The formation of the new cabinet on the 7th of January, 2019 after a landslide victory in the 11th Parliamentary election has been an issue of debate and discussion for the last few days. The discussion has been elicited due to the fact that the majority of the ministers and state ministers of the last cabinet, including some senior AL leaders, have failed to secure their position in the new cabinet. On the other hand, a number of young and grassroots politicians of the AL have been able to position them in the new cabinet. Thus, there was the inquisitiveness among the countrymen to think how successful this new government would be in time.
One of the important features of the newly formed government is that the majority of the members of the cabinet have an impeccable image. Although half of them are young and the first timers in the cabinet, but most of them have remained active in AL politics since long. Thus, it is the expectation that these immaculate ministers would work hard to materialise Sheikh Hasina’s dream of establishing a developed Bangladesh free from poverty and corruption. The critiques may question the capability of many ministers as they have no prior experience of working at the central government level. Moreover, they would be required to work with senior level bureaucrats who are permanent officials at the ministry with long time experiences.As a matter of fact, a minister requires having a strong vision in order to run a ministry that would help him/her to attain the overall goals of the government in their tenure. There are many technical and specialist staffs in each ministry for assisting the minister in preparing policies and programmes, but they need proper guidance from the minister. From this perspective, it can be said that some ministers have prior experiences of working in the government and some of them who do not have prior experiences are veteran politicians with experience of working with grassroots people for years. Thus, they would be in a better position to feel the pulse of the people.
A deeper look into the new government would indicate that there is a domination of politicians in the cabinet instead of businessmen and civil-military bureaucrats, which is good for the future of democracy. It may also create a challenge for those ministers who do not have any prior administrative experiences. There is a possibility that they might be exploited by the bureaucrats in the absence of experiences. We do not want to think this would happen in the future.
Many of the political analysts have raised questions concerning the decision of the Prime Minister to axe several senior and experienced AL leaders from the cabinet. They apprehend that this decision of the Prime Minister is not a well thought one. They could have functioned effectively as compared to news ministers. I beg to differ with the proposition of these groups of political analysts. In one of my earlier writings, I urged the AL leadership to maintain a clear demarcation between the political party and government. In a democracy, it is the political party that guides the government as they get elected based on the election manifestos of the particular political party. Thus, political parties remain accountable to the voters for their electoral pledges. They should guide the government on finalising their strategies to fulfil the electoral pledges of the political party. I also quoted the reference of Indian democracy where we usually see that they maintain a sharp distinction between the government and political parties. For instance, Sonia Gandhi chose Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India while she acted as the Congress President and assisted the government from outside. In the present BJP government, Amit Shah, the President of the party, has been playing the same role as Sonia Gandhi did.
Thus, if AL plans to use the experience of their senior leaders in mobilising the party as has been stated by their General Secretary, it would come out as one of the most pulsating decision of the party. To be honest, there have been factions among the AL at all levels centring leadership and availing different opportunities. Thus, these leaders should try to bring discipline back within the party first and advise the government to work in line with the electoral pledges. This would help the party to become stronger and assist the government to become effective in fulfilling their election commitments. Most importantly, they are in a position to contribute to the policy-making process within the house of the Parliament as a Members of Parliament. Another dimension of the decision relating to axing of senior leaders from the cabinet is that it would facilitate the development of leadership within the party as the senior leaders of AL are approaching to their old age. Thus, Sheikh Hasina deserves an appreciation for her robust leadership role.
Now a pertinent question is: would the government face any challenge in their tenure? One of the greatest challenges for the newly formed government would be to deal with the sky-high expectation of the voters as they extended their prodigious support to them in the last election. Thus, the people of the country would expect the government to work in lines with their commitments. This would be a difficult task for the new ministers to carry the unfinished agendas of the previous government maintaining the same flow. As the government has been continuing for the last ten years, voters would not allow them to take much time to get settled in their position.
The second most important challenges would be to work for establishment of good governance and reduce corruption in the country. It is true that AL has attained tremendous success in the last ten years in most of the sectors. But they are vehemently criticised for their inability to improve governance indicators and reduce widespread corruption. In most of the cases, some influential leaders of AL have remained involved in larger scams in share market and banking sector. Thus, they will have to come hard on those ladders that have derelict their image of the government nationally and internationally.The third important challenge is to create employment opportunities for a large number unemployed youth. In their electoral manifestos, the party has made a commitment to creating over one crore of new jobs for the youth. They should consider expanding the number of economic zones all over the country that could provide jobs to numerous youth. For doing so, they would have to create an investment-friendly economic environment. They would also have to consider making a large-scale reform in the railway sector. This would not only help the businessmen to reduce their transportation cost but also help the passengers to travel safe and faster.
The education sector of the country deserves immediate attention of the government. We have travelled through several types of experimentations in the last 10 years in our education system. There are strong criticisms from the academicians on the decision of the government to take PSC and JSC examinations besides SSC and HSC examinations. This system has created a gigantic amount of pressure on the students. The quality of higher education has reduced to a great extent. The mushrooming growth of public and private universities has pushed this sector in front of a big question mark. The recruitment of the authorities in different public universities should be made taking into consideration the candidates’ academic records, not based on political linkage. The Accreditation Council needs to be activated within the shortest possible time. We have found a new education minister who is known for her quality. Thus, we expect that she would take all the possible actions to ensure quality education in the country.
It is expected that the new ministers would prove their credibility in assisting the Prime Minister to take Bangladesh to the next level of development. This newly formed cabinet is a combination of youth and old. We would want to keep trust on them as Sheikh Hasina has kept her trust on these people. While discharging their responsibilities, they should consider issues like good governance and reducing corruption which are the two most serious challenges that the government should pay more attention along with ensuring the continuation of the stride of development.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.