The government of newly independent Bangladesh formed the Civil Administration Restoration Committee (CARC) in 1971 to examine and recommend measures for restoration of civil administration in the country. The CARC presented its report in 1972 after examining different issues related to civil administration for consideration of another committee appointed by the prime minister. The pre-1971 provincial secretariat was then transformed into a national secretariat with 20 ministries and subordinate departments, directorates, corporations and autonomous/semi-autonomous bodies in accordance with the recommendations of CARC (GOB, 1973).
The two other administrative reform committees during the first parliament of independent Bangladesh were the Administrative and Service Reorganisation Committee (ASRC) and the National Pay Commission (NPC-1). The key recommendations of ASRC included a classless grading structure covering all services in ten grades, appropriate number of salary levels linked to skills and responsibilities, and proper grading of posts done through job analysis. The highlights of ASRC recommendations were abolition of the elite cadre, non-reservation of posts for any particular cadre and democratisation of administration at all levels. Unfortunately, the ASRC recommendations had no impact on governance as the report remained shelved as a classified document in the official circles (GOB, 1973a).
A National Pay and Services Commission (NP&SC) was appointed in 1976 to undertake a fresh inquiry into the services and salary structures of public services and to suggest necessary reforms. The commission recommended fundamental changes in the staffing positions as well as a uniform pattern for pay-scales and promotions, so that the longstanding generalist-specialist controversy could be resolved. The government of the time implemented some NP&SC recommendations in a modified manner leading to the creation of 28 functional cadres in Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS), setting up of the Senior Service Pool (SSP), and the introduction of new national pay-scales (Kalimullah et al, 2013). The SSP was, however, abolished in 1989 due to resentment expressed against it by certain officials of BCS Administration cadre.
Administrative reform of priority areas in the short term; advice on preparation of a comprehensive medium-term action plan in the context of a long-term vision of redefined role of the state.
It has been pointed out by many experts that reforms implemented in Bangladesh since independence have been mostly routine and procedural ones, as the basic structures and processes of civil service management have been kept almost intact until now. However, two successful reform efforts resulted from the recommendations of NP&SC (1977) and CARR (1983). The former recommendations led to the establishment of 28 functional cadre services and the latter recommendations culminated in devolution of civil service at the grassroots upazila level under elected local government. Interestingly, both the reforms occurred during two military dictatorships, which gives the impression that democratic governments are either incapable of or not willing to implement major reforms.
The Public Administration Reform Commission (PARC) was constituted by the previous Awami League-led government in January 1997 to recommend policies, programmes and activities for improving the level of efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and transparency in public organisations of Bangladesh. The then government displayed great pragmatism by setting up the Commission on the eve of the 21st century, when there was a global movement towards adoption of the concept of New Public Management (NPM), i.e. performance-based and result-oriented administration with 'outsourcing' and 'contracting out' wherever possible by upholding the right of citizens' for better and cheaper services.
The Commission submitted a comprehensive 3-volume report to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in June 2000, covering many areas such as improvement of public services delivery, civil service reforms, reorganising institutions and rationalising manpower, restructuring field administration and decentralisation, combating corruption, reducing wastage and promoting value for money, strengthening parliamentary oversight, facilitating private investment and devising a mechanism for implementing PARC recommendations. It was a world-class report which synthesised many previous reports on public sector reorganiation and reforms since independence and incorporated the latest trends in public management all over the world. The then government was committed to implementing these recommendations, but unfortunately that could not materialise as the subsequent government which came to power in 2001 shelved those on political considerations. Thus ended a brave and bold attempt to overhaul and reform the country's age-old public administrative system.
No less than seventeen reform committees and commissions have been formed in Bangladesh since independence, but in reality marginal progress have been achieved in the implementation of civil service reforms. Some of these reforms have been minor adjustments intended to maintain system equilibrium. Among others, two basic reasons have been identified as barriers to civil service reform. These are lack of political commitment and bureaucratic resistance to reform. It is believed that political regimes are beneficiaries of the existing administrative system that allows them to use the civil service apparatus to nourish their patron-client chains across the political ranks and files. Besides, programmes having immediate and concrete outcomes are favoured by the politicians in power over radical administrative reforms (Khan & Haque, 2013).
Bureaucratic resistance to reforms has also been a major impediment. The elite civil servants have grown as a powerful and institutionalised interest group in society ever since the colonial era. Any reform that attempts to decrease its power, prestige and status is opposed in an organised and systematic manner (Khan & Haque, 2013). The abolition of the Senior Service Pool is a good example in this regard. Similarly, many other obvious reform-needs are bypassed in order to retain the administrative privileges of relevant civil servants. Risk avoidance has been another major hindrance to reform, as both politicians and bureaucrats are afraid of making mistakes while attempting any reform that might negatively impact on their careers and prospects.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary in charge of reform, research and law wing at the Ministry of Public Administration; he is currently a freelance writer-cum-translator.