Appointments on contract in the civil service of Bangladesh are nothing new. There was a time, just after the birth of Bangladesh, when the new government had no choice but to appoint suitable people on contract to work in the government offices. The war-torn Bangladesh had not enough government officials to rebuild the country and to mobilise the economy. There was no time to wait for a trained workforce. Understanding the urgency, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had to ask eligible persons of the society to join him in building the nation. During those days, the country had to utilise the joint efforts of the young and old. However, that was a different perspective.
Though many years have passed after our independence, the rate of contractual appointments has not decreased at all, rather increased in manifold. Could not we make the foundation of our bureaucracy strong enough in so many years? If we have a strong bureaucracy, why such appointments are going on? Actually, there are other reasons behind it. And those reasons, more or less, are known to everyone. In fact, government rules do not restrict such appointments. That is, a person from any profession or a retired government employee can be employed on contract in any government office, if the government desires. Government has the final authority. It does not matter how others take the issue.Recently, while hearing a case, the Supreme Court of Pakistan made a very significant observation that re-employment of retired government officers on senior positions was prima facie a violation of law. The court further noted that the re-employment was tantamount to blocking promotions of otherwise deserving officers and was not conducive to good governance. The Bench has also directed the government to ensure that people were not hired on contract in violation of law. In particular, the practice of re-inducting retired officers should be discouraged. The Court said, “in terms of the definitions of section 2(1) (b) (ii) of the Civil Servants Act 1973, a person who is employed on contract does not even fall within the definition of a civil servant, so his authority to command and maintain discipline can well be imagined from the fact that if a person himself is not a Civil Servant, he is considered only bound by the terms and conditions of his contract and not by the statutory law, because if any condition laid down in the contract is violation to statutory law, he would only be subject to action under the said contract.” The Court in the same order has noted that it was in the interest of the government to promote the junior officers, who were awaiting promotion, instead of employing persons on contract, unless their services were indispensable.
In our country, the government service rule on re-employment or contractual appointments says that retired officers could be re-employed on contract in cases where comparatively competent and efficient technical skilled experts are not found. In other cases, where comparatively qualified officers are available, the liberal application of this policy is not recommended. This rule has also mentioned that the Ministry/Division/Department, if they feel so, would take necessary measures well before to prepare their junior officers so that they would be able to replace the seniors. That is, though there is no restriction on contractual appointment or re-employment, but such appointments have been discouraged. But the reality is completely different.
Like India or Pakistan, Bangladesh also considers the importance of public interest while appointing someone on contract. According to rules, appointments on contract can be considered only for public interest. But, such appointments are given for other interests or objectives in the name of ‘public interest’. Actually, contractual or re-employments in the civil service were started during military rule in Bangladesh. Afterwards, no government has shown any interest to stop this practice. However, the flow of appointments has been following both upward and downward trends. Truly speaking, neither the reduction nor the increment is happening considering public interest or the concerned person’s expertise. Most contracts are deemed to be for political connections, and others are due to candidate’s personal relationship with someone well connected to the appointing authority. In case of second type re-employments, the appointing authority is kept in total darkness about candidate’s political ideology or belief (even the candidate might believe in opposition’s political ideology).
At one time, especially during military rule, retired officers were re-employed in different cadre services in a bizarre manner called the ‘lateral entry’. It was nothing but reprehensible conduct of the then government that re-employed the killers of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Foreign Ministry as its cadre officers, who were immediately posted to Bangladesh missions with diplomatic assignments. In lieu of bringing them to justice, the authority misused its power by absorbing them in the civil service. Apart from this, some retired officers were re-employed in the civil service creating so-called 'personal post’ with same facilities like regular civil servants. Even, the minimum qualifications of the civil service, especially the educational qualification and age, were not looked into in those cases. Someone wished and it was done. That is, there was no need to have any transparency or required qualification for those appointments. Furthermore, the people employed in that process succeeded to occupy top positions like regular cadre officers. However, such appointments are no longer seen.
Generally, people appointed on contract are seen using their political connections while performing their official duties. As they are appointed on the basis of their political links, they should not have the courage to resist any political pressure, they cannot just afford it. Needless to say, there is every possibility of political interference in their official activities. In that scenario, there remains a question- how much it is possible for them to perform their duties or responsibilities neutrally. If anyone wants to get out of this enclosure, then he would face the ultimate consequences.
It is true that the question of contractual appointments would not have been raised so severely if it was not done on political considerations. Such appointments, in maximum cases, cause negative impact in the civil service. No one can deny that such appointment, whether it makes the bureaucracy weak or not, it causes sufferings to many servicing officers.To overcome this situation, government should have the willingness to minimise the contractual appointments as well as organise various training programmes regularly at home and abroad to equip the members of the civil service in handling the challenges in their workplace. They have to achieve similar competence like those of the same profession in other countries. Then, there would be no shortage of eligible officers for promotion to the higher posts as soon as those posts are vacant. If it can be done, perhaps the rate of contractual appointments might be reduced. But, nobody can ensure that also.
It is not true that re-employment or contractual appointments cannot be given at all. But in that case, the candidate must be indispensable for that post and the appointment must be in public interest. The selection should be on the basis of merit and equality through a transparent process, not preferring a candidate for his political connections or personal interest. It is to be mentioned here that necessary measures should be taken, while giving any contractual appointments, so that promotions of the servicing officers are not hampered or no injustice is done to them. Emphasis should be given so that this issue does not create any anger or dissatisfaction among officers. Above all, it is the responsibility of the appointing authority (government) to make the civil service prepared at the required standard to serve the country.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary