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Civil admin the leviathan-III

Services below par on poor accountability

Jasim Uddin Haroon | Published: August 20, 2019 10:17:21 | Updated: August 20, 2019 14:15:33


Picture used for illustrative purpose only — Collected

People are not getting the expected level of services from the existing top-heavy civil administration as the issue of accountability is still largely neglected.

No effective measure of accountability could still be put in place as the age-old system, known as ACR (Annual Confidential Report), is almost ineffective. It could do nothing but just ensuring junior officials' loyalty to the higher authorities.

To enhance the administration's efficiency, the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) system, a new performance measure, was introduced in the fiscal year 2014-15. Almost all ministries, divisions, departments and other agencies of the government have come under the system. Every year they sign APAs with their higher authorities.

However, though some departments meet the APA targets, some others, especially in the financial sector, fail to meet theirs'. For example, some of state-owned banks, Investment Corporation of Bangladesh (ICB), specialised banks BASIC and BDBL, National Board of Revenue (NBR), Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) and many others struggle to meet their targets.

The people expect hassle-free services from the civil administration. But that expectation is largely unmet. They confront different types of hassles in their access to services while, for example, submitting tax or VAT returns.

Bribery is also rampant in the administration. Even some people working with the anti-graft watchdog Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) are involved in such unethical practices.

On July 13 last, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said corruption would not be tolerated. She asked the top government officials to keep more vigil against corruption so that this menace does not affect the country's development in any way. She was speaking at a programme marking the government's signing of APAs with relevant authorities.

"All must keep in mind that development must not be affected in any way because of graft," she was quoted as saying in the programme.

About the age-old practice of ACR in performance evaluation, experts said it cannot ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability. Rather, the ACR helps ensure loyalty of the employees to the higher authorities in the administration.

The critics said most of the ACR components are related to how best the employees are made loyal to the higher authorities.

An officer cannot serve the nation best when the distribution of mark for work and work-quality in the ACR is merely 8 out of 100, people familiar with the matter have told the FE.

Many experts view the APA system as good to measure efficiency of the bureaucracy but they say it lacks transparency. They say the many APA components are not consistent, when it comes to the mission and vision of the entities concerned.

"Setting an accurate indicator is very much important. If they set an indicator which is easily attainable, it cannot be justified," Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director at the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), told the FE. Allocating proper weight in the indicator is very much important, he added

"You will find many divisions and institutions that have failed to achieve their targets. Missing targets mean they have failed to do the optimal job for the welfare of the people as well as the state," Dr Iftekharuzzaman said.

It is believed that the APA was initially crafted for improving the financial statements of state-owned commercial banks.

But some of the commercial banks continuously failed to achieve targets set in the agreements signed with the Financial Institutions Division (FID).

For example, the BASIC Bank fails to attain a number of key targets.

On the other hand, Sonali Bank's classified loans were over 33 per cent in 2017-18, it dropped to 25 per cent in 2018-19, but both remained much lower than the targets.

Its non-performing loan (NPL) weight is low, so the bank gets on overall high score, people familiar with the matter at the FID told the FE.

The ICB under the FID was the worst performer in the fiscal year 2017-18 as it scored below 70, out of 100.

Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director at the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI), said the APA system is also in force in India. But "our APA is not transparent," he added. The APAs are not made public yet.

"We are giving reward only but we are not taking action for failing to meet the APA targets. Is it fair?" he questioned.

Similarly, there are many divisions and departments that are not faring well, but they are going scot-free.

"There should be reward for good performance and penalty for bad performance, but we are giving only rewards," Dr Mansur said.

Talking to the FE about the ACR system, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said it is now obsolete and there must be search for best ones.

"A new method based on performance should be introduced for offering angel services to the people," he noted.

On the other hand, Md Ashraf Hossain, in-charge of the 'e-governance branch' at the Cabinet Division, told the FE they made much progress in digitalisation.

"We have now introduced e-filing and many services under the Ministry of Social Welfare are rendered online," Mr Hossain said.

He hinted that by 2021 'e-governance' would be fully implemented.

However, Cabinet Secretary Shafiul Alam could not be contacted for his comment on the APA despite all efforts to contact him in person or through mobile phone or e-mail.

jasimharoon@yahoo.com

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