Transparency in Government

Transparency in Government Transparency is accessibility of the citizenry to information and administrative processes within the government. Quick availability of and access to information or data is, therefore, a basic ingredient of a transparent bureaucracy. Withholding information without valid reason is a kind of deception. If any government agency is in trouble the citizenry should be informed of the reason of trouble. Shielding reality from the citizenry is equal to treating them like aliens. In Bangladesh the following are the major processes of establishing transparency of the government:

Decentralisation A transparent bureaucracy provides an open and a comprehensive decision making process. This is possible when administrative system is decentralized to the peripheral areas and participation of the people in the decision making process is provided. Local government is the outcome of the concept of decentralisation creating scope for the local people to see for themselves what is happening in the government. In Bangladesh, the whole governmental administration has been decentralised by creating 4403 unions, 483 upazilas and 64 districts.

The district administration operating in 64 districts is the deconcentrated form of decentralisation which is being practised in Bangladesh. Each district administration is the representative of the national government and is an instrument to deliver social services to the citizenry of each district. Each district has collectorate and magisterial courts headed by deputy commissioner who is responsible for collecting land-revenue and administering justice in the district.

To ensure transparency and accountability and to enable people to ventilate their grievances, the office of the Deputy Commissioner holds three routine conferences every month: law and order conference, judicial conference, and police magistracy conference. These monthly conferences are mechanisms to practise transparency. These are also helpful in reducing misunderstanding, confusion and for clarifying current facts or issues that concern the lives of the citizenry. In the law and order conference, representatives from all walks of life such as lawyers, transport workers, teachers, doctors, members of the women's community, chairmen of the municipalities, all administrators of the concerned upazilas, and journalists are invited to attend and discuss freely socio-economic problems faced by the communities. Problems such as drug abuse, market prices, transport system, management of important public examinations are discussed by the attendees. In the judicial conference, diverse judicial issues are discussed freely for mutual learning and for clarification. In this conference, status of case disposal is assessed. Members of the law-enforcing agencies, public prosecutors, Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO), magistrates, anti-corruption personnel, civil surgeons, jailors, are invited to law and order conference to share experiences on the problems of warrant execution, law and order situation, diversity and frequency of crimes, pending cases, medical reports, etc. These conferences thus create platforms for discussions on major affairs of local governance.

Free Press Press and mass media play a crucial role and act as a watchdog in establishing a transparent government. The press has great responsibility in pointing out in papers when malpractice, irregularity, and unfairness are detected. The press can act freely and smoothly only when a democratic climate prevails in the country. In Bangladesh, the press is enjoying adequate freedom since the establishment of parliamentary democracy on the basis of consensus in 1991. Newspapers now publish freely news and reports about administrative action or inaction, corruption etc. The press is active and prompt in publishing reports on abuse of power or highhandedness and arrogance demonstrated by government officials. Thus the press acts as a deterrent for government officials, as well as for elected public representatives who remain careful while discharging their tasks and responsibilities.

Nowadays, increasingly large member of special reports, petitions or complaints of citizens against administrators are published in the newspapers. In spite of the fact that government officials are being trained with people-oriented development, reports often expose their highhandedness, abuse of power, dishonesty, arrogance and arbitrariness. Allegations against government officials include delay in the disposal of cases, nepotism, regionalism, favoritism, manipulation, misinterpretation of rules/laws, extravagance, waste, bribery, deliberate inaction and patronage. All these imply absence of the elements of a transparent administrative system.

Ombudsman The Constitution of Bangladesh provides for the office of the ombudsman to ensure accountability as well as transparency under Article 77. Ombudsman can deal with complaints against the administration through direct access of the citizens. It is believed that if the ombudsman is made functional, it can bridge the gap between a democratic government and the electorate.

Public money' The budget is universally used as a mechanism to control or regulate expenditures of the public money. In Bangladesh, it is the responsibility of the elected representatives to allocate public money in different heads of expenditure, the money is spent through the members of the Bangladesh civil service. The budget is primarily an administrative and fiscal document that shows sources of income and all proposed expenditures to give an opportunity for complete review of what is to be done.

Under the rules of business of the government the responsibility for preparation of the annual financial statement and presentation of the same to the Jatiya Sangsad has been given to the Ministry of Finance which is administratively headed by a senior civil servant. The material on which the budget and demands for grants are based are obtained by the Ministry of Finance in the form of detailed estimates from the heads of departments, agencies, and the like.

Parliamentary question It provides opportunities to members of the Sangsad to subject administrators to critical examinations both in respect of policy and action. Parliamentary questions are regarded as a valuable safeguard against bureaucratic excess, for they ensure that, at quite a short notice, any official action may have to be publicly defended by the responsible minister. Supplementary questions may also arise. This keeps both administrators and ministers alert since questions generally reflect public opinion. Theoretically, the minister is questioned, but in practice, civil servants are to prepare answers to the questions. These questions and answers are published in newspapers and are telecast, and through this media the citizens come to know how governmental policies are adopted and implemented.

Training Training civil servants and reorienting politicians are the responsibility of the government. The function of training the civil servants at all levels has been delegated to bangladesh public administration training centre (BPATC). In order to meet the changing needs of the civil service and to fulfil the government's vision of making a transparent and an accountable administration, BPATC has designed training curricula for junior as well as senior government officials. Group discussions and workshops/seminars on the value of transparency are frequently held to reinforce the conceptual base and operational attitude of the actors of government.

Transparency of government implies its responsiveness to the changing needs of the people and the emerging problems they are confronted with. Transparency and democracy are complementary to each other. Only through establishment of a democratic system, it is possible to practice transparency both in politics and government administration. [Syed Naquib Muslim]