BCS: Merit versus quota

The Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) recruitment process is facing critical debate over merit versus quota.

Gradually, the meritocratic recruitment process is losing ground to non-merit based recruitment. Indeed, the civil service is the supreme state apparatus that is the key to government success. It deals with government policy formulation and policy implementation. The efficiency of a policy and its effective execution depend on the skills, competence and the capability of public servants.
Owing to its lucrative power status and job security, and now, for the new handsome pay scale in the offing, the civil service has again become an attractive career prospect for fresh graduates. But the quota system is stamping on its smooth journey, which will ultimately hinder the growth and progress of public service.

Recruitment is done in accordance with the Bangladesh Civil Service Recruitment Rules of 1981. While Bangladesh basically follows a closed doorway system, there is a provision for 10 percent ‘lateral’ entry into the civil service in senior grades from the outside. In total, about 55 percent posts are restricted for quota holders, while only 45 percent are for the meritorious.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) stipulates the following quotas: 30pc for freedom fighters or their children; 10pc for women; 5pc for ethnic minority groups and 10pc for districts. The present quotas were introduced in March 1997.

Recently in the BCS-36 circulation, total vacancy is mentioned as 2,180, including 1,611 for professional (specialist) plus education cadres, and rest 542 posts for general candidates. But sadly, only 245 posts remain for the meritorious.

However, quota system in public recruitment is not a new idea. It has existed almost in all civilized states, but for a specific period of time. Bangladesh is now at 44, but still, quotas prevail, obstructing the BCS recruitment route. Indeed, it is contaminating the standard of civil service, which is partially responsible for weak policy implementation.

Prof Musleh Uddin Ahmed, chairman of Public Administration at University of Dhaka, believes that “the poor recruitment process, including the stimulation of quota and lack of the right person in the right place are more responsible for the failure of some recent bilateral negotiations and treaty”. It is fair to say that the administration or a state cannot be run by emotion, but requires pragmatism.

Meritocratic bureaucracy is the all pivotal prerequisite for a sound administrative management, which is advocated in almost all classic-modern literatures on administration, such as Max Weberian’s ‘Ideal types of bureaucracy’, or Confucius’s ‘Moral types of bureaucracy’, or Kautilya’s ‘Arthoshastro’.

Indeed, meritorious personnel are the nucleolus of any organisation. Once, the brightest students of Dhaka University tried to join BCS sectors. But now, they are more reluctant to join due to the fear of uncertainty and over-politicisation in the recruitment process.

Consequently, with inefficient agencies and poorly skilled people, the government is continuously failing to meet the needs and demands of the people and sustain progress. At the same time, the private sectors are enjoying more success through recruiting competent youth.

Other countries, like Sourh Korea, Singapore and Japan, have well-functioning and efficient bureaucracy than any other Asian nation. American scholar Peter B Evans mentions in his book ‘Embedded Autonomy’ that “in Korea, as in Japan, the state has traditionally been able to pick its personnel from among the most talented members of the most prestigious universities.” Prof Ferdous Jahan of the Department of Public Administration, Dhaka University, wrote in her article ‘Public administration in Bangladesh’ that “Public administration in Bangladesh does not experiment with creative thinking and analytical ability”.

But recently, the preliminary exam marks have been increased to 200 marks, with the questions quite enriched. Besides, leaking of question papers, lobbying before the viva vocal exam, bribing, political influences and lack of right candidates are adversely affecting the civil service recruitment process, which ultimately is holding back the development of the country.

Now, how we can we expect blooming crops from withered seeds?

By Mohammad Azizul Hoque, a fellow of Bangladesh Initiatives for Political Development (BIPD).

This write-up was originally published at The Independent