There has been publicity galore since 2008 regarding the enactment of a Civil Service Act for the country's public servants. A considerable amount of tax-payers' money has been spent over the years for organising study tours of officials, holding seminars and workshops and undertaking research and discussions on the subject. After assumption of office in 2009, the present government had pledged to frame and pass the law in parliament. But over these long ten years, the government's words have not been matched by concrete deeds. After elaborate scrutiny for six years and rewording the law (public service in place of civil service), a draft Public Service Act was even approved by the cabinet in 2015. But, there is still no sign of its placement in parliament.
To add further confusion to the issue, the government issued a revised discipline and appeal rules for the government servants in April 2018. This was originally intended to be incorporated in the proposed Public Service Act. One wonders what has actually happened to the proposed Act itself. One hoped the proposed law would eventually democratise the executive organ, establish rules-based administration and end the bad tradition of governments lording over the bureaucracy. It will be unfortunate if the government of the day allows the status quo to continue.
Against this backdrop, some aspects of the newly framed set of discipline and appeal rules deserve close public scrutiny. For example, the previous version of the rules (issued in 1985) provided for only major punishments in case of serious offences like corruption and subversion. The present version omits one major punishment, viz. reduction in rank or pay-scale, from the list of punishments for these two offences. More importantly, it stipulates award of any other punishment if these two offences are committed. That implies, the authorities will henceforth have the discretion to give any minor or major punishments for committing these crimes.
The offences, covered by the discipline and appeal rules, relate to inefficiency, misconduct, desertion, corruption and subversion. There are provisions for awarding two categories of punishments -- major and minor ones -- for committing discipline-related offences by government servants. The minor punishments are censure, withholding promotion or increment for a specified period, stoppage at an efficiency bar in time-scale for a period, recovery from pay or gratuity any pecuniary loss caused to the government, and reduction to a lower stage in the time-scale. The major punishments, on the other hand, are reduction to a lower post or time-scale, compulsory retirement, removal and dismissal from service.
It is feared that if the authorities are given the discretionary power to award any punishment, including mere censuring, instead of only major punishments in case of serious offences like corruption and subversion, these kinds of offences would be encouraged. Providing indirect encouragement to such crimes also violates the constitution and laws of the land. Meanwhile, Bengali spelling errors in the latest version of the discipline rules have also been pointed out by the media. This speaks volumes about the capacity and efficiency level of the current administration.
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