Administrative Reforms

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Administrative Reforms official attempts aimed at restructuring or reorganising the existing governmental structure and its mode of functioning. The system of administration that Bangladesh inherited at independence was basically of a colonial nature and had been handed down to Pakistan by the British following the partition of India in 1947. The government of Pakistan seemed to have tried half-heartedly to overhaul it and to do away with the colonial legacy. What resulted was brown shahibs substituted for white ones. Administrative reforms since Bangladeshs independence appear to be a veritable obsession of every successive government. Managing public affairs without resorting to administrative reform entails a total disregard of efficiency, public opinion and internal cohesion. It was evident that the primary obstacles to development of a new nation were administrative, political, and economic bottlenecks. In order to streamline an age-old and anachronistic administrative structure that was totally unsuitable to meet the rising expectations of the people, the government has appointed several major administrative reform commissions/committees since independence.

The problem faced by the government immediately after liberation was to restore the civil administration and to transform the existing provincial administration into a central one. In order to face this challenge, the government formed the Civil Administration Restoration Committee to examine and suggest ways and means for restoration of civil administration at various levels as well as for absorption of officials and employees of the ministries/departments of the former central government of united Pakistan. The committee submitted its interim report on 4 January 1972, pending detailed examination of the various issues relating to administration to be considered by another committee appointed by the prime minister. In keeping with its recommendations, the provincial secretariat was transformed into the national secretariat with 20 ministries and related directorates/departments and corporations. In the first term of the awami league rule (1972-75), the government appointed two major committees in 1972, namely the administrative and services reorganisation committee (ASRC) and the National Pay Commission (NPC). The committee/ commission was entrusted with the responsibility of suggesting measures towards reorganising the central bureaucracy, including local government, accompanied by devolution of power from the central to the local level and a national pay structure.

The ASRC found that the existing administrative/ service structure was divided into too many entities which had artificial walls built around them with varying career prospects, and a lack of professionalism. They also found the structure to be too class-and-rank oriented with very little opportunities for recruits to rise to the top, particularly those who had started their career at the lower ranks.

Having considered the objective conditions of the civil services, the ASRC recommended a single classless grading structure covering all services into 10 grades in which there would be an appropriate number of pay levels of skills and responsibilities and the correct grading for each post would be determined by an analysis of the job.

The main theme of the recommendations was the abolition of the elite cadre and no reservation of any post for any cadre; there would be adequate opportunities for talented persons to rise quickly to the top from any level of the service; there would be provisions for systematic re-exposure of senior officers serving at the national headquarters to the field; and towards the establishment of fellowship of officers with the common man.

The committee also argued strongly for the democratisation of administration at all levels. It called for increasing devolution of authority to the elected local government and clearly delineated the areas of responsibility between the national government and local bodies. The ASRC held the view that there should not be any fixity or rigidity in the devolution of functions from the national government to the local bodies. The guiding principle was that the local body should administer such services which it could administer effectively. The committee held the view that the thana should be the basic unit of administration and should assume all responsibilities of development administration at that level. It also underscored the need for converting sub-divisions into districts in a planned way. The far-reaching recommendations of the ASRC made no impact on the government and remained shelved as classified documents, as was the case with the previous ones during Pakistani rule. Some politico-administrative analysts are of the opinion that the reasons underlying the scrapping of the ASRC report were socio-economic and political compulsions of the regime in power.

The NPC worked in close cooperation with ASRC and dealt with a number of variables, such as cost of living, governmental resources, existing pay disparities, attraction and retention of specialists and achievement of efficiency, equity and work incentives in order to formulate a pragmatic pay policy. The NPC felt that a nine-tier administrative structure with corresponding pay scales could adequately meet the requirements of the Bangladesh bureaucracy for the following five years. But the NPCs view was not accepted and the commission was obliged to suggest pay scales on the basis of tiers and groupings suggested by ASRC. The NPC eventually recommended a national pay scale consisting of 10 grades. However, this was only partially implemented, and that too for only 3 years. The non-implementation of the NPC recommendations was ascribed to the inherent defects of the reform itself and resistance of generalist civil servants, particularly those belonging to the erstwhile CSP and EPCS cadres.

After the fall of the Awami League (AL) government, the succeeding military regime spearheaded by General Ziaur Rahman appointed a committee known as the Pay and Service Commission (P and SC) in 1976 to conduct a fresh inquiry into the services and pay structure and to suggest necessary reforms. The commission held the view that the ingrained generalist vs. specialist controversy could be resolved by bringing a fundamental change in the staffing positions and providing a uniform pattern of pay scales and promotions. The commission also argued that a large generalist cadre should not be created by reservation of many posts and on the basis of a single examination. The most important recommendations of the P and SC with regard to services/central bureaucratic structure were the amalgamation of all erstwhile services and thereafter the creation of an all-purpose civil service to include all functions within the traditional government sector; emphasis on the merit principle as the determining factor in recruitment and promotion; removal of existing barriers between the CSP and other services through the introduction of equal initial pay scales and provisions for equitable scope of advancement in the administrative hierarchy. Initially the government seemed to be hesitant in implementing the recommendations. However, two years later the government implemented some of the recommendations of P and SC albeit in modified form resulting in the creation of 28 cadres of Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS), constitution of the Senior Services Pool (SSP), and the introduction of new national grades and pay scales.

The special feature of the recommended civil service structure was the creation of SSP in order to ensure representation from all cadres at the decision-making level of the government. Most importantly, the new civil service structure was designed to create a classless bureaucracy to end the supremacy of one class over the other. But at the implementation stage, there was improper/irregular application of procedure in the induction of SSP members. After more than a decade of operation the SSP was abolished in 1989 on the ground that it had failed to provide adequate promotion opportunities to different cadre officials in the top positions.

To implement the recommended pay structure the government asked the Finance Ministrys Implementation Division to draw up a revised pay plan which would not have either too few scales or too many (as recommended by P and SC). Consequently, the Implementation Division came up with pay plan which was a compromise between the two. By Services (Grade, Pay and Allowances) Order issued in 1977 the Ministry of Finance introduced 21 grades and scales of pay for public sector employees. But the government ultimately had to modify the pay structure partially at the implementation stage and merged grade VI with grade VII in order to remove the discontentment of certain officials (particularly at the district level) and raised their salaries to a satisfactory stage. This was how the recommendations of the P and SC were adopted in July 1977, and since then it has been in operation with occasional revisions in order to cope with market conditions and inflation.

Another notable feature of the regime of General Zia was the introduction of Swanirvar Gram Sarkar (SGS) at the village level. With a view to instituting it at the village, the Swanirvar Gram Sarkar Act was passed in 1980. Under this Act the SGS consisted of one Gram Pradhan (village headman), two female members, and 9 other members representing different groups in the village. Gram pradhan and other members were chosen in a meeting on the basis of the consensus evolved among the village residents whose names appeared on the village electoral roll. It was called upon to perform four major functions: increase food production, eradicate illiteracy, implement family planning programmes and maintain law and order. However, the SGS was not empowered to collect funds to discharge its responsibilities. The SGS was pampered to such an extent that it considered itself only next to the national government in importance. But functionally it proved to be an utter failure because of peoples indifference and inherent organic problems of the SGS itself. The army chief General H M Ershad abolished this institution after he took over the civil government in 1982.

Immediately after assuming state authority General Ershad concentrated on administrative reforms and appointed two major committees, namely the Martial Law Committee (MLC) and the committee for administrative reform/reorganisation (CARR). The MLC was entrusted with the responsibility of examining organisational set-ups of ministries/divisions and the departments/offices under them and to recommend measures to improve efficiency in the civil services. The MLC suggested drastic measures to quicken the decision-making process in the secretariat. The recommendations put forward by the MLC included reduction in the number of ministries/ divisions and civil servants mostly at lower levels; a scaling down in the layers of decision making at the secretarial level; restructuring the role of the secretariat and other executive organizations; formalization and regularization of the recruitment process and delegation of financial and administrative powers down the hierarchy.

The recommendations of the MLC were accepted by the military government. The exception was the recommendation to reduce the layers of decision making of the national secretariat. The CARR was entrusted with the responsibility of recommending an appropriate, sound and effective administrative system based on devolution of authority and peoples participation. The recommendations of CARR included a directly elected chief executive (chairman) and a representative council (parishad) at each successive local level ie zila, upazila and union with an elected chairman as the chief coordinator with adequate staff support; elected councils at each level with full functional control over the officials working for them; adequate devolution of administrative, judicial and financial powers at zila and upazila levels; elimination of sub-divisions and divisions as tiers of administration; appointment of elected chairman of lower councils as ex-officio members of immediate higher councils; and the development of an infrastructure at the upazila level. General Ershad constituted another committee to suggest ways and means for implementing the recommendations of the CARR, ie, the national implementation committee for administrative reorganization/reform (NICARR). The implementation of the NICARR recommendations resulted in the creation of upazila administration at the local level.

The upazila administration was run by the Upazila Parishad headed by a chairman directly elected by the voters of the upazila. The parishad consisted of a chairman, representative members, women members, official members, chairman of the upazila central cooperative association, and nominated members. It comprised two categories of members, voting members and non-voting official members. The parishad was made the focal point for all administrative and development activities. The main function of the parishad was to prepare the upazila development plan covering major activities such as agriculture, education, health, communication, etc.

The parishad also implemented government policies and programmes at the upazila level and performed other functions entrusted to it from time to time by the government. It had also the responsibility to coordinate the activities of all union parishads and paurashavas within the upazila. Functionally, the upazila parishad was found to be a house divided against itself because of the conflict between the two categories of functionaries, officials and public representatives. Nevertheless, implementation of the CARR recommendations paved the way for popular participation through delegation of authority and power to local units of government. For the first time in the history of local government, members of the central bureaucracy were replaced by elected chairmen in the local councils.

The ascendance of the bangladesh nationalist party (BNP) to power in 1991 led to the scrapping of the upazila system on the ground that it had not attained noticeable progress in the socio-economic sector, because of its functionaries indulgence in the misuse of money, corruption and unproductive expenditures. The government of Khaleda Zia constituted a commission to conduct a fresh inquiry into the state of local government, and to recommend measures consistent with the spirit of the constitutional provisions specified in Articles 59 and 60 so that local government and democracy could be institutionalised from the grassroots level. In order to translate the objectives of the government, the commission recommended reorganization of the union parishad and the zila parishad.

The commission also recommended making the municipalities and city corporations more representative in the urban areas. It wanted the village to be the fundamental unit of local government. Accordingly, a gramshava (village assembly) was to comprise 10 members elected directly by the people of a village whose names appeared in the electoral roll. In the reorganised system the union was considered to be the focal point of socio-economic planning, and the village the fundamental unit of development. Before this reform measure was put into implementation, however, the government of Khaleda Zia had to step down following a political turmoil. During BNP rule, a number of reports on public administration were produced. The more important among these are the Public Administration Efficiency Study by the UNDP, Towards Better Government by four secretaries and Government that Works by the World Bank. None of the recommendations of these reports has so far been implemented.

Awami League staged a comeback to power in 1996. This government appointed a commission to reorganise the local government system of the country. The commission suggested a four-tier local government, namely gram parishad, union parishad, thana parishad and zila parishad. To strengthen the local government system, the commission stressed the need for creating a permanent local government commission, independent of the executive control, to supervise, review, control and monitor functions of the local government units and to suggest appropriate measures. The Awami League government also set up a public administration reforms commission to deal with the problems faced by the central government. However, it has not come up with any report till now.

During the thirty years since independence there have been some reforms in the central administration. But reform at the local level has been in real doldrums owing to continuous experiments after every change of government. The real issues of development, peoples participation and devolution of authority in particular, seem to have been lost in the political motive of establishing ones own support-base and in destroying the support-base of predecessors. [ATM Obaidullah]