Public Policy

Public Policy governmental policy formulated by the legitimate public authorities in a state addressing the interests of the general public. The Constitution of Bangladesh provides basic guidelines for formulating public policies, which include fixation of national development goals, objectives and strategies. Fundamental principles of the state policy as elaborated in the Constitution categorically emphasise the issue of meeting the basic needs of the people. It vests in the state the responsibility to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to the citizens the provisions of basic necessities of life including opportunities of work, reasonable rest/recreation and leisure, and so on.

Articles 8-25 of the Constitution dealing with the fundamental principles of the state policy provide for the outline of public policies. A select number of these articles which have direct bearing on the making of public policies and the overall functioning of the public administration system include: (i) absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah, (ii) promotion of local government institution, (iii) participation of women in national life, (iv) principles of ownership, (v) emancipation of peasants and workers, (vi) provision of basic necessities, (vii) rural development and agricultural revolution, (viii) free and compulsory education, (ix) separation of judiciary from executive. Further details of the structural-functional features of policy-making in Bangladesh follow.

Cabinet a small body of senior ministers responsible for directing the policy-administration of the state. As per clause 4(ii) of the rules of business 1996, no important policy decision shall be taken except with the approval of the cabinet. In other words, cabinet is the ultimate authority of approving a policy. In particular, the policy-related issues which must be cleared by the cabinet include: (a) all cases related to legislation including promulgation of ordinances; (b) cases involving vital political, economic and administrative policies; (c) proposals relating to change of any existing policy or cabinet decisions. The cabinet has its own structure to assess and examine selected policies through different cabinet committees. The names of some of these cabinet committees are: food planning and monitoring committee; committee of senior appointment, promotion and service structure; committee of national award; government purchase committee; committee on pay fixation; committee on foreign employment; committee on urgent and national interest; committee on finance and economic affairs; committee on foreign affairs; and committee on law and order.

Ministry a self-contained administrative unit responsible for the conduct of business of the government in a distinct and specified sphere. The minister in charge of a ministry is responsible for its policy matters and for the implementation thereof. He is also responsible for conducting the business of his ministry in the Jatiya Sangsad. The official head of a ministry is a senior bureaucrat who is designated as secretary. He is responsible for administration as well as for the proper conduct of the assigned business in the ministry. He is also the principal accounting officer of the ministry, its attached departments and subordinate offices. He keeps the minister regularly informed of the working of the ministry. The major responsibility of the ministry as per clause 4(ix) of the Rules of Business is limited to: (a) policy-making; (b) planning; (c) evaluation and execution of plans; (d) initiation of legislative measures; (e) assisting the minister in discharging his responsibilities to the Sangsad; (f) personnel management at the top level; and (g) such other matters as may be determined by the prime minister from time to time.

In particular, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs play very important role in both the formulation and approval process of public policy. Clause 13(4) of the Rules of Business clearly sets out that the Finance Ministry should be consulted on all economic and financial questions arising out of any case, particularly in matters of (a) preparation of export and import policy; (b) negotiation of trade and barter agreement; (c) determination of tariff policy; (d) determination of pricing policy; (e) determination of investment policy, and (f) determination of labour policy. Similarly the consultation with the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs is obligatory in matters of (a) all proposals for legislation, (b) all legal questions arising out of any case, (c) preparation of any contracts, international agreements, international conventions and modifying international law, (d) the interpretation of any law, and (e) before authorising or the issue of a rule, regulation or bye law.

'Secretaries Committees In addition to the cabinet committees, there are also two standing committees, namely the Secretaries' Committee and the Secretaries' Committee on Administrative Improvement, composed exclusively of the secretaries of the various ministries/ divisions, to oversee administrative arrangements as well as specific policy issues of the government.

National Economic Council The highest authority to approve major economic policies and development strategies, and in that capacity it formulates the national policy and objectives for long term plans. The ministries are responsible to adopt their policies, plans and programmes according to the objectives and priorities set by the National Economic Council (NEC). The NEC consists of all members of the council of ministers and is chaired by the Prime Minister. Members of the Planning Commission and the secretaries in charge of all ministries/divisions are expected to attend its meetings. In addition, other important officials who are required to attend the NEC's meetings include the cabinet secretary and the governor of Bangladesh Bank. The Planning Commission is assigned to provide secretarial service to NEC.

Planning Commission The central planning body of the country. It is a body of professionals and sector specialists engaged in the formulation of macro as well as micro-economic plans and policies. It in effect translates the ideas, aspirations and the commitments of the party in power, and is entrusted with the functions of preparing national plans and programmes according to the directives of the NEC. It makes macro-economic projections and sets output targets for sectoral activities at different timeframes, such as long term perspective plans. Although the whole gamut of responsibilities from planning to execution are shared between the administrative ministries/divisions and the Planning Commission, the planning process in effect starts with the mapping of economic trends and identification of alternative possibilities by the Commission leading to formulation of the technical framework of a plan. Ministries and agencies participate indirectly in these technical activities as source of information. The Planning Commission launches detailed economic, financial and technical appraisal of projects and mobilises resources for their implementation in consultation with the Finance Division and Economic Relations Division of the Ministry of Finance.

Parliamentary Committees Article 76 of the Constitution provides for the constitution of a number of standing committees composed of the members of Jatiya Sangsad, for example, the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee of Privileges, and such other standing committees as the rules of procedure of the Sangsad require. In addition, Jatiya Sangsad also can appoint other standing committees, and a committee so appointed is to examine legislative proposals, or review the enforcement of a law, or investigate or inquire into the activities/administration of a ministry, or any matter of public importance.

Foreign Donors The providers of foreign aid play a significant role both in development and formulation of plans/projects and management thereof in Bangladesh. There are two types of donors, bilateral donors and multi-lateral donors. Bilateral donors include such countries as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, India, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America etc. Multilateral donors on the other hand include Asian Development Bank, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific, Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Monitory Fund, United National Children Fund, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, World Bank, World Food Programme, World Health Organisation, European Union.

On an average about 55 to 60 percent of development expenditure is supported by the foreign donor/agencies. The donors also play an important role in injecting policy ideas and recommendation of different policy interventions. Moreover, their role in policy analysis and review appears to be no way less significant. Among the multi-lateral donors, World Bank and International Monetary Fund are considered to be the leading ones, which exert considerable pressure and persuasion to bring policy changes and reforms. [Salahuddin M Aminuzzaman]