if he cannot maintain proper channel.
It is imperative to recruit less number of officers in administration to get rid of unqualified officials and irregularities in promotion. Question may arise whether it is possible to give the people proper service with lesser number of officials. In India, a lot of provincial cadre officials work alongside IAS officials. In our country, EPCS officials worked in assistance with CSP officials. Although, we do not have provinces like India, we have the system to recruit in non-cadre vacant posts from those BCS candidates who to fails to get chance in cadre services. It is possible to keep 20 per cent of existing cadre officials and make another lower-tier officers comprising remaining 80 per cent posts. Those 80 per cent would be taken from those BCS aspirants who fail to get their desired cadres. They would get one tier less salary in pay scale than BCS officials and they will hold most of the field level administrative posts. They might be promoted to class one after 10-12 years of their job and some might even be promoted to posts such as deputy secretary or deputy commissioner before retirement. The 20 per cent cadre officers, thus, would get promotion automatically without any lobbying. Getting qualified officials would also be easier by this process. It may take a bit time to reap benefit of this system, but it has to be started someday.
Promotion related problems arise mainly from expectation. Some of our classmates in university, who were also good students, joined job in class two and went to retirement as class one officer happily at the end of their career. They knew the limits of their jobs. At the same time, an official with the same qualification might have gone to retirement aggrieved for not being promoted as secretary. If anyone knows that he cannot go beyond deputy secretary post, he would not be aggrieved for not being retired as a joint-secretary.
* Towhid Hossain is a former foreign secretary. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf