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The quality of civil servants

          THE people's expectation of the civil service in this country has never been high. As in the case of other institutions they have faltered and failed to deliver the results. Yet there was a time when quality and efficiency of the civil servants were of high standard mainly because of the induction of best boys in the civil service through competitive examinations. The situation, however, changed soon after the independence of the country. Though the size of the civil service has more than doubled, the quality of the administration has gone down because of the recruitment of poor quality manpower.
The officials recruited in the early and mid 1970s without requiring to pass the usual competitive examinations do have less education and training than that of their predecessors -- and are considered to be less competent. They are now at the helm of different ministries and other government agencies as most of the members of the erstwhile civil service of Pakistan (CSPs) and also of the then East Pakistan Civil Service (EPCS) have gone on retirement. The services of a few of them have been retained in higher jobs under contractual arrangements. But the overall level of efficiency at all levels of the civil service is considered very poor compared to that of the civil servants of neighbouring India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. What is more painful is that Bangladesh civil servants usually fail to secure their rightful jobs in the international organisations because of their poor quality. The lack of competence and inefficiency is also terribly felt in the case of representations in the international forums and negotiations with multilateral and bilateral donors. Though recruitments of relatively better manpower for the civil service began since the mid-80s, the situation has not improved much because of the top-down culture that leaves virtually no space for the mid-level officials to exercise independent decision-making authority.
On the top of everything is the inadequate compensation that has failed to attract the bright students to the civil service. The government does not have the means to pay attractive pay packages to such a huge civil administration. There is, of course, an alternative -- downsizing of the administration and paying more to the competent people -- but that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Successive governments from time to time made some preliminary attempts to improve the level of efficiency of the public administration without disturbing the status quo. They formed a number of commissions and committees to recommend measures to this effect. However, most of the reports of such bodies have been pushed under the rugs because those did not suit the hidden needs of the governments in power and the members of the civil service. The most important issue is that both the government and the civil servants are basically reform-averse. The prevalence of high level of corruption at all levels of the civil administration has actually discouraged them from supporting reforms.
The universally recognised way of improving efficiency of any individual is imparting regular training, no matter where he or she serves. The government, according to a report published in this daily Saturday, will be arranging comprehensive training programmes for some 2000 public officials manning the mid-to-higher-level positions of the civil service. The purpose of the training will be to help improve performance and promote an efficiency culture at the higher level of civil service and across all ministries. The Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK has promised to make funds available over a period of seven years for such training programme. In the past also there were lots of training programmes for the civil servants both at home and abroad. But the gains from those were hardly reflected in their work. Either they do not have the ability to comprehend the contents of the training programmes or they are not serious at all about the need for improving their skill. So, the possibility of a few million sterling pounds going down the drain cannot be ruled out.


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