India's former president Pranab Mukherjee has of late been rather critical of the sloth through the bureaucracy in his country works. Mr Mukherjee may well have been speaking for other countries in the region as well. His remarks bring us back to the way the bureaucracy has traditionally functioned in Bangladesh. It was Bangabandhu who tried to turn the civil service into an institution that was people-oriented and indeed become part of the national mainstream.
Much criticism has been there of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution introduced by Bangabandhu's government in January 1975. Despite all that criticism and whether or not the criticism was justified, it remains a fact that the amendment in question sought to bring about certain changes in governance strategy that could not be denied at that point of time.
Had the country not been subjected to the tragedy of August 1975, it may well be that those changes, especially in the administrative structure of the state, would have brought about a radical transformation of society. More than seventy years after the departure of the British, nations like Bangladesh are yet burdened with a bureaucracy that deliberately or by design remains out of touch with popular aspirations.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was cognisant of the problem. In the months before his assassination, he crisscrossed the country emphasizing a radically changed bureaucracy that would be attuned to the national pulse. His bluntness in stating how he wished civil servants to change their attitude towards administration left many of them miffed.
In his earthy language, an exasperated Father of the Nation advised bureaucrats to step out of their trousers and get into shorts if they meant to be of use to the nation. He was driving a simple point home --- that civil servants could not any more keep themselves aloof from the common masses, that they needed to do away with old ideas and embrace new thoughts in the service of the republic.
The Fourth Amendment, insofar as the administrative scheme of things was concerned, was a brave and necessary move to bulldoze the obsolete system into elimination and replace it with a people-oriented one. Bangabandhu's government undertook the task bravely through segmenting the country into sixty districts, with each district to be administered by a governor.
In simple terms, the objective was to dismantle the colonial administrative system and restructure it against the background of national liberty earned through a hard-fought war in 1971.
Bangabandhu planned a new civil service that would abjure elitism. Today, elitism continues to define the bureaucracy in Bangladesh, which is why it is imperative that plans for a change again get underway. The red tape that has been a characteristic of the civil service has never been thrown away.
The nation is need of a new configuration in civil administration. It will simply not do to carry on with a system that has little interaction with people. Thorough changes should be brought about in the way examinations for the Bangladesh Civil Service are conducted, the emphasis being on an induction of civil servants who will throughout their careers remain institutionally linked with the masses under the leadership of the political classes.
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