Creating dynamism in the civil administration
Syed Ishtiaque Reza
THE quality of civil servants come into focus on many occasions. There are strong perceptions that the leakage of question papers of the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) examinations, politicisation, high level of corruption, improper training and motivation of the administrators are badly affecting the basic qualities of the persons who are responsible for the nation's administration.
The first thing that come up for discussion is the selection process of civil servants. Known to be the toughest and the most competitive exam in the country, the BCS is a difficult and arduous process. The examination is common for entry into a whole array of government services such as the administration, foreign service, the police service, the ansars, the income tax auditing, the Postal Department, etc. Aspirants are required to rank the services according to their preference. Successful candidates are assigned services on the basis of their rank and their preferences.
The examination for the civil services is considered the ultimate in competitive exams. It is easily understood in a country where unemployment is acute that the number of aspirants in BCS exams is much higher than those taking other competitive examinations. The preparation time is usually long and the success rate is minimal. Since questions asked range from medieval history to the latest technology, the exam is known for the breadth of subjects covered and the attention required.
But lately questions are now being asked about the exam itself. Given hat an ideal administrator must be intelligent, dynamic, inspired, innovative, honest and compassionate, is the exam an effective means to evaluate the aspirants' aptitude? Does it test the aspirants adequately on the skills required to become an effective administrator?
Many feel that the exam is slowly losing its relevance, and that its emphasis on information retention is unnecessary. It is also felt that the exam is too traditional now and must be updated.
There are opinions that the Public Service Commission (PSC) should now modernise the syllabus. While the exam tests the examinee on a diverse range of subjects, the choice of optional papers could be reduced.
It is found that the majority of civil servants tend to be unresponsive to innovation, intellectually sluggish and caught in a "ruler mindset". Thus, it made a strong case for sweeping changes in the selection process and the structure of the civil services itself.
It would be highly beneficial if the selection process goes though a thorough review. First of all, the recruitment age must be lowered as the opportunity costs for taking the exams at higher ages are substantial for candidates from poor families. A younger team of officers implies flexibility, innovation and dynamism, as older candidates tend to be more set in their ways and less receptive to new ideas.
In the examinations a greater emphasis should be on objective-type questions in the preliminary tests. The main examination should be moved away from the classical academic subjects to diverse fields such as environment, law and technology. It is felt that the subjects should have greater relevance to the task of administration.
Training for the civil services should be a long-term and ongoing process. On-site training, field training and real-world exercises should be given greater emphasis to allow the recruits to interact with people at the grassroots. This will give future administrators perspective and improve the implementation and efficacy of the schemes and programmes promoted by the government.
There should be emphasis to select reform-minded administrators capable of interfacing with non-governmental organisations, cooperatives, local autonomous bodies, the private sector and help local economies and societies integrate with domestic and global markets.
The report also recommends that candidates selected should be aware of the socio-economic matrix in which they are to operate, and the strengths and weaknesses of society and the country.
While taking note of the difficulties involved in testing a candidate for honesty and integrity, experts feel that an effort must be made to make the administration flawless.
Another problem is the conflict among cadres. It is observed that there is assumption among civil service people that one particular branch of service is `higher' or more valued than the other. This is a question for the government to consider, since it creates internecine conflicts among public servants.
If the government wants all branches of the services to function with equal efficiency, the first step would be to give equal importance to all cadres instead of allowing the conflicts to last longer.