The government is struggling to tackle the multifaceted macroeconomic problems and crises of fuel import, unstable dollar exchange rates, falling funds in the banking sector, price hike of daily commodities, inflation, capital flight and dwindling remittance. In many cases, they have taken various policies of being economical in spending local resources and foreign exchange.

For example, we are experiencing load shedding as power production has been hampered by the fuel-crisis. Foreign trips for less important purposes have been stopped. It has been advised to reduce the use of air conditioning. Shops are being closed down after 8.00pm.

It cannot be said that all advice, directives and recommendations are being followed everywhere. But the people haven't denounces these steps. However, to ensure that the directives are followed properly, examples are essential to be set at the government offices and establishments first. This will put moral pressure on the public to follow suit.

People want to see ministers, parliament members, military and civil bureaucrats to limit the use of air conditioners.

From newspapers, we got to learn that the air conditioners in some government officials' parked cars were switched on and the drivers were resting inside comfortably while a government event was happening indoors. If the government really is interested in cost cutting and fuel saving, then let it monitor the car fuel and monthly electricity bills of every office.

But, there’s a ‘politics’ in the government offices about this. They will feel that if the use of fuel drops by 25-30 per cent for three months, the allocation might be reduced accordingly in next year’s budget. And so the bureaucrats are in a dilemma.

Despite all this, a large-scale cost reduction programme has to be taken on the government’s part. In the past ten years, government office buildings, areas and interior decoration has improved a lot. Use of vehicles and air conditioners has increased too. Let’s not even talk about the salary raise and increments. But, how much the quality of civil services has been elevated, is questionable.

The expenditure of revenue on public administration also increased keeping up with everything else. There’s a need to tighten the fist there. Travelling on buses and microbuses can be made compulsory considering the number of vehicles and manpower employed everywhere including the ministries, government offices, directorates, departments and corporations.

The strict policy of limiting personal use of official vehicles has to be implemented. Why cannot everyone else at the ministries except the minister and the secretary travel to office on buses or microbuses? In this case, the university teachers deserve appreciation, for they travel on buses without any hesitation.

Crisis gives birth to innovation sometimes. This crisis too will help us in building a cost effective administrative system. The rule of wearing suits and ties to office was employed during the regime of Ershad. It gets difficult to work in suits in the hot summer. So, air conditioners were brought in and the offices became cool.

Make the office suitable for Bangladeshi weather. Abolish the need to wear suits throughout the year, except for December and January. Let everyone have the freedom to wear any proper clothes consistent with the weather and culture of the country. In jobs that don't have the obligation of wearing uniforms, officials have the right to wear any decent clothing of their choice.

Let a social movement of reducing the use of vehicle fuel, all-out cost cuts and simple living begin. This movement might start with our ministers, MPs, high-rank military and civil officers. Everything doesn't have to happen on government directive. Let our VIPs see if they can travel to their offices on foot, by cycles or by rickshaws one day, two days or maximum three days a week.

All the mayors, zila parishad administrators can start that. Then the divisional commissioners, district judges, DCs, SPs and other government officials might follow too. There is abundant scope of cycling inside the cantonment. If ranked officers can do that, people will be more than delighted.

There are no alternatives to public transport for the public. However, if the footpaths are freed of encroachment, people will easily walk to reach destinations within smaller distances. Let the city mayors make the footpaths suitable for walking.

Let ‘walking’ groups be formed in every office, members of which will call upon others to walk to the office together. There could be rickshaw groups of two people or cyclist groups as well. A distance of four to five kilometres can be walked while returning from the office. Schools can especially motivate parents to inspire the habit of walking to schools in groups using the footpaths in the city.

This will reduce the movement of private cars in the city. Plus, air pollution will decrease, fuel and foreign exchange reserves will be saved and government expenditure will reduce too. People will become more health conscious. And, our reputation as a nation taking steps against climate change will be enhanced further.

* Dr Tofail Ahmed is a professor of public administration and an expert in local government and governance. He can be contacted at [email protected]

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Nourin Ahmed Monisha

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