It’s been reported in a section of media that some senior officers of the Government are trying to leave the country to avoid possible persecution or harassment as the political situation has started to unfold and a handover of power is imminent. In the Bangladesh Secretariat, many senior officers were found restless with the situation that developed in the country lately. Similarly, some officials, deprived of promotion in time, superseded many times, or placed at unprivileged posting during the current regime were found getting prepared to make a showdown against the government, as reported by some newspapers.
In fact, never before, servants of the Republic were found so much politicised as observed during the last five years. This happened due to promotions given on political biasness, irregularities in recruitment and posting of some officials on choice considering political allegiance or any other criteria, not consistent with normal practice and norms. This could be termed as clouded scenario created detrimental to develop an efficient and effective bureaucracy to ensure good governance in the country.
The Civil Service Act taken to formulate by the caretaker government in 2008 contains a few provisions to compel civil servants to remain impartial at every stage especially during election or an assignment demanding exclusive neutrality. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Public Administration took a long time to share some contents of the Act with different stakeholders and thus the caretaker government failed to finalise the same within their tenure. The Awami League Government since 2009 also promised for such an enactment and started working to finalise Public Servants Act but eventually could not due to lack of, mainly, commitments. Possibly, they thought it to be convenient to maintain the conduct of civil servants as party supporters so that they can act as ferrymen to cross the Baitarani (charon) of next election.
Obviously, the Awami League Government did a lot for officials supporting the party in power in terms of posting or promoting even when there were no vacant posts available. This was done with the expectations that these officials would work for them during ensuing elections of 10th National Parliament. This was an ominous approach practiced widely giving deep ear to open criticism.
Of course, the Awami League government made some modifications in the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules, 1979 with few provisions to maintain conduct of the civil servants in respect of taking gifts, accepting hospitality, giving or taking of dowry, acquisition or disposal of valuable and immovable property, construction or purchase of building, apartment or flat, etc. and acquiring citizenship of a foreign country. Besides, this government has formulated National Integrity Strategy, 2012 to ensure on good governance and combat corruption among bureaucrats. On the other hand, the government all-through has maintained silence conspicuously on the issue of impartiality of the servants of the Republic.
The 10th National Parliament Election may be held on or before 24 January 2014. Public servants are to play a significant role to ensure free and fair election. Deputy Commissioners, Thana Nirbahi Officers who will act as Returning Officers or Assistant Returning Officers and Superintendents of Police and Officers in Charge of Police Stations will remain in charge of total law and order situation of concerned constituencies. Instances of the past indicate that the government, in order to ensure impartially had transferred all such officers directly involved with election from their present places of posting to different other stations. This principle was followed in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008. Of course, officers posted in a station only six months before were not disturbed. The Ministry of Public Administration should take such steps right now since after the declaration of the election schedule, services of all such officers would be placed with the Bangladesh Election Commission.
Besides the election time, some serious law and order situation could also develop immediately after the election as matter of retaliation. Such untoward happenings could be controlled by efficient and impartial local administration with commitments. The local officials could not avoid their responsibilities at Agailjhara and Rampal for large-scale persecution on minorities in 2001 that escalated serious conflicts after the election. The election rigging that happened at Magura and Mirpur by-elections was the responsibility of officials of local public administration and their inefficient management and intentional manipulation.
Round the world, impartial role of bureaucracy was responsible to uphold the spirit of democracy and to make it sustainable. The critical period of national election during the transition period and making the election result widely acceptable by all contesting parties could be considered as the test of time for the bureaucrats.
Some officials might possess some fascination for a particular party due to regional or ideological allegiance but should in no way demonstrate the same while discharging his/her duties for public in general and the Republic in particular. Bureaucrats must justify with transparency and by their actions that they are to uphold justice without any fear or favour. They are servants of the Republic with no inclination for a party or a person whoever he might be.
It must be borne in mind that a public servant is an employee in the service of the Republic, not of a party in power. The bureaucracy must work hard to uphold the spirit of democracy, not to gain some benefits in term of posting or promotions that are momentary but the defamation once established or earned might last forever. It should also be the duty of all political parties to help the bureaucrats to maintain impartially for the benefit of democracy and the nation as a whole.
Dhiraj Kumar Nath is a former secretary to the government.