A welcome step
OFFICER on special duty, an otherwise high-sounding title, has basically become synonymous with a method to punish government officers rampantly misused by consecutive governments. In fact, as mentioned in a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, 591 officers of the ranks of secretary, additional secretary, joint secretary, deputy secretary, senior assistant secretary and assistant secretary are currently OSD. During the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance government’s rule, 978 officers were made OSDs. These are indeed staggering numbers. All these officers have been made OSDs without being given any duty, or special duty for that matter, but continue to enjoy remuneration and benefits to the full, putting a strain on the public exchequer. According to the report, the government pays Tk 1.5 crore each month in only basic pay to the OSDs, while the actual amount is a few times more taking into account increments and other benefits. For a resource-strained country like Bangladesh, this is indeed unacceptable. Therefore, the High Court directive on the government to explain why the trend of making civil servants OSDs for long periods without assigning them any special duties would not be declared illegal is indeed a very welcome step.
The High Court has further asked the government to provide a list of people made OSDs in the past ten years and reveal how much was paid to them each month. This should indeed shed light on the price of this unethical trend, which not only causes a huge waste in terms of human resources and material wealth, but also, as the lawyer for the public interest litigation writ petition convincingly argued in court, there is good reason to consider this practice unconstitutional. According to the report, the petitioner’s lawyer argued that the provision of making an official OSD violates Article 20(2) of the constitution which stipulates ‘a person shall not be able to enjoy unearned income’. In that regard, the act of making civil servants OSDs would indeed appear illegal.
It is a well-known fact that due to tedious bureaucratic and political process involved in removing or suspending government officers of different ranks, the government, especially since 1991, has resorted to using the provision for OSDs to basically punish or make redundant government officers who have fallen out of favour with the government in power. The system in unethical and possibly illegal not just on the ground that these officers continue to receive salary and full benefits from taxpayer’s hard-earned money, but the government is also taking covert disciplinary action against individual officers without allowing them any proper recourse to law and administrative rules. Basically, the provision for OSDs has served as a powerful tool for subsequent governments to draw up the civil administration along partisan lines.
This trend of making civil servants OSDs is eating away at the efficiency, neutrality and motivation of the bureaucracy in the country and it must be immediately stopped. The High Court has taken a welcome step and one hopes it is followed through to the end to bring to end such deplorable practices.
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