Monday, 29 May, 2023

Purposes of Practicing Politics in Bangladesh Bureaucracy

  • A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman
  • 30th March, 2023 08:38:20 PM
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No one had imagined that the word bureaucracy, which once evolved from the French and Greek languages, would spread so rapidly around the world. It is difficult to find a country in today's world where bureaucracy has not been institutionalised in its state structure. The state and the government are bound in the same equation as the bureaucracy is bound to the state. So, the existence of bureaucracy is blended with the existence of the state and government. The 19th-century German sociologist Max Weber is said to be one of many who first coined this term. He described bureaucracy as a positive conception and considered ideal bureaucracy as efficient and rational. He thought of bureaucracy as the key to capitalism.

However, with the development of civilisation, the bureaucracy, created to meet the needs of society or state, had already assumed a strong role in the administrative field. No government can deny its influence, whether it is a civilian or a military bureaucracy. This is how bureaucracy became an instrument for implementation of the programmes of a country's political leadership. In other words, the bureaucracy was established as a trusted partner of political leadership in the administration of states. Bureaucracy remains a permanent structure, though political leadership changes. It is expected that even if bureaucrats personally believe in a political ideology, being servants of the state does not allow that belief to be reflected in their workplaces. Since bureaucracy was free from any political influence, bureaucrats were able to perform their responsibilities impartially.

Gradually, in many countries, like Bangladesh, politics began to influence the bureaucracy due to various reasons. The underlying reasons for the politicisation of bureaucracy include- (1) in countries where bureaucrats play an important role in keeping the government in power; (2) people’s involvement in the country's government system is not so significant; (3) political parties’ desire to politicise the bureaucracy; (4) greedy, dishonest and inefficient bureaucrats or opportunistic bureaucrats, exploiting the weakness of political leadership, pursue their own interests in the name of party loyalty; (5) inefficiency of the political leaders; (6) unholy nexus between bureaucrats and political leaders for the purpose of committing corruption and activities for personal gains; etc.

Bureaucracy in Pakistan continued following the elements of British-Indian bureaucracy. Since the bureaucracy of Bangladesh was started by the officials of the Pakistan period, the base of its bureaucracy was built on that model. That style of bureaucracy, with few exceptions, existed for several years. The behaviour of some bureaucrats to please political leaders in power did not yet lead to such extensive politicisation of the bureaucracy until the formation of the BNP government in 1991. The process of politicisation in the bureaucracy started with the political leaders as well as the bureaucrats to fulfil their respective purposes. By adding the 'component' of politics to that apparatus of bureaucracy, the process of division among the bureaucrats also started blooming. The gruesome process of politicisation among officials that had been launched at that time continued to contagion. As hundreds of bureaucrats had to suffer because of that process, the bureaucracy lost its original form and turned into a 'party organisation'. When a bureaucrat is found not loyal to the party in power, nobody can even imagine what could be written in the fate of that bureaucrat. There are also examples of the sufferings of the bureaucrats due to misinformation or the anger of someone influential in the party. However, the group of bureaucrats who know how to change the colour do not have to face any such consequences; they manage everything.

One must admit that the bureaucracy of Bangladesh has been suffering greatly as a result of such politicisation. We have been witnessing the promotion and transfer of government employees with purely political considerations for a long time. There are also instances of many officials being denied proper promotion despite having the requisite qualifications. The neutrality of the bureaucracy is called into question due to the direct interference of political leaders. The emergence of such conditions creates opportunities for inequity and weakness in public service, which paves the way for corruption, conspiracy and nepotism. The politicisation of the bureaucracy has resulted in many of the employees, who invest in that ring, being professionally inefficient and dishonest. We have seen many qualified officers spending their time as Officers on Special Duty (OSD), and many have been sent to forced retirement after completing 25 years for the cause of so-called ‘public interests’. Anyway, the deprived officials, who remain in the bureaucracy, could emerge as possible threats at any moment to the sitting government.

No one can say that the government does not have to pay a heavy price at any moment due to such politicisation of bureaucracy. Bureaucrats who actually believe in different political philosophies but have the blessing of the ruling party can be found secretly working against the government, providing confidential information to the opposition parties and damaging the government’s image. It is not so easy to recognise them because the leaders of the ruling party usually introduce them to the government as their loyal supporters. In this context, I would like to refer to the incoming national election when the government might not understand what these turncoat officials or employees will do. Any incident could happen, and then there would be no way to recover. In fact, once politicisation starts in the bureaucratic machinery, it is often not possible for political leaders to understand the ill motives of opportunistic bureaucrats.

I would like to conclude by mentioning a possible way that our political parties can follow without trying to bind the bureaucracy in their nets of politics. The way could be like the United States, all the officials in the office of the Prime Minister (Head of Government) in Bangladesh can be appointed from their party people as desired by the Prime Minister. The tenure of those officials will be for as long as the party remains in power. With the change of power, they will also have to leave the Prime Minister's office. Whichever party comes to power will bring in a new group of party people. However, if the Prime Minister wishes, anyone from among the bureaucrats could be appointed to his office. Employees in other departments of the government (including ministries) will be free from any political influence, they will be completely neutral. Under such a practice, no official will fall under the rage of politics, and at the same time, no one will get a chance to take any advantage through the holes of politics.

Of course, the role of bureaucracy in achieving good governance of the state cannot be ignored. The triumph of democracy and the implementation of development programmes are mostly influenced by civil servants as well as the bureaucratic administration involved in building state capacity. In this process, if the shadow of politics falls on the bureaucracy because of the possibility of the collapse of that bureaucracy, politics also loses its natural characteristics and becomes wayward. Bureaucrats have to think that they are public servants and not activists of any political party. They should be loyal to the elected government. However, on any issue contrary to the law of the country, they can express their opinions without fear. Therefore, the political leadership has to establish a workable link between politics and bureaucracy while running the affairs of the state, preserving the natural space for both. As this relationship will be built on transparency and mutual understanding, the bureaucracy could be protected from politicisation. Only then there will be sustainable success for the government in all fields. Undoubtedly, politicisation of the bureaucracy tarnishes the image of the government. If politicisation continues, the day is not very far when there will be no bureaucracy in the country and instead, there would be the wings of different political parties in all public offices.

(The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary)

Source: Sun Editorial