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Importance of reforming the civil services


The compelling need to attempt deep reforms in the country's civil services has been felt for a long time though little was done to this end. Now, donors are stepping harder on the pedal to create pressure on the government for it to actively take up and carry out civil service reforms. According to a report published in this paper Wednesday, the donors want the government to create a 'senior service pool' with its members drawn from the existing cadres of the civil services and also from the private sector. This would break the present cadre system in the civil services and help in the appointment of specialist manpower from outside the civil services to lend expertise and dynamism to the civil administration. The special pool would be supported by incentives such as higher salaries and perks in comparison to what are received by civil servants in the existing cadre services. The donors are also in favour of other varied measures to lift up the qualitative performance of the civil services as a whole. There is no denying that better performance on the part of the civil servants would help attain the much-sought-after better governance -- one of the key factors that influence implementation of various anti-poverty and developmental programmes with aid resources.
This paper, too, has been advocating the recruitment of competent people with incentive remuneration and perks from outside the present civil services for injecting dynamism and greater ability in the administration which is currently dominated by generalists having limitations. But only such a major step will not cure the civil administration of its various ills, including notably the issues of corruption and inefficiency.
Civil servants in the country tend to consider themselves as a privileged group like the hereditary aristocracy. Most of them view their jobs as of a type they can carry on until their retirement time without suffering any penalty for their underperformance or corruption. Therefore, the prevailing conditions call for nothing short of a system of firm accountability so that a civil servant of any rank feels that he or she must perform up to a desired level and failure to do so will invite troubles for him or her. At the same time, the good performances on their part must be promptly noted and rewarded with promotions and other rewards to keep their motivation high. Such a well established mechanism to keep the civil servants on their toes and get the desired output from them -- quantitatively and qualitatively -- is likely to be more effective than any amount of moral exhortations for them to approach their work with honesty and sincerity.
The above framework also needs to apply to the contemplated senior service pool. Experience proves, specially in the Bangladesh context, that only the creation of material incentives are not enough to get the best out of individuals. The police, for instance, are being better supplied with many facilities compared to the past. But this has not led to their giving up corrupt practices because of the lack of a prompt and firm accountability structure. Individuals in most cases do not or cannot take the initiative to improve themselves. However, if an effective system is in place to guard against their wrongdoings and slothful mentality, then the same more or less delivers results in all situations.
Apart from a proper accountability structure, the civil services are in need of extensive reforms of a varied nature in every government department. There is no need to set up another administrative reforms commission to go to work again to find out what ails the civil services. The recommendations of the several administrative reforms commissions of the past can be studied and implementation of their meritorious proposals would suffice to achieve improvement in the functioning of the civil services within a time frame.