Public Administration: We are seriously confused

WE ARE SERIOUSLY CONFUSED

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by F R Chowdhury     27 October 2019

In British India certain provinces were given self-rule. It was an eye wash to delay the freedom of India. The state concerned had a parliament or assembly to keep the elected members busy discussing various matters. There was also a cabinet to give public speeches. But the real power remained with the governor exercised through the civil servants. Soon people realized that civil servants (secretaries to the government) were more important than ministers. That was British-India. Lot of time passed. In 1947 we became part of Pakistan and in 1971 we became Bangladesh. We now know what democracy is. Nothing has changed from that old theory of government of the people, by the people and for the people.

We certainly know the difference between government and civil servants. The prime minister forms the government with a cabinet of a number of ministers. Each minister gets his domain or portfolio. A particular minister is the government so far it relates to his/ her ministry. The minister takes the most important matters to the prime minister or to the cabinet. Otherwise the minister decides on various issues and civil servants execute them. The secretary to the government is the head of the bunch of civil servants that work in a particular ministry.

One thing must be clear. In Bangladesh the secretary is not the secretary of state. The secretary is not an elected person and s/he is not the government. S/he is just a civil servant. Services of all civil servants are automatically placed under the government elected by the people. Civil servants are supposed to provide honest, sincere and efficient service equally to the government, no matter which party forms the government. Under statutory provisions government create certain specialised departments or authorities. The director-general or chairman or chief executive of the said body automatically get powers of the government to carryout day to day function. It is only policy matter or new project or other such important matters are referred to the government. It is the duty of the civil servants to analyse the matter and prepare the brief for the minister with reasons and justifications. The secretary will see it before presenting to the minister with his/ her recommendations. After the approval of the minister, it will come back to secretary for execution. This is how the civil servants and political government come to collective decision for the common benefit of the country. The minister’s decision is final. If the minister gives a decision contrary to what was put up in the file then s/he must have good reasons for it so that s/he can justify same to the prime minister, parliament or any future inquiry. There is no way for the secretary to act in contravention of minister’s decision.

Bengali daily paper “Jugantor” of 24-October-2019 reports that former energy secretary Nazim Chowdhury is being investigated for corruption. This is good news. ACC is finally showing its muscle power. We appreciate and support all such actions to get rid of corruption. However, we do not think it was appropriate for ACC to give all the details at this stage. They should arrest him and produce all the evidence and witness to the court. Let the court find him guilty and then people get to know what he did wrong. ACC even tried to dramatize the report by saying that he (Mr Chowdhury) would not sign a file unless he received the call from his wife. This was too much before even the first court hearing.

ACC has created lot of problems for itself by writing too much about it. I am sure the readers will agree with me that a civil servant cannot decide on important matters like international tender for exploration of oil and gas. It must have been approved by the minister – may be even by the prime minister or a cabinet team. What about those who made the all-important decisions? They are not answerable. Certainly it cannot be so. I do not know if the ACC wanted to say that Mr. Chowdhury decided on his own to do all that keeping the government in dark. That is not possible.

We expect an honest minister to come forward and say “it all happened under my approval. I should be questioned first before questioning those who acted under my command and guidance”. I hope the ACC will kindly read the first three paragraphs of this article and explain the concept of democratic governance and the relationship between government and civil servants. We are seriously confused.

Finally I have another question. Why our High Court in Bangladesh send all show cause notices to the secretary instead of minister? To the context of Bangladesh minister is the government and not the secretary. In the United Kingdom such notices are served to the secretary of state. We are now an independent democratic country. Our legal system and procedures should reflect it accordingly.

London, 24-October-2019.                                                               <fazlu.chowdhury@btinternet.com>

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