The civil administration in Bangladesh is losing its pyramid structure as it is getting heavy at the top with large-scale promotion of officials in the upper tier in recent years, suggest official data.
Many experts viewed the changing demography of the civil administration as a risk factor and warned that the chain of command in the bureaucracy might fall apart in the end.
They said the biggest pool of high-ranked officials unnecessarily led to addition of an additional step to the bureaucracy affecting its system of service delivery.
The existing number of additional secretaries, joint secretaries and deputy secretaries in the top positions of the civil administration is much higher than actually required. Moreover, in many cases the promotion has been given in violation of the amended 'rules of business.'
For example, currently the number of available posts for additional secretaries is 121. But as of June 2019, there were 498 additional secretaries, over 300 per cent higher than the actual requirement.
Similarly, the sanctioned posts of joint secretary are 411. But the administration got 869 against those posts until June last, nearly 112 per cent higher than the available posts.
An analysis of the promotion at the deputy secretary level also gave a similar picture.
There were 1,721 deputy secretaries in the administration against more than 1,000 posts available, according to the statistics prepared by the Ministry of Public Administration (MoPA) exclusively for The Financial Express (FE).
An additional secretary/joint secretary should be the chief of a wing under a division or a ministry, according to the Rules of Business (amended in 2012). Earlier a joint secretary used to run such a wing.
But currently such a unit is being headed by an additional secretary, people familiar with the matter have told the FE.
Earlier a deputy secretary used to head a branch which lies in the immediate next tier of a wing.
But now they are no more at the helm of such branches. Rather, a joint secretary does the job.
Even there are many instances that additional secretaries are running such branches.
A section under a division or ministry is the smallest unit. As per the amended 'rules of business,' a senior assistant secretary or assistant secretary should head it.
But in practice, most of the sections are run by deputy secretaries. Even in some cases, joint secretaries do the jobs.
Resultantly, they are doing the lower-grade jobs compared to their positions, the sources said.
Dr Akbar Ali Khan, a former cabinet secretary, said that earlier there were four steps in the civil administration. But such a type of unplanned promotion led to a five-step delivery of service.
"The pyramid-structure of the bureaucracy now is almost taking the 'inverse-pyramid' shape as the lower tiers have fewer officers than required," Dr Khan said.
The modern struc ture of bureaucracy was invented by German philosopher Max Weber and it is usually pyramid-shaped.
Dr Khan, also an author of a number of books, said the additional secretary post was actually created to share some responsibilities of a secretary.
"Where the secretary has huge responsibilities, there arises the necessity of a post of additional secretary," Dr Khan argued in his latest book.
There is an example. A deputy secretary during his term of 2007-08 acted as director (operations) at the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC).
After his promotion to the post of additional secretary he was again posted to the same government entity BPC to perform the role of director (finance). There are many such instances.
Terming such promotion purely based on political consideration, Dr Khan in the book "Abak Bangladesh: Bichitro Cholonajale" said such a type of bureaucracy would lead to an un-skilled administration.
Civil servants show loyalty to a political government to get promotion and political governments also try to seize this opportunity.
Dr Khan said the government would incur losses to the tune of at least Tk 10 billion (1,000 crore) in the next one decade due to such an organisational shape.
"Such unplanned promotion in the civil service was never seen before and it has no positive impact on the administration," another former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder told the FE.
"It [such a structure] may even break the chain of command in the administration," Mr Majumder noted.
"If most officers have the equal status, the issue of loyalty may definitely be ignored," Mr Majumder said.
"To my mind this is also leading to procedural delay," Mr Majumder, who is also a columnist writing on the affairs of public administration, told the FE.
As per the rules of business, a joint secretary may produce a file before a minister, but it now needs an additional secretary to do the job
The civil administration took this shape following four rounds of large-scale promotion in recent years.
Currently the number of high officials ranging from senior assistant secretary to secretary is nearly 4,500, excluding contractual appointments and in-charge officials.
On the other hand, 10 years ago the number was only 754.
The expenses for such a large bureaucracy are being met with money from the taxpayers' pockets. Under the pay scale of 2015, the 'take home pay' or the net amount of income received after the deduction of taxes, benefits and voluntary contributions from a paycheck for a secretary is Tk 200,000 (fixed).
The 'take home pay' for an additional secretary is approximately Tk 175,000, joint secretary Tk 150,000, deputy secretary Tk 120,000 and senior assistant secretary Tk 70,000. The remuneration increases on an average 5.0 per cent on adjustment with the rate of inflation.
The government spends around Tk 6.4 billion (6,40 crore) a year under the existing pay scale to meet monthly obligations of such a huge pool of high officials.
But this figure has excluded the future liabilities for payment of pension, training allowances, subsidies given by the government for taking home loans and other fringe benefits.
Professor Dr Salahuddin M Aminuzzaman of the Department of Public Administration at the University of Dhaka has told the FE that promotion is a matter of "earning" and if anyone gets it easily, it impacts adversely on the administration.
"If officers get it [promotion] automatically, the other talented people will lose motivation," Mr Aminuzzaman noted.
"Actually mass promotion does cause damage to competitiveness in the administration..," he noted further.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director at the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said such a type of bureaucracy is helping distort the pyramid structure of the administration.
"This is not good at all ..," he noted.
"To my mind the service delivery is getting poorer, if we consider the concept of 'value for money'," he noted.
Value for money indicates the utility derived from every purchase or every sum of money spent.
During the last ten years from 2009 through June of 2019, more than 5,000 officers ranging from assistant secretaries to senior secretaries were promoted on more than 30 occasions.
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