Published:  12:18 AM, 13 January 2020

Officers on Special Duty, taxpayers' money and bureaucratic makeover

The salary of the government servants come from the taxpayers' money. And every tax-paying and law-abiding citizen of the republic has the right to know where his tax money is going. In addition, s/he also has the right to know if the money is used appropriately.

Paying government servants from the taxpayers' money sounds reasonable. However, there is a provision in the government that if the government thinks the service of a particular civil servant is no longer needed has the right to make any government servant Officers on Special Duty (OSD). That means s/he will get a salary from the state without doing anything for the state.

OSD is very common in the government of South Asian countries. This actually means 'officers with no duty'. This practice dates back to the British colonial rule in the Indian Sub-Continent. In 1931, a government spokesman explained two different reasons (larger economic benefit and greater good) to the Central Legislative Assembly about appointing OSD in civil service. At that time OSD was considered as the status of honor.

In Bangladesh, it is common that the OSDs are the officers awaiting posting orders or the demoted officers or most commonly the political causes. These officers report to the secretariat, do nothing but sign attendance. It may mean that the government doesn't have enough or suitable posts or on the other hand, their services are no longer required. In Bangladesh, many bureaucrats are made OSD for political reasons.

Sending officers on special duty is seen as a punishment because the government of the day feels no need to have them. However, they are paid with their full salaries from the taxpayers' money.

On October 03, 1991, the then ministry of the establishment (now public administration) has issued a circular saying that a government employee can be kept OSD for a maximum of 150 days. On June 04, 2012, the High Court asked the government, why making public servants' officers on special duty (OSD) without any specific reason and the time limit should not be declared unlawful. High Court issued a rule based on that the skills of the public servants made OSD are simply wasted while they are being paid from taxpayers' money.

Now on January 8, 2020, the court declares that keeping the government employees as an officer on special duty (OSD) for more than 150 days illegal. The HC also directed the public administration secretary to form a committee headed by a senior secretary to determine the legal fate of the OSD officials who will be taken back to the offices and to submit a report to this court through its registrar within 90 days after receiving the copy of the judgment.

Nevertheless, the fear remains in the minds of the public servants that this judgment will not be followed as the government circular from 1991 is not being followed. According to the report submitted by the government to the HC in April last year saying that a total of 964 government employees have been kept OSD.

On the one hand, we hear about the inadequate staff and then, on the other hand, we see more than 965 senior, experienced, and fully paid staff being wasted away without any work. Surely many are being made OSD only because of their political and ideological positions.

Likewise, a lot of them made OSD because there is not enough or the absence of suitable posts. Bangladesh is going through a transition and it is very swift. And all these government officials with the title and the pay can be made part of the development work of the country.

These officers should be posted to various ongoing government projects. A way must be found to put these officials into some useful jobs. Making OSD is promoting inefficiency. If we can paraphrase the well-known saying "an idle brain is a devil's workshop" so an idle bureaucracy (which the OSD signifies) is a dissension generating factory.

These officers with no task to accomplish spend the whole day finding faults with those who are not OSD and trying to regress whatever work that goes on, not to mention politicizing the process and embittering all those who have reasons to feel discriminated.

Ever since Bangladesh's birth, we have been hearing about administrative reforms. Some have been instituted. But fundamental reforms, especially those dealing with career planning, proper ACR writing and objective evaluation of performance remain a far cry. Added to that, the increasing politicization and partisan view of bureaucrats have all but debilitated this pivotal instrument of governance and development.

On the other hand, a series of mass promotions of bureaucrats at the upper level is in the offing. These mass promotions are a big concern and impediment to better bureaucracy. It appears that promotions are made more by the years of service put in rather than the quality of service.

There cannot be any consideration of merit when the promotions are of a mass nature and based on mere seniority. This putting together of the grain and the chaff totally negates the importance of all the factors that should determine promotion such as efficiency, commitment, team spirit, diligence, regularity, and punctuality.

The government makes a public servant OSD usually as a punitive action. Nonetheless, OSD is a big problem in the civil service of Bangladesh and it is wasting millions of taxpayers' money. Paying salaries to the OSD officers are also unconstitutional since nobody can enjoy unearned money as per the article 20(2) of the constitution of the country. It is a criminal waste of public resources.

Now the HC has ordered the government to take the officials who have been kept OSD for more than 150 days back to their original posts immediately after receiving its copy. We hope the concerned officials will this verdict seriously and bring back the workforce in action. In addition, it will form a committee heading a senior secretary and determine the legal fate of the 965 officers. But the state lawyers already said they will appeal against the verdict and that means the verdict might go hanging for another ten years because the current verdict's rule came in June 2012.

The writer is assistant professor, Department of Public Administration, Comilla University, Bangladesh.
Email: [email protected]

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