Saturday, 10 December, 2022

Straight Talk

In the interest of the public!

  • Abdul Mannan
  • 19th November, 2022 10:20:19 PM
  • Print news

Bangladesh’s politics is and never was without any agenda or issue to warm up the politics of the country. Currently one of the main political parties of the country BNP is on a relentless campaign demanding the resignation of the current government and holding a general election under an unconstitutional system. I will discuss the issue some other time. Another current issue that is hitting the media headlines is the removal of public servants ranging from senior law enforcing officers to government secretaries citing that they have been removed in ‘public interest’ a power that has been given to the government and more specifically to the President of the Republic by law and the Constitution of the country. In 1974 the government also enacted another law which gave the power to remove any government servant from his service if his allegiance towards Bangladesh was found to be absent. There were few hundred Bangali officers who served the Pakistani military junta during our war of liberation, some willingly some under the compulsion of the existing circumstances. The current row began when the Secretary of Information and Broadcasting Ministry Mokbul Hossain was removed from his office after his completion of twenty five years of service, an action permitted by law of the country. There are allegations that Hossain established a contact with the BNP’s absconding Acting Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman in London.

Though the truth of the allegation is yet to be proved, incidents of government servants establishing unholy contacts with the political opponents is not something new in this country. One would not forget the ‘Uttara Conspiracy’ incident of 2006 when thirteen government senior officers who secretly met in Uttara in Dhaka at the house of the former Energy Advisor of Begum Zia Mahmudur Rahman on November 24, 2006 when the country was going through a political turmoil demanding that the 2006 general election be held under a Neutral Care Taker Government. All thirteen senior officials of the government who met on that night in Uttara were made OSD by the post nine-eleven military backed government after they were found guilty by a three member enquiry committee. Recently about six former secretaries to the government met at the Begum Zia’s Gulshan office and while they were coming out, the waiting journalists enquired what were they doing there? They replied they just had a get together over a cup of coffee and no political discussion took place. Strange that Begum Zia’s office has been converted into a coffee bar without notice!

However, in the recent times a section of politicians, mostly from BNP kicked lots of dust on these issues and said the government is so nervous that it cannot even trust its own serving senior officials. Such statements are gross misrepresentation of truth. The British during their rule enacted a law titled ‘General Clauses Act, 1897’ which empowers the government or any other competent authority to remove a person from his or her service in ‘public interest’. The law says the appointing authority reserves the right of removing a person from his service if it deems necessary. The law is still in vogue in Bangladesh and one of the first victims of the law was Dr. Alamgir Mohammad Serajuddin (now a National Professor), the former Vice-chancellor of Chittagong University when he was removed by Begum Zia on 29 December 1991 from his office as per the demand of Islami Chhatra Shibir. Dr. Serajuddin was critical of Chhatra Shibir’s violent politics.

 Before the independence of Bangladesh Ayub Khan removed 303 senior government officials, some of them from this part of the then Pakistan. No reason was cited. After Bangladesh became an independent country Bangabandhu reinstated all of them who later on joined Zia’s BNP and some of them even became ministers in Zia and his wife’s cabinet. On 24 January 1972 Bangladesh government promulgated the ‘Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunal} Order 1972’ to take actions against those government servants who willingly collaborated with the occupation Pakistani forces in their actions to suppress the independence movement of Bangladesh. Special Tribunals were set up across the country to try the accused and those found guilty were either removed from service or sent to prison after following due process of law. Later Bangabandhu declared a general clemency and pardoned those who were not involved in arson, looting, murder or rape. Zia later released all those were still in jail charged with the later mentioned crimes. Few of them were even reinstated in their jobs.

In 1991 when Begum Zia formed her first government, one of her first tasks was to virtually remove many of the government officials who were appointed through Bangladesh’s first Public Service Commission in 1973. Most of these recruits were freedom fighters. On the other hand when Sheikh Hasina formed her first government in 1996 nothing of the like happened and on the contrary many of them got their promotion and retired after completion of their normal term in office.

Hell broke loose in 2001 when Begum Zia was again voted to power and this time it was an ugly demonstration of vengeance and hatred towards Awami League. A Sandhurst trained army General who served as a GOC in 2001, saw active service in the Chittagong Hill Tracts during the Shanti Bahini’s armed insurgency, commanded battalions in Bangladesh and even in UN Peace Keeping forces, was sent packing with a note that his service is no longer required. His only ‘sin’ perhaps was that he was sent to Sandhurst by Bangabandhu along with few other cadets, including Bangabandhu’s son Sheikh Jamal to be trained to build a professional army for a newly independent nation. The said General was a professional soldier, did not indulge in any political activity, not then and even not now. What is more deplorable was that after forming the government the General’s service was placed before the Foreign Ministry for being posted as an ambassador. The General received the required training at the Foreign Service Training Academy and was all ready for posting in a South Asian Country when the letter of his removal from service was served. He still had thirteen years of service before he took a normal retirement. Later few other senior army officers also received such termination notice.

Recently a former Inspector General of Police came live on TV and while discussing about the recent retirements of few public servants from their service after completion of their twenty five years of service he bluntly said why should anyone be surprised? He himself was a victim of this ‘public interest’ removal as per the law when Begum Zia came to power in 2001. According to him the remaining sixty-eight 1st. BCS cadre officers (1973) were sent on retirement in the ‘interest of public’ including number of senior Superintendent of Police and Additional IGPs. In 2002 Begum Zia’s government sent a staggering total of 768 serving officers to retirement in the ‘interest of public’. Not only they were removed, they were also hounded by Anti-Corruption Commission (DUDOK). The aforesaid IGP cited an interesting incident. Though most of those removed appealed to the Administrative Tribunal only one Hatem Ali’s removal was found to be improper and unlawful. The government appealed against this decision in the Administrative Appellate Tribunal and had the decision of the lower Tribunal overturned. Interestingly the Judge who ruled in favour of Hatem Ali was removed from his position ‘in public interest’ without delay.

Bangladesh is not the only country where such law or practice exists but the difference is that in Bangladesh the politicians quite often interprets it in their own interest and this unfortunately happens when Awami League is in power. Many would like to know how one defines ‘public interest’. Well, the Constitution gives the power to the President mentioned earlier to remove anyone from his service if he thinks it is in the interest of the public and there is no definition of ‘public interest’. He does not have to cite any reason to anyone.

( The writer is an analyst and a researcher)

Source: Sun Editorial