Law, policy and institutional frameworks for civil service reform in Bangladesh: challenges and opportunities
Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) Administration cadre, with its long colonial past, has experienced structural–functional changes, but the basic tenets of a traditional bureaucracy have remained unaltered. Reforms and innovations attempted in the past have been sporadic and often without desired outcomes being reached. Donors’ prescription of reforms generally contains elements that are irrelevant to the country’s context. In Bangladesh, all major reform initiatives were undertaken by ad hoc commissions and committees that were invariably established to satisfy donor requirements, and a powerful indigenous institution in charge of reform implementation has been absent throughout. Instead of using strong political leadership to create a better government through civil service reforms (CSR), Bangladesh’s dominant CSR objective has been regime consolidation. This study shows that there has been no significant improvement in public service delivery as envisioned by different reform strategies and programs, although this does not discount the importance of a well-coordinated CSR program in Bangladesh. This study presents substantial evidence to answer the research question—'To what extent do existing laws, policies, institutional framework and other contextual realities influence CSR implementation in Bangladesh?’. This study argues that a colonial administrative culture, the inappropriate attitude and behaviour of bureaucrats and a weak institutional capacity in terms of human and physical resources have negatively influenced the outcome of reforms in Bangladesh. The inadequate legal framework regulating service conditions in the civil service and unfavourable socio-economic and political conditions have also had a significant effect. This study has proposed an inclusive CSR model that integrates the top-down and bottom-up approaches to policy implementation with a pledge to include key stakeholders in every phase of the reform process. The model emphasises that institutional capacity, adequate policy and legal frame of reference, and conducive social and political atmosphere, are supporting factors in CSR. The research findings confirmed that political leadership and its unreserved commitment, multi-partisan consensus on fundamental national policies, policy continuance across regimes and time, and administrative leadership and ethics are critical conditions for the success of CSR. The thesis provides specific recommendations regarding pertinent issues of BCS as a way out from the repeated CSR failures of the past. Recommendations specific to PSC include that recruitment and selection procession should be transparent and free from any political influence. A few recommendations relating to MOPA mainly dwell on human resource management issues, such as training, skills and knowledge development. It is also crucial for Parliament to oversee the functions of government departments through its standing committees, building the capacity of the office of the C&AG to superintend financial compliances, and empowering the judiciary to undertake judicial reviews to protect public employees from bureaucratic imperiousness. The major recommendations relating to policy and legal issues include revising and renewing outdated and inadequate policy and legal frameworks. Recommendations relating socio-political factors in the CSR process include stakeholder engagement, redefining bureaucracy-politics relationship, depoliticising reform practices and reaching political consensus on reform issues by establishing a permanent reform commission. Finally, the thesis makes a few recommendations specific to BCS personnel management, such as recruitment, placement, training, promotions, posting and performance management. It emphasises that the personnel management system itself requires reforming before more significant reform programs are attempted. It is undeniable, however, that certain limitations like the small sample size of participants, limited resources and time, lack of a standard tool for CSR assessment, a small number of policies and laws covered for analysis, COVID-19 situations, etc. have restricted this study.