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Democratic administration: Mujibnagar govt vision

Helal Uddin Ahmed | March 26, 2020 00:00:00

A comprehensive report in three parts titled 'Report on the Administrative System and its Reorganisation' was submitted by the Planning Cell of Bangladesh government-in-exile (Mujibnagar government) on December 13, 1971. It minutely dwelt on the problems and potentials of the civil service - its organisation, structure and functions, the district administration and local self-governing bodies.

The then Chairman of Planning Cell and a renowned political scientist of the country Professor Muzaffer Ahmed Choudhury submitted the report to the then Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad on the eve of victory.

It was an detailed, extensively researched, bold and courageous report based on experiences of civil service reforms in various countries such as the UK, France, USA, India and Pakistan. It highlighted the need for radical reforms in the administration of a newly independent Bangladesh by shedding the colonial apparatuses left behind by the British and Pakistani rulers. But sadly, most of those recommendations could not be implemented in the long run due to deeply entrenched and vested elements lurking inside the Bangladesh bureaucracy.

The report contained three elaborate chapters on: (1) The Administrative System; (2) Detailed Structure (Ministries and subordinate offices); and, (3) District Administration (law and order, judicial, revenue and development functions). The introductory part read: "Immediately on the morrow of independence, the Government of Bangladesh will be confronted with a vast variety of problems of unexampled complexity. The ravages of the war will have to be removed. The gigantic tasks of reconstruction will have to be undertaken with the crusading zeal of a missionary".

It underlined the need for reorganisation of the administrative personnel by amalgamating the central and provincial administrative officials at all levels, and the resettlement of the demobilised members of Mukti Bahini. Expressing commitment for a socialist pattern of economy based on democratic values, it outlined three integrally connected stages of planning, viz. short, medium and long-term plans.

Emphasising that government responsibilities ultimately translate into tasks executed by administrators, the report highlighted the supreme need for developing highly competent, honest, able and energetic administrative officials who could 'take the bull by its two horns'. The first feature of this reorganised administrative apparatus was envisaged to be a democratic one. Political control of bureaucracy was emphasised as the most effective method of making the administration democratic.

It was recalled that democracy was not allowed to take root in former Pakistan, as the upper echelons of bureaucracy remained independent just as they were before the partition of India. This 'independent' bureaucracy was considered to be one of the factors responsible for the demise of democracy in Pakistan. Therefore, the political leaders and parliamentarians of Bangladesh needed to be wary of an untamed bureaucracy who could pose a threat to democracy.

The report concluded with recommendations for a new civil service structure having an open, ordered, impartial and merit-based approach to recruitment and promotion (Documents of Bangladesh Liberation War, Volume-3, pages 449-51).

The recommendations included: There must not be reservation of posts for any group, as was the case for members of the CSP [Civil Service of Pakistan]; Merit or ability should govern promotion of personnel to fill individual posts, and right man must be in right place even if seniority is broken or someone is taken from outside; A linkage should be maintained between the rates of pay of civil servants and the pay rates for jobs of comparable responsibilities outside; The structure should permit work to be organised in such a way that chains of command reflect the demands of the tasks, and where necessary, cut across any groupings by discipline and types of skills.

The Mujibnagar government considered it useful to separately treat the top management, comprising all top posts in all grades from Secretary down to the Deputy Secretary levels, and recommended constitution of a Senior Policy-cum-Management-Group for them. Each group or level could be divided into three grades, and there would be nine grades in total in the three levels (e.g. secretary, joint secretary and deputy secretary at the senior level). The career progression of an officer among the grades within each level should be based on proven performance record and competence. Promotions from the junior to the mid-level, and from the middle to the senior level would be sanctioned through selection on the basis of demonstrated ability, competence and honesty.

The report proposed classification of a unified civil service into the following professional groupings: (1) economic administration; (2) industrial administration; (3) agricultural and rural development administration; (4) social and educational administration; (5) business administration; (6) personnel administration; (7) financial administration; (8) defence administration and internal security; and, (9) planning.

The report envisaged that personnel selected for the nine areas of administration should constitute a policy and management pool, which would partly feed the senior management pool of the government in relevant areas. It also recommended setting up of a separate Civil Service Department in place of the then Ministry of Establishment, which was considered to be crucial for civil service reforms. Unfortunately, the administrative vision of the country's war-time government is yet to materialise in independent Bangladesh.

Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.

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