Fashioning a merit-based civil service  

Kamal Uddin Ahmed     | Published: October 01, 2018 21:06:47

The 1997 World Development Report emphasised that "Making a meritocracy of the civil service helps bring in high-quality staff, confers prestige on civil service positions, and can do a great deal to motivate good performance." Indeed, studies and research show that a country with the firm principle of fair, open and merit-based civil service stimulates economic growth and development and effectively leads the society.

The Secretary-level seven-member committee for review of the quota system in public services led by cabinet secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam has submitted its report to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on  September 17, 2018 recommending abolition of all quotas. Thus, it seeks to establish a merit-based civil service for the country.

Obviously the finding of the reform committee reflects Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's earlier assertion in parliament and opinion of the public administration experts.

The committee was constituted by the government on July 02 amidst widespread protests and demonstrations by university students for reformation of the quota system in public service recruitments. It took about three months to determine the merit-based employment system putting an end to all reserved quotas after careful examination and analysis of recruitment of civil service in other countries.

In order to remove discrimination and inequality, the reform committee has recommended abolition of flawed and incoherent quota in the recruitment of Class I and Class II civil servants. While the quota movement leaders hailed the recommendation of the committee, they avowed to continue demonstrations until their three-point demand is accepted. These are: (a) Gazette on quota reforms; (b) withdrawal of all cases against the students who took part in demonstrations and (c) punishment to those who attacked the campaigners.

The review committee also considered that quota is no longer essential for women, districts and ethnic minority groups and physically handicapped persons. However, public policy experts reckon that 4.0 per cent quota may be continued only for the representation of disadvantaged ethnic minority groups and physically handicapped persons.

The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equality of opportunity in public employment. Thus, Article 29 of Bangladesh Constitution clearly stipulates, "There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in respect of employment or office in service of the Republic." And clause 2 of Article 29 states that "no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, be eligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office in the service of the Republic." Thus, quota system has been discriminatory, flawed and conflicting with the Constitution.

The quota system in the civil service of Bangladesh was introduced by an executive order after independence in 1972. However, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman constituted an Administrative & Services Reorganisation Committee (ASRC) in March 1972 to study the administrative system of the country. The committee, chaired by late Professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury of Dhaka University, advanced the principle of merit-based selection for appointment to the civil service through open competition.

The committee emphasised that the 'quota system' would "defeat the purpose of building up a first-rate civil service" in the country and that "there must be no deviation from it as it will militate against the creation of a strong administration". But the ASRC's recommendations were ignored and the quota system was sustained and often misused.

Another review of the quota system in civil service was done by the former Regulatory Commission Chair and an adviser of the caretaker government, Dr. Akbar Ali Khan and Secretary Raquib Uddin Ahmed. Dubbing the system "faulty", Khan said:  "Quota for the civil service recruitment cannot continue for an indefinite time. There should be a mechanism for re-arranging the system. Otherwise there may be an impression that those recruited are not competent."

In fact, the most recent review committee led by the Cabinet Secretary Shafiul Alam has echoed the recommendations of the ASRC as well as that of Khan and Ahmed's recommendations while abolishing all quotas.

The government should accept the recommendations of the latest quota review committee in the best interest of the country.

Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman,

Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.


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