Good governance is a pre-requisite for socio-economic development of a country, no matter which political party or alliance rules over us and what type of economic system – capitalist, mixed or socialist - we pursue. Good governance coupled with a well-equipped bureaucracy can, in real sense, sustain development and ensure fair justice to the commoners.
Renowned economist and Nobel laureate Paul Crugman has underscored the need for a robust government whose strength hinges on a fair and merit based competitive recruitment policy.
In Bangladesh quotas and viva voce are two main barriers to fair recruitment in the public services. The number of vacant posts which is pitiably meagre and disproportionate to the size of population and more specifically, the annual number of new entrants to the workforce, which is more than two million. The system of quotas which occupies more than 50 per cent of public sector jobs, is indeed undermining the competitive hiring spirit of Public Service Commission (PSC). To be precise, the percentage of merit quota and other quotas (such as freedom fighter quota, district quota, women quota, tribal quota, disadvantaged or physically handicapped quota etc) in public sector job in Bangladesh is 45 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. The figure though clearly but blatantly shows that quotas or other considerations are given preference over meritocracy in hiring public servants. Then how can we expect a merit based competitive civil service to face innumerable challenges of 21st century? Nowhere in a country across the world has we come across a public sector recruitment policy in which merit is given lesser importance compared to various segments of quotas? The answer is perhaps no. It would not be exaggeration to say that the system, which has been in place here since liberation, has become a symbol of institutional discrimination, preventing the worthy candidates from entering public services. According to our constitution, all citizens should get equal treatment in the areas of public sector jobs. Therefore, to all appearances, it seems an imperative to revisit the issue with seriousness that deserves.
From a theoretical perspective quota based recruitment is not conducive to higher productivity. The production function in economic theory is composed of three major things: capital, labour and technology. A labour with medium quality can’t help develop high quality capital and fails to adopt the best technology for stimulating growth. A poorly trained doctor can’t perform surgery efficiently. Likewise, a half educated dentist is likely to extract wrong tooth. We see these symptoms of inefficiency when a government administrator, once selected through quotas, can’t execute a project in timely fashion. Our country can’t afford this type of system loss in the name of favouring multi segments under quota system in a homogeneous society. It is simply unfair, and let us get rid of it gradually to ensure good governance.
Of course, the system can’t be wiped out entirely or overnight. Keeping some quotas for the candidates of aboriginal or indigenous communities is a universal practice. We should also honour this practice. Besides, keeping a quota for the women is also an imperative to ensure greater participation of women in nation building activities and thus empowering women empowerment. All other quotas, to be honest, are unnecessary and unjustified as well. An outright elimination of all unnecessary quotas may not be practical, hence the need for gradual elimination. The percentage of job quotas should be reduced to, say, 15 per cent for the sake of competitive recruitment. Some quotas will also have proved unnecessary in coming days. Women, for example, will occupy the same position in job field on merit as their male peers do since their academic results in recent years testify so.
After independence, a quota for freedom fighters is justified. But its wholesale extension to the next generations is quite unjustified and has done more harm than good. There have been a number of reported incidents in which job seekers resorted to unfair means to manufacture freedom fighter identity, which is disturbing to say the least. Instead of stamping out this unethical trend the relevant ministry’s main job seems to be focused on enlarging the list of freedom fighters. And we won’t be surprised if the list one day engulfs the entire population. The freedom fighters fought for the nation in 1971 without any expectation of having an advantage of job quota after independence. Indeed, they did so because they loved their motherland. We owe a great deal of debt to them for their uncommon sacrifices. But a bundle of salaried jobs can’t pay back that debt.
Secondly, provision of giving so much marks and importance to viva voce tends to breed nepotism, favouritism and bribery and ultimately leads to corruption to take permanent seat in public recruitment system. Viva voce may have small allocation of marks, say, 10 per cent but passing the viva voce separately should not be made mandatory for the job seekers. The meritorious candidates of poor background or from disadvantaged groups do not have their uncle to make fortune changing phone calls to the members of the viva board. There is no one to stand by these “unlucky” job seekers. Let us change this institutional system that encourages malpractice and corruption in the public sector recruitment process. We can’t have strong and effective public administration until we go for a recruitment process based entirely on merit.
In an economy when the number of educated unemployed is over 7 million, the public sector has to play a pivotal role in ensuring a fair and objective recruitment policy and set an example for others – banks, corporations and private enterprise to follow. This system will obviously make the young generation less frustrated and motivate them to strive for the best by dint of merit and hard work, not by the unfair grace of quotas or “uncle influenced Interviews”.
Bangladesh envisages of graduating itself from low middle income nation to a middle income country by 2022 but without a merit based fair recruitment system in public services the dream may become elusive, unrealised and unfulfilled.
The writer is a retired Dy. General Manager, BSCIC, Khulna.