An Overview of Bureaucratic Accountability and Efficiency in Bangladesh

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2013

25 Pages



In pluralistic societies, all over the world bureaucracy plays a predominant role for bringing social change, transformation, modernization and development. But in Bangladesh bureaucracy represents a dismal picture and suffers from various ills. Standing on the threshold of the 21st century when the whole world is experiencing cataclysmic change in the sphere of political transformation, economic globalization, technological innovation, media revolution and rapid growth of the nation states- it is now quite exigent to rearrange or reorganize the state machinery for coexisting with the changed world order. In consonance with the changes- the role, function and responsibility of bureaucracy should be devised in a way that it can ensure its productivity and efficiency by creating an enabling condition for development. Absence of efficiency, transparency, accountability, representational political culture, institutional weakness of political, social and economical apparatus and malfunction among those systems has made the bureaucratic system in Bangladesh despicable and disdainful. The paper, ipso facto, aims at unravelling the issues related with the concept of bureaucracy, the role of bureaucracy in the third world with special emphasis on Bangladesh, depicting a brief sketch about the traditional and development bureaucracy in Bangladesh. Lastly, but not the least, some suggestions to make the bureaucracy accountable, efficient and responsive to the people's demands and aspirations have been given.


Bangladesh is predominantly an administered polity. There is hardly any sphere of public life beyond the purview of direct contact with the government and its functionaries. The entire governmental system is divided into three sub-systems i.e. the executive, legislative and judiciary - with distinctive duties and responsibilities, role and functions, all of which are governed by established laws, rules and regulations. Among these three sub-systems the executive branch has the direct responsibilities for bringing about socio-economic change and development in the country through implementation of public policies and programmes. But due to several problems, dislocations and malfunctions arising out from within and outside of this bureaucratic organisation it is not working well for doing good and fulfilling the needs, demands and aspirations of the common people as well as the taxpayers by whom the civil servants are being paid. There is lack of efficiency, accountability and transparency in bureaucratic system. The paper aims at addressing some measures of increasing efficiency and accountability in the bureaucratic system of the country. For greater understanding of the intricacies of this paper some related issues i.e. the conceptual framework of the Bureaucracy, its origin and present status, new challenges before bureaucracy and last but not the least some measures for making it accountable and bringing efficiency are elucidated. The paper is basically written by following the content analysis method incorporating the suggestions and recommendations of various reports on public administration reform commissions and some other legal documents of Bangladesh.

Bureaucracy: The Conceptual Framework

Bureaucracy, conceived by Max Weber as a legal, rational and normative model of organization - has become a persistent concern in the firmament of social science studies that possesses a predominant role for its prolific contribution towards shaping human civilization. Other than developing countries all over the world, bureaucracy represents an efficient organization in modern times. The Weberian bureaucracy is governed by six principles, and the position of the bureaucratic official is also based on six principles. The six principles of bureaucracy are: (i) There are fixed and official jurisdictional areas - ordered by rules, so that official duties are regular activities, based on the ends of the organisation; (ii) There is a firmly ordered hierarchy providing for the supervision of lower offices by specified higher ones. Lower officials have the rights of appeal as a counter-balance to the regulated domination from above. Such offices are not ephemeral-they are fixed and then filled by successive incumbents; (iii)The Management of office is based on written documents and a filing system - hence clerks to keep the files. The office should be distinct and the segregation of business and family interests is presupposed for all members of the bureaucracy; (iv) Each specialized position demands specific training; (v) Official business should not be a secondary activity, but should occupy the energies of the official full-time; (vi) The rules of the bureaucracy demands relevant learning and expertise based in relevant academic disciplines ( Roth and Wittch, 1968: 956-62 quoted in Khan, 1980: 31).

Six principles also guide the position of the officials which are: (i) Office holding as a vocation, requiring a prescribed course of training, the passing of examinations to indicate quality, impersonality in the conduct of the office; (ii) The official enjoys a social esteem in accordance with his rank in the hierarchy; (iii) The official is appointed by a superior authority; (iv) The official enjoys tenure (of office) for life; (v) Security is ensured for the official by the payment of a salary in accord with his status in the hierarchy (and a pension at the end of his service); (vi) Career stages will characterize the official's life and he will expect to be moved from less well paid to better paid offices with time (Ibid:32).

According to Weber, enormous growth of capitalism, size of the states and the organization, Protestant Ethics, impact of cultural, economic and technological advancement and technical superiority of bureaucracy over other forms of administration resulted in the configuration of bureaucracy (Gerth and Mills, 1958: 196-239, quoted in Sudha, 1994: 69). In the early days of industrial revolution, management was based on personal whim and wishes. Personal subjugation, nepotism, cruelty, emotions were some of the common managerial practices in those days. That is why as a reaction against those odds and in search of order, discipline, stability, structure, rationality, efficiency and economy bureaucracy was developed (Parsons and Henderson, 1947:329-41). In developing the concept of bureaucracy, Weber took into consideration the human society as a whole and wanted to devise a system by which all human institutions could be analyzed, classified and operated (Kapoor, 1986:136). Instead of traditional and charismatic authority, the Weberian bureaucracy has been developed on the basis of legal rational authority. From the definitional point of view, it can be portrayed that bureaucracy tries to establish a relation between legally constituted authorities and their subordinate officials which is characterized by defined rights and duties prescribed in written regulations. Now-a-days it is the supreme powerful institutional arrangement that provides vital inputs to the political process, accomplishes politically determined goals and serves the whole society in various ways (Zafarullah, 1992:3). Actually, bureaucracy originated as a technical term referring to a specific form of organization for administrative purposes that are inevitable for every human organization. Caiden (1971:258-9, quoted in Zafarullah, 1992: 2) has synthesized the idea about bureaucracy in a broader perspective. Bureaucracy is now portrayed as a political actor, an essential ingredient of the political system, a consumer and producer of social products, a power center, a pressure group, a system stabilizer, a change agent, a political symbol, a political stabilizer, a social elite, and an interest articulator, a political, social and economic system, a source of political recruitment, a decision broker and an environmental determinant. In the democratic system, bureaucracy possesses the following attribution in black and white: (i) it is based on the merit principle; (ii) it guarantees financial probity; (iii) it represents political neutrality and impartiality under law; (iv) it is committed to serve any government well; (v) it is accountable at all levels (Stowe, 1992). In the summarized form the basic responsibilities of bureaucracy are: (i) To inform ministers and parliament - with complete and accurate data, presented objectively and in time; (ii) To advise ministers - by analysis of data and appraisal of options in which they can have confidence; (iii) To implement ministerial decisions and to administer the legislation; (iv) To account to ministers and parliament for their actions or inactions, with particular reference to the safeguarding of public funds and ensuring effective value for money ( Vajpeyi and Kaul, 1993 ).

Weber (1958: 196-239, quoted in Sudha, 1994:69) thought that it would be most efficient form of organization possible, for in its mechanism, precision, speed, un-ambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic administration. Zafarullah et. al. (1991) elaborates that Weberian bureaucracy was most advanced form of human organization that society had devised and the most rational means for the performance of collective task, especially those requiring large scale organisation. However, to a social scientist it is neither efficient nor inefficient but a particular manner in which people organize themselves and resources available to achieve certain objectives. Whatever jurisdictional power bureaucracy enjoys but for analytical purposes, there appears to be an underlying assumption in the literature of comparative public administration that a public bureaucracy is a sub-system of the political system in which it operates. Such an assumption might imply that bureaucracy has greater interaction with the political system than with the economic and socio-cultural system (Arora-i, 1979:85). Furthermore, Max Weber (1958, quoted in Sudha, 1994:64) deemed that societal goal could only be achieved through power politics. Considering the negative aspects of the bureaucracy, it becomes characterized by buck-passing, red tape, rigidity, inflexibility, excessive impersonality, over secretiveness, unwillingness to delegate and reluctance to exercise discretion (Heady, 1959).

A Peep into Bangladesh Bureaucracy: The Legacy of the Past, Struggling with Present Challenges

Human institutions everywhere have their roots deep in the past. Bangladesh inherits its administrative system from Pakistan through British rule. The British colonial rulers founded the cornerstone of today's administrative system in a manner that it could facilitate their very purpose of surplus extraction from this self-sufficient repository of enormous resources (Alavi, 1973). During internal colonialism of Pakistan - which was still very much in the British style - the Pakistan bureaucrats performed in the same manner of what the Britishers did. In the wake of a nine months bloody, armed struggle, Bangladesh achieved its desired independence. Following the independence, with its revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm, Bangladesh government embarked on a multi-functional campaign to refurbish sectors of society i.e. its economy and administration. But because of the very real institutional strength of that anti-participatory, centralized British-founded bureaucracy, no reform measures gained momentum. Despite the establishment and attempts of the innumerable committees and commissions to reform civil service - the strategic system of an administrative system - the institutional and structural continuity is going on without having any substantial change till this day (Rahman, 1987). In every society public bureaucracy plays a sine-qua-non role in the entire developmental process of the society through a structured social, political, economic and institutional set-up. Bangladesh is no exception to this phenomenon. Bangladesh bureaucracy that is inherited from colonial rulers- connotes the idea of a monopolised, omnipotent and overdeveloped organization. The all pervasive role, presence and function of bureaucracy in Bangladesh are essentially deemed to be an instrument of oppression and sufferings and it gives a notion of despondency to the common people. Bureaucracy in Bangladesh is in a mess from the very inception of its origin. It is sagacious to envisage that in comparison with the performance of today`s civil service in Bangladesh, colonial bureaucracy was more effective and efficient to cater the needs of that contemporary time (Kabir, 1991:243). After achieving the independence, administrative system of Bangladesh required to be moulded and equipped with new structure and function to cope with the new hopes and aspirations of the country. But the performance of our bureaucratic system has been deteriorating day by day. Now-a-days it is in a jeopardy that causes untold sufferings to the people of this deltaic and riparian fertile land. The dismal feature of Bangladeshi bureaucracy can be epitomized as under.

The structural composition of today's bureaucracy -was inherited by the colonial rulers whose legacy we are to adorably continue till date. Despite some ominous features no substantive change is yet to take place. These colonial hangovers in bureaucracy represent an utterly frustrated scenario. The colonial hangover precipitated to the existing bureaucratic system can be epitomized as constant "siring" of the bosses; standing up from the seat when boss enters into room; receiving and seeing off bosses at airports, railway station and lunch terminals; offering elaborate farewells and receptions to bosses through speech making, giving presents, refreshments and garlanding; using subordinate employees for personal purposes without any compensation; offering banquets and special gifts during inspection and visit etc. Sometimes offering of these outmoded courtesies or niceties of etiquette are extended to the wives and children of the superior authority (Siddiqui, 1996:9-12).

Another deplorable vile in bureaucracy is factionalism among various groups, i.e. generalist versus specialist group, freedom fighter versus non-freedom fighter, B.Sc. engineer versus diploma engineers, CSP versus BCS, direct officers versus promoted officers, administration cadre versus other cadres, cadre versus en-cadred officers (Ibid:18-21). The negative impact of such factionalism hardly needs to be elaborated which actually led to total demoralisations, utter negligence of work, ugly acrimony and serious strife and tension in the bureaucracy. Since 1972 severe erosion of merit based recruitment through introduction of spoil system of recruitment, district and freedom fighters quota along with women quota etc. posing a threat to regular career advancement. Sometimes these functionalisms get patronisation from political consideration. It is more evident in case of giving promotion, transfer and posting of higher civil servants and strategic positions. It is not a recent phenomenon. Such politicisation of administration hampers bureaucratic performance to a great extent which is no way desired in the milieu of democratic governance.

Bureaucracy in Bangladesh is castigated for its below-standard performance. Low performance of bureaucracy can be obtained from a study conducted by UNDP(1988) on "The Utilisation of Project Aid in Bangladesh" which reveals that the delays in implementation of projects increases the project cost by 35-40% on an average. It increases not only cost but it also prolongs the implementation period by 60% as compared to the time frame anticipated at project approval. Another study titled " Public Administration Efficiency Study" by GOB/USAID (1989, quoted in Task Force Report, 1991:119) discloses that wide spread corruption and inefficiency plague delivery of goods and services by the public sector - from telephone and power connection to supply of agricultural inputs and credits. Inefficient project implementation continues to impose a heavy burden on the economy in terms of cost overruns and delayed flow of benefits. Another side effect of delay is the increase in staff and consultant-related expenditures at the cost of capital investment. New projects are undertaken while earlier investments remain idle or underutilised. Corruption-driven procurement of unsuitable or uneconomic plant, machinery and equipment, is whittling away project benefits and in many cases diverting resources to unnecessary investments. A new administrative culture of subservience and sycophancy has replaced old values of pride of performance and upholding of public interest. The trend has been reinforced by the eager participation of a section of senior officials in a rat race to curry favour of politician or amass wealth (Task Force Report, 1991:222). Due to despondent result emanating from frequent changes of policies and programmes and its aftermath, half-hearted implementation or non-implementation of the undertaken programmes by the previous government, lack of commitment and coordinated efforts, no commendable success is yet to achieve for its development and thus to address the problem of grueling poverty, mal-nutrition, mass illiteracy, unemployment, disease and death that engulfed the entire county. Several reform measures to refurbish its local government/ decentralization policy were also initiated but these naive attempts have been thwarted by the anti-participatory bureaucratic system and unfortunately the institutional and structural continuity is going on without having any substantial change in its oligarchic form and practices. These efforts were only carefully confined to electoral process rather than devolution of power to representative bodies who need to engage themselves in the countries decision making process (Rahman and Kamal, 1991). Poor performance occurs from the unaccountability, ineptness, obstinacy, strict rigidity and lack of transparency. Moreover, buck passing, misuse of power, corruption, favouritism, nepotism, fractional practices, procrastination are rampart in our bureaucracy. The culture of avoidance of responsibility and militant trade unions with their illogical demands, labour unrest, unnecessary hartal[1], strike and seizure causing low productivity and closure of industrial units every year.

One of the common criticisms of bureaucracy has been its inflexibility and failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Rules and procedures were blatantly violated in pursuit of money and extra favours or benefits. A significant portion of the resources meant for the poor was siphoned off and misappropriated by people with power and authority, the very group from whose clutches the poor were intended to be saved. Institutional checks on misuse and corruption were weakened and cynicism replaced idealism and public morality (Task Force Report, 1991:220). Research shows that in developing societies, rules are used for promoting the self-interest of the bureaucrats and there is a big gap between what is intended and what is affected (Ibid: 116). So has been the case of Bangladesh.


[1] Hartal is a Bengali word meaning strike or closure of normal activities. Its an important tool for political protest in the third world.

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An Overview of Bureaucratic Accountability and Efficiency in Bangladesh
Graduate School of Public Administration (GSPA)
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Md. Mizanur Rahman (Author), 2013, An Overview of Bureaucratic Accountability and Efficiency in Bangladesh, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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