Bangladesh Planning Commission, a central planning organisation of the government, is responsible for formulating socio-economic development plans and programmes of the country. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave highest priority to the necessary institutional framework for these activities and established the Bangladesh Planning Commission as a specialised entity.
At the very outset, the then Planning Minister, and Member, General Economic Division of the Planning Commision did not agree to include Planning Commission's officials in the BCS Admn cadre fearing such inclusion would weaken the Commission' proficiency in dealing with a host of macro economic and development issues requiring specialised skills and expertise. Keeping this in view, the BCS Economic Cadre was subsequently formed.
Bangladesh has now 27 cadres in its civil service assigned with distinct functions across the entire sphere of the public sector, according to allocation business of ministries/divisions. Out of these, BCS administration is a field based general cadre, while the other cadres are meant to deal with specific areas in which the officials are particularly groomed. Likewise, BCS Economic cadre officials are groomed by particular standards of education and training that make them specialists in dealing with development goals, strategies, policy measures and so on.
The government, a few months ago, merged the admn and economic cadres, supposedly to reduce inequality faced by economic cadre officials in promotion, allowances and other facilities. But before taking such a crucial decision, it was necessary to thoroughly think whether Admn cadre officials have the technical capabilities and expertise to discharge the responsibilities that are performed by Economic cadre officials. Similarly, one may question the aptitude of the Economic cadre officials in handling the jobs of admn cadre officials.
The Economic cadre officials have now the opening to be posted to administrative positions and get the opportunity to maintain law and order, collect land revenue, perform magistracy function etc. Similarly Admn cadre officials will be posted to positions in the economic cadre. There are surplus officers in Admn cadre promoted on political consideration in the absence of vacant posts without complying with rules and regulations and disregarding merit, skill and honesty. Since there is no clearly defined policy for transfer and posting of civil servants, there is nothing to be surprised if three Additional Secretaries get posted in place of one Division Chief, more than one Joint Secretary and Deputy Secretary in the position of one Joint Chief and Deputy chief respectively. In fact, this is a feature common to most ministries these days.
One has reasons to believe that there will be a serious mismatch between Admn cadre official's skills and knowledge and the specific job requirements in the Planning Commission. As a result, inefficiency and inability to plan and manage the development activities would be inevitable
The government could have addressed the personal issues of deprived officials by removing inequality in promotion, allowances, and other perks without merger. But what has happened clearly amounts to total negation of the skills and professional expertise of the government's specialised ministry. Given the reality, it is not at all unlikely that the Planning Commission would eventually turn into a completely consultant-based organisation.
In this backdrop, there is a definite need to address the looming challenge facing the Planning Commission. This scribe feels that a high level committee for civil administration may be formed to redesign institutional structure of the Planning Commission so that it can still maintain its legacy as a specialised ministry and contribute to the development needs of the country. Firstly, according to former civil servant Mr Ali Imam Majumder, a group of Admn officials may be selected to perform planning related works soon after their recruitment and assigned to planning jobs. These officials having aptitude to develop expertise in the formulation of development plans and projects may be placed under the Planning Commission permanently.
Secondly, the government may take the initiative to maintain the original high profile of the Commission (Deputy Chairman having the status of Minister, Members with the status of State Minister and Division Chiefs with the status of Secretary). The Commission may be manned by professionals on deputation from Admin cadre and through direct recruitment with the provision of higher status and good compensation package.
There are a lot more to think about in this regard to ensure that the Planning Commission is able to retain its professional character and is sufficiently empowered to perform its role as the key state agency to deliver fruitful planning at the macro level.
Md Osman Ali is Retired Joint Chief, Planning Commission. firstname.lastname@example.org
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