Impartial bureaucracy: A fading dream

Nurul Islam Anu
Bureaucracy has always been considered an indispensable tool of social management. It has often been termed as a necessary evil — necessary because a suitable substitute is yet to be devised — evil, because of its propensity to turn into a power hungry monster. Bureaucracy’s inseparable association with power and its inherent propensity to abuse it, is a well recognized component of the dynamics of power acquisition of power and its abuse unless powers use is made accountable.

The role of bureaucracy was simpler with statecraft being conducted within a relatively narrow scope. In the imperial days its role was confined to the traditional maintenance of the law & order and furthering the imperial interests. A deep sense of loyalty to the imperial interests was one of its sustaining characteristics. The demand on its role changed – with statecraft becoming more complex, and the bureaucracy assuming a more dominating functional and policy making role. The change was of an overwhelming nature both for the bureaucracy to respond and the policy makers or the political overhead to conduct and manage it.

The bureaucracy was asked to be efficient, honest and impartial. The demands for these commitments from the Bureaucracy, was serious and firm – because administering a post second world war subcontinent was complex the machinery required to be responsive to a very high level of expectation about social reconstruction which could be delivered by an efficient outfit. It was simultaneously argued that a corrupt bureaucracy cannot be efficient efficiency and honesty thus becoming the specific goal of this new bureaucracy. Since it was expected to operate within an overall democratic setup it was expected to be non-partisan in delivering services; a Bureaucracy having a pervasive control over the instruments of oppression and the distribution of economic patronage made its particularly vulnerable to partisan or interest serving influences. Against this reality, the slogan of an anonymous impartial bureaucracy gained a new momentum. The politician’s propensity to use the bureaucracy to further his partisan interest was powerful. This could only be neutralized by a philosophical commitment to an operating engineering signifying a holy concept — that members of the bureaucracy are SERVANTS of the Republic and are not to be used to serve partisan interests or furtherance of group interests.

There has been a sad derailment from this commitment with ominous consequences for the Republic.

Bureaucracy’s efficiency or its impartiality is conditioned by a complex process — adherence to the ideal indicated above and bureaucracy’s intense consciousness as a professional group committed to certain professional ideals. It is a silent battle that takes place — an overzealous political overhead trying to use it for partisan purpose or for furtherance of group interest. A critical component is this quite struggle, has been the bureaucracy’s pride as a professional group believing in certain ideals — personal and professional integrity, sense of dignity or tradition which he is supposed to uphold. This brings us to the concept of elitism in public service — the elite component inspiring the members of the bureaucracy to uphold certain ideals. Because the tendency to abuse or influence is always irresistible to the influencing groups — he is driven by the raw consideration of serving the self interest. An elite — he is an elite because he is a proud member of professional group with a commitment to uphold certain values. An elite is conscious — he is zealous to uphold values — he ordinary is not. One of the erosion in the concept of impartiality has been the abandonment of the concept of elitism in the planning and management of the bureaucracy.

The pride in upholding principles was lost — the bureaucracy becoming a helpless victim of a continuous assault on its independence.

The writer is conscious about his attempt to introduce the concept of elitism in public service and the controversy it is likely to generate. The writer’s assertion comes out of a deep convictism that an elite, conscious of its tradition, does not compromise — he tries to uphold and lead in preserving those values — his professional independence. In the tussle between the propensity to compromise the bureaucrats’ independent character and the attempt to influence it — he emerges as the silent contributor to the emergence and retention of bureaucracratic independence. It is a quiet contribution — often invisible.

Another significant factor that vitally affected the character of the bureaucracy is its degeneration from the character of a professional group to that’s of a mercenary. This evolution — a proud member of a professional group degenerating the role of a mercenary, was a sad spectacle. A mercenary has no pride; he gets bought and sold. He competes for cheap benefit, a better posting or the lust for a better position. A ruthless competition for deriving cheap benefit becomes the order of the day, with predictable endemic demonstration effect. A shameless competition for cheap benefits results at the cost of abandonment of precious values.

The bureaucracy’s two precious characteristics — anonymity and impartiality — becomes object of ruthless assault from the political overhead resulting in the vicious process of POLITISIZATION of the bureaucracy; the image of a secretary, with a pro-Awami League or pro-BNP inclination are shamelessly paraded and accepted by the society. From the inspector general of Police to the officer in charge of a police station, becomes conspicuous or condemned by the image of his political affiliation. The disease assumes an endemic character with rival political groups competing for loyalty of the members of the bureaucracy.

This process has assumed a dangerous proportion threatening the very foundation of the Republic. The nation stands helpless when it witnesses that integrity, competence, is ruthlessly sacrificed to the expedient character of Political loyalty. Performance evaluation as a technique of personnel management becomes an object of disrespect and ridicule.

Can a bureaucracy, devoid of a philosophical commitment to its impartial character deliver within a complex mechanism of competing influences to derail it from its objective? Can it be successful in providing the critical support to a successful statecraft?

Yes, it can, for the simple reason that the realization about the need is being felt at the national level and intense debate is continuing to ensure its success. The political overhead must realize that shelving this as a drifting agenda can only be self destructive. There is a powerful silent demand from the nation for a bureaucracy.

It is our resolve that it will be accomplished.

The writer is a former CSP Officer, Political Analyst, now a Bank Director and Corporate Executive.

daily star

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