The secretary of the ministry of railways advised a journalist the other day to commit suicide. He made the remark when the reporter investigating discrepancies related to the price of railway tickets informed him that he was not getting any details about the matter from his department.
In effect, no one appeared willing to explain what suspiciously looked like a corrupt happening in the railway department. An incensed secretary, in full bureaucratic mode, then told the journalist to go commit suicide.
The bureaucrat's remarks have gone viral on social media, which is just as well. His attitude holds up an image of a civil service which remains out of touch with the country and unresponsive to public concerns. Worse, this bureaucrat's advice to the journalist to take his own life demonstrates a degree of arrogance which hints at the impunity with which a section of people in the civil administration comport themselves these days.
We understand that some journalists have let the higher authorities in the administration know of the incident. It is our expectation that this secretary will be duly pulled up and slapped with the rules pertaining to discipline in service.
At the same time, the principal issue which led the reporter into trying to investigate the railway department, that is the price of tickets and the anomalies related to it, should be investigated immediately. For a good number of years now, allegations of wrongdoing among the railway authorities have been making the rounds, realities which should have the new railways minister order a full and purposeful inquiry into the matter.
On the larger subject of bureaucratic behaviour, it would be well to go back to the advice proffered by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to our civil servants, which was essentially that they should discard the old colonial mindset of considering themselves masters of society and instead remember that they are civil servants.
In his blunt language, he reminded them that the expenses for their education and services are borne by the people, which is why they must identify with the people and stand ready to serve them at all times.
In the years since Bangabandhu's assassination, his advice has been forgotten and civil servants continue to carry themselves in the image of people whose job it is to decide what is good or otherwise for the people. With this attitude they have only served to add substance to the notion that many of our civil servants are neither civil nor servants.
This attitude needs to change, through an enforcement of radical measures set into motion by necessary reforms of the civil service. Meanwhile, the authorities must go into disciplining the secretary who advised that journalist to commit suicide.
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