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Public Organiz Rev (2008) 8:307–328

DOI 10.1007/s11115-008-0061-8

Politics−Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh:

Consequences for the Public Service Commission

Ferdous Jahan & Asif Mohammad Shahan

Published online: 12 September 2008

# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract The paper attempts to analyze the consequences of political pressure

placed on the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Bangladesh. Through extensive
literature review and empirical research, the authors conclude that the independence,
efficiency and effectiveness of the PSC largely depend on the politics–administration
relationship. Furthermore, this relationship is affected by regime types and it
regulates the optimum functioning or malfunctioning of the institution.

Keywords Public Service Commission . Bangladesh Civil Service .

Politicization of bureaucracy . Recruitment . Corruption .
Institutions of accountability . Ministry of Establishment .
Public administration in Bangladesh


In the last several decades, a number of new forces have emerged in the environment
within which the public service functions. Forces including globalization and
information technologies have, to a large extent, “…transformed the way we think
about governance, the role of government and the work done by the public sector
institutions” (Bourgon 2005: 13). On the other hand, development challenges of a
twenty-first century developing country demand for a dynamic and vibrant public
personnel administration (Amin 1985: 1). Thus, there is a thriving need for an
efficient and effective public administration in Bangladesh.

F. Jahan
Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh

A. M. Shahan (*)
Institute of Governance Studies, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh
308 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

In Bangladesh, the public personnel administration is conducted by two central

personnel agencies—the Ministry of Establishment (MoE) and the Public Service
Commission (PSC). The PSC enjoys the status of a constitutional body and is
responsible to conduct examinations for selecting personnel for the cadre services of
the administration. Recently, however, allegation of corruption and politicization
dogged this constitutional body. The PSC had to cancel one of its preliminary
examinations (24th Bangladesh Civil Service examination) due to an alleged leakage
of question paper and the viva-voce of the 27th BCS examination due to alleged
corruption and politicization. The PSC thus became the centre of controversy in
recent months continuing the trend for the past several years.
Recent studies undertaken to analyze the institution identified a number of
problems and related reasons behind this malfunction. Interestingly, most of these
problems were inherited from the British colonial era little impact during autocratic
regimes but proliferated during democratic regimes. Henceforth, this paper argues
that optimum functioning or malfunctioning of the PSC depends on the ‘type’ and
‘nature’ of the regime within which the institution operates. The colonial
bureaucratic heritage and bureaucracy’s continual adherence to the ruling regimes
during autocratic periods (both in pre-1971 and post-1971 Bangladesh) together
created a situation that antagonized political parties against the bureaucracy.
Consequently, during the democratic regimes in Bangladesh, the politicians
attempted to politicize the bureaucracy. However, due to a pre-matured democratic
system, the politicians failed to determine a profitable and affordable level of
politicization, rather the emphasis was on ensuring partisan appointments in
important posts and recruiting party loyalists in the civil service. The PSC in
Bangladesh became a victim of this politicization process which compromised its
independence, efficiency and effectiveness as a constitutional body.
The article is divided into four sections. The first section defines and analyzes
various dimensions of politicization of bureaucracy. While doing so, this section
emphasizes on building a theoretical framework to describe the relationship between
the extent of democracy and the nature of bureaucracy. The second section moves
toward describing the evolution and role of the PSC and the third section deals with
the problems the PSC faced during autocratic and democratic regimes. The fourth
and final section deals with the influence of these regimes on the PSC. In this
section, we analyze the consequences of the political pressure placed on the
institution and whether the “politicization efforts” have caused any threat to the
independence, effectiveness and efficiency of the PSC. The paper refers to the nature
and culture of bureaucracy in Bangladesh to a limited extent pertinent only to
discussing the PSC.
For the purpose of the paper, we have conducted extensive literature review on
the evolution of the PSC in the Indian sub-continent as well as problems faced by the
institution over time. Furthermore, we have analyzed the data collected for an IGS
(Institute of Governance Studies, BRAC University) study for its research on the
“Institutions of Accountability”. The empirical study was conducted during May–
August 2007 and aimed to examine the problems of the PSC. Throughout the study,
the IGS interviewed 20 key informants. Among them, one was an ex-chair, five were
either ex or current members of the PSC, five were academics and researchers who
had vast experience in conducting research regarding the institution and nine were
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 309

members of staff at the PSC. The ex-chair served his tenure during the autocratic
regime and out of the five members, two worked during the autocratic period and the
remaining three served their tenure during the democratic period. The IGS also
organized an international workshop with 41 participants to validate the findings of
the empirical study. The participants included academics, bureaucrats, activists,
media personnel and civil society members who either specialize in or are aware of
the activities and problems of the PSC.

Politicization of bureaucracy: a theoretical framework

The politicization of the bureaucracy is not necessarily a negative phenomenon

rather if defined properly, an affordable and profitable level of politicization can play
a pivotal role in fostering the democratization process (Rouban 2007; Carino 1991).
Therefore, the discussion on politicization of bureaucracy mainly aims to identify the
effective line of interaction between the politicians and the bureaucrats.
The concentration on defining the hazy area of interaction between politics and
administration is not new and in fact, these attempts owe their origins to Max Weber
who has advocated for a ‘Neutral Competent’ bureaucracy and a clear distinction
between politics and administration (Weber 1947). Woodrow Wilson’s classic essay
‘The Study of Administration’ champions Weber’s idea in a modified manner. He
has advocated for what Svara (1999) termed as ‘Complementarity’ model of politics
and administration, where separation principle had been used mainly as a safeguard
to partisan influence on bureaucracy and bureaucracy’s active participation in policy
making has not been barred (Svara 1999). This ‘Complementarity’ of politics–
administration relationship has been firmly established in the developed democracies
due to “…increasing complexity of the welfare system and public interventionism”
(Rouban 2007: 203). Thus, a successful resolution of politics–administration
relationship often leads to a successful implementation of the ‘Complementarity’
The politicization of bureaucracy can be analyzed from two dimensions. One is
politicization as participation in policy decision and the other is politicization as
partisan appointments in the bureaucracy. The former is in fact based on the well-
recognized politics–administration dichotomy, also regarded as the founding theory
of public administration. The dichotomy model proposes for a clear distinction
between politics and administration, where policy decisions are supposed to be made
by the elected representatives and bureaucracy would simply implement the policy
decisions. From this dimension, politicization occurs when the civil servants are
vested with the responsibility to “…carry out political decision, adopt them and
explain them, in other words to accomplish work of political nature that obviously is
not limited to the mere application of legal or economic rules” (Rouban 2007: 200).
The dichotomy model has been credited from two perspectives. From the academic
perspective, it has contributed in building the foundation of public administration
and from a practical point of view, it has prevented partisan intrusion within the
bureaucracy (Sayre 1958; Svara 1998; O’ Toole 1984). However, since the early
‘50s, the difficulty in distinguishing between making and implementing policy, has
led to dichitomy model being considered as a myth.
310 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

Another dimension of politicization generally refers to a situation where

appointment, transfer, promotion and other career decisions of civil servants are
dependent on the will of their political masters. In different countries, the application
of this principle has resulted in two extreme situations. At one extent, in many
developed democracies, partisan appointment at the key strategic positions of the
government is considered a normal phenomenon. This practice has often been
deemed as beneficial as it would allow the executive branch to practice some means
of control over policy decisions. Besides, in these cases, partisan appointment does
not imply incompetence and partisan appointees are often separated from the career
civil servants through specific rules (Rouban 2007). On another extent, this form of
politicization is often used “…to hand out jobs to friends of political party or parties
in power, operating a shift from a relationship of clientele to one of parentela”
(Peters cited in Rouban 2007: 204).
These two dimensions of politicization cannot be analyzed separately and often
intertwined. In most developed democracies, the rejection of the dichotomy model
has paved the way of political participation of bureaucracy in policy making. The
various procedures of partisan appointment may fit into the scenario to successfully
implement the ‘Complementarity’ model.
However, what works in the developed world in reaching to the level of
‘Complementarity’ is not universal. Rather politicization of bureaucracy in many
instances has resulted in a “parentela”. Whether politicization would result in a
‘Complementarity’ or in a ‘Parentela’, depends on two issues—the relative strength of
political leadership and the bureaucratic performance. Based on these two issues,
Carino (1991) identifies four different models to explain the relationship between the
government and the civil service. One of them, a regime-dominant model where
political leadership completely controls the public service. The second model, named
as bureaucratic coprimacy, refers to a democracy dominated by bureaucracy due to its
“…expertise, permanence and institutionalization” (Carino 1991: 736). The third
model marks bureaucratic subordination under an authoritarian regime where there
exists little room to maneuver for the bureaucracy. The Final model is known as
‘authoritarian and bureaucratic coprimacy’ which “…shows authoritarian leadership
joined by a bureaucracy assuming less explicitly subordinate roles. Usually, leaders of
military and civilian bureaucrats combine in ruling the state” (ibid: 737).
Through analyzing the models and applying them to different developing
countries, Carino presents some significant observations—first, a government’s
commitment to democracy to a large extent determines its mode of interaction and
attitude towards bureaucracy. Second, regime changes even for a short while place
the bureaucracy in a vulnerable position. Thirdly, a well-institutionalized bureau-
cratic system is capable of getting out of the vulnerable position, unless modified in
an abrupt, dramatic or disruptive ways (Carino 1991).
Politics–administration relationship, therefore, depends on the nature of the
bureaucracy and the extent of democratization. If a democratic system remains
dysfunctional, the possibility is that the ruling party will engage in negative politics.
In this case, the ruling political party will fail to perform its role and the upper
echelon of party will turn into a ‘guild of notables’ (Weber 1978; Weber in Gerth and
Mills 1948).
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 311

According to Wood (2000), the political parties in such a dysfunctional state

follow a clientelist mode in recruiting their leaders who enter in politics for personal
gain (Wood 2000: 228–229). In this situation, “…the party rewards a loyal civil
servant by quicker promotion, profitable postings and important positions in the
party or party think tank or cabinet positions after his/her retirement. He/she plays a
key role as the party spokesman or in policymaking” (Islam 2004:9). Thus, if the
democratic system goes wrong, it shifts the bureaucracy towards patrimonialism and
thus undermines its rational basis and efficiency. The situation becomes more
complex if the bureaucracy itself is reluctant to be managed by political masters and
possesses a negative attitude towards the politicians. In this case, the flawed
democratic system attempts to strictly control the bureaucracy even by adopting
illicit or illegitimate means. In this paper, we will examine if this theoretical
framework can sufficiently explain the impact of negative politicization on the PSC.
The following section provides a historical as well as a contemporary account of the
evolution of the PSC and problems faced by the organization.

Historical background: growth of the PSC

Public service commission during the British and the Pakistani period

In nineteenth century England, with the establishment of a parliamentary democracy,

a clear distinction was made between politics and administration to bring an end to
the system of patronage. Also, in running the administration, generalist personnel
were preferred to specialist personnel. Naturally, the countries and/or regions that
were under the British rule followed these two principles (Hakim 1991; Amin 1985).
Following the Government of India Act, 1919 and the Lee Commission report of
1923, the Indian PSC started functioning from 1926. However, it did not work as an
independent institution; rather it was a subordinate body of the Home Department.
In 1935, based on the recommendations of the Simon Commission, the Government
of India Act, 1935 laid the foundation of a central PSC and a PSC for each province.
Although the PSC remained a mere advisory body, it was a convention that the advice of
the PSC were to be implemented. The Act clearly described the structure and functions
of the institution. Members and Chairs of the PSC were to be appointed by the Governor
General and one half of the Members were required to be persons with 10 years of
service under the crown (Ahmed 1990; Amin 1985).
After the end of the British rule in 1947, the provisions of the Government of India
Act, 1935 was followed in Pakistan: a central PSC and three provincial PSCs were
established. Up to 1956, the Governor General was required to consult with the cabinet
before appointing the chair and members of the central PSC (renamed as Pakistan Public
Service Commission). However, the constitution of 1956 gave the sole responsibility of
appointing members and chair to the President. The constitution also specified the
functions and structure of the commission. A further change was made regarding the
composition and function of the PSC under the constitution of 1962. It was renamed as
the Central Public Service Commission and was given the responsibility of conducting
examinations and tests for the appointment to the services and posts of the central
312 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

government and also to advise the President on any service matter on which the PSC was
to be consulted (Braibanti 1966a).

The post-independent public service commission

The Constitution of Bangladesh contains ‘provisions embodying the basic principles

relating to the composition and function of the PSC’ (Khan 2005:98–102; Ahmed
1990: 92–93). Articles 137 to 140 of the Constitution state the basic functions and
compositions of the PSC. According to article 138, the President would appoint
Members and Chair of the PSC. Half of the Members must have held office in the
service of Bangladesh for more than 20 years. Article 139 determines the 5-year
term (renewable for one additional term) of the office of the Chair and Members.
After completion of their term, they have been barred from further employment in
the service of the republic. However, Members may be appointed as the Chair of the
commission. Article 140 specifies functions of the commission—
(a) To conduct tests, examinations for the selection of suitable persons for
appointment to the service of the Republic
(b) To advise the President on any matter on which the commission is consulted
under clause 2 or on any matter connected with its functions which is referred
to the commission by the President
(c) Such other functions as may be prescribed by law
Clause 2 of Article 140 provides that the president shall consult the PSC with
respect to—
(a) Matters relating to qualifications for, and methods of recruitment to, the service
of the Republic
(b) The principles to be followed in making appointments to that service and
promotions and transfers from one branch of the service to another, and the
suitability of candidates for such appointment, promotions and transfers
(c) Matters affecting the terms and conditions (including person rights) of that service
(d) The discipline of the service
As stated in the Constitution, the functions of the commission, to some extent,
should be determined through rules and regulations. Several ordinances along with
the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (Consultation) Regulations 1979
circumscribed the functional jurisdiction of the PSC (Ahmed 1986: 280–289; Khan
2005:103). At present, the main activities of the PSC are as follows:
(1) to advise various ministries/divisions in case of framing recruitment rules
(2) to conduct competitive examinations for direct recruitment to services/posts
under different ministries/divisions
(3) to conduct tests and/or interviews for promotion only when the government
servants are moving from class II to class I positions
(4) to examine the performance appraisal tool (i.e. Annual Confidential Report) of the
civil servants to recommend for promotion and to determine the seniority of the
(5) to conduct departmental/professional examinations for government servants
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 313

(6) to advise on disciplinary and appeal matters affecting government servants

(Ahmed 1986).

Role of the PSC at different times: problems faced

Recruiting entry-level bureaucrats

As mentioned earlier, the performance of the PSC eroded significantly since

independence. The PSC’s main function has always been the conducting of recruitment
examinations to select personnel for the civil service. During the British period, a
carefully designed selection process was applied to recruit the most competent
candidates. The British rulers, until 1924, were reluctant to welcome the Indians into
the Indian Civil Service. However, through implementing the recommendation of the
Lee Commission, 1924, the process of ‘Indianization’ achieved a momentum and at the
same time, the examination procedure conducted by the then PSC (known as Federal
Public Service Commission), had remained beyond any controversy. The officials
selected through the process, irrespective of their class, caste or race, reflected a high
degree of objectivity, especially in intellect. Their efficiency in managing the complex
management issues was quite outstanding and the reliance of the British Empire on the
bureaucratic machinery can be cited as a proof of that (Braibanti 1966a).
During the Pakistani period, conducting civil service examinations had been the
sole responsibility of the Central Public Service Commission (CPSC). Ironically, the
little democracy the united Pakistan had observed, failed to make the CPSC an
organization which could be trusted to select personnel objectively. Political turmoil
played its part and the government felt comfortable to recruit personnel without
going through any established selection mechanism (Braibanti 1966a). The end of
democracy, however, brought an end to this anarchy and from 1962 and onward, the
CPSC sucessfully conducted one combined examination each year to recruit entry-
level bureaucrats. The examination process was credible and reliability was not
questioned. As Braibanti observed, “…while virtually all others aspects of
government were the object of carping criticism and suspicion, the examination
administered by the CPSC are regarded as being free from the taint of improbity”
(Braibanti 1966b: 258–275).
The independent Bangladesh saw a sudden change in the examination process.
Though the government during the Pakistani period decided not to interfere in the
selection process of the civil servants, the democratic government just after the
independence decided to choose a different path. Through a controversial
examination procedure, in 1973, a number of party loyalists were included into the
civil service and despite some effort in 1976 and 1978, ‘ad-hocization’ became a
common phenomenon in case of recruitment in civil service of Bangladesh. The
PSC’s role was quite insignificant and was circumscribed through promulgation of
various ordinances. It is interesting to note that the first regularization attempt in case
of recruitment came during the first martial law period through the Pay and Services
Commission, 1977 which paved the road of framing a recruitment rule for the civil
service. Consequently, the Bangladesh Civil Service Recruitment Rules, 1981 was
314 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

introduced and for the first time, the PSC achieved a formal role. Up to 1981, the
PSC’s annual reports attempted to create pressure on various ministries/divisions to
come up with a solid recruitment procedure which finally bore fruit with the
recruitment rules of 1981 (GoB 2004; Ahmed 1986).
The second martial law regime acknowledged the importance of the role played
by the PSC and prescribed certain measures to be adopted by the organization to
ensure its effective functioning. The Martial Law Commission on Organizational Set
Up, 1984 provided a detailed road map and the examination was conducted with
regular intervals. It is however true that during the martial law regime, the PSC was
not immune to political pressure, but at the same time, it was not as vulnerable as it
turned out to be with the restoration of democracy in 1991.
From the beginning of the democratic era, the recruitment examination conducted
by the PSC became an issue of controversy. The first allegation of leakage of
question of BCS examination was made during the first democratic regime (1991–
1996)1, the second democratic regime (1996–2001) was accused of giving an edge
to the party loyalists in the examination procedure, especially through the viva-voce
and allegation was raised that mark sheets were tampered to recruit certain
candidates (The New Age Xtra, February 16–22, 2007).2 These allegations became
rampant during the third democratic regime. Allegations of leakage of question
papers became quite normal as the PSC had to cancel the 24th BCS preliminary test
due to the alleged leakage of question papers (The Daily Star, August 11, 2003).
Later, the PSC decided to form a probe committee to investigate this leakage
incident. The probe committee found no evidence of question leakage at that time
and termed the whole incident as baseless. But, it is important to mention that the
then Chair decided not to make the report public (New Age, April 6, 2005).
However, during interview, an ex-member of the PSC stated the reason behind not
making the report public was that the committee had in fact found the proof of
question leakage.
The 24th BCS examination was not the only incident where allegation was made
regarding leakage of questions. Again, a strong allegation of leakage of the question
papers of 25th and 27th BCS examinations rocked the organization. According to a
recent study conducted by Transparency International Bangladesh, contractual
selection based on transaction of bribe had been quite unbridled. Even if a
candidate fails to make it to the merit list, they could find themselves selected for the
customs/tax cadre by paying an amount of Tk. 10–12 lakh (USD 14500–17500
approx.). Paying Tk. 8–10 lakh (USD 11500–14500 approx.) might lead them to be
selected for the administration/police cadre; Tk. 10–12 lakh (USD 4500–7000
approx.) was enough to be selected for the professional cadre. A candidate
succeeding to the merit list could choose his own cadre with a bribe (CGS 2006;
TIB 2007). A recent newspaper report claimed that a number of members were
directly involved in taking bribe from the candidates and thus awarded them undue
privilege in viva-voce examination (The Daily Shamokal, January 27, 2007). The

Though members serving at that time completely denied this allegation, the academics who have
conducted research on the PSC confirmed that indeed the incidence of question leakage did take place at
this period.
Through interview with ex-members of the PSC, it was found that these allegations were indeed true.
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 315

empirical study conducted by IGS included interviews of several potential BCS

candidates. One of them reported that he was told in front of the viva board that if he
agreed to pay money, he would get any cadre of his desire. This ‘money can buy any
cadre’ attitude gravely tarnished the credibility of the civil service examination.

Effectiveness of the civil service examination in case of promoting meritocracy

in the civil service

The degree of effectiveness of the PSC remained more or less same throughout
the history of Bangladesh. The PSC failed to conduct a fair competitive
examination when the form of government was democratic. The first democratic
government had accepted candidates into the administrative realm whose most
important qualification was the loyalty to the ruling party. Even the Chairs did
not hesitate to follow the guidelines provided by the ruling party.3 The
subsequent democratic governments paved the way for introducing various forms
of corruption in the examination procedure—tampering the marks sheet of BCS
examination, awarding civil service posts in exchange of money, accepting party
loyalists etc. It is, however, not true that the examination procedure was perfect
during the autocratic regime. Allegations existed but their forms were different.
Besides, then commission was quite efficient to nip the allegations in the bud.
One interviewee who served during the autocratic regime recalled that when there
was allegation regarding the involvement of a member in corruption, a probe
committee was formed immediately to find out the validity of the allegations. On
the contrary, the democratic regime saw Members with party affiliation and
involvement in corruption rise to a new level. As one interviewee recalled that s/
he personally talked to the Chair regarding the corruption of a particular member
of the commission and the chair said that s/he also heard about these allegations
but there was nothing s/he could do.

Government’s interference and the PSC’s authority

The PSC often fell victim to the control of political actors, be it government in
whatever form or a specific political party in power. In fact, control on the PSC’s
activities dated back to the British era. When the Simon Commission for
administrative reform was appointed in 1927, then Chair of the PSC, Sir Ross
Barker submitted a memorandum to the commission pointing out the problems he
faced due to the government’s control over the recruitment process.
The intention of the Lee commission was to make the PSC insulated from the
domain of politics and thereby its recommendations attempted to build a PSC which
would enjoy extensive power in case of recruitment. Though during the British
period, the PSC was an attached division of the Home Ministry; however, a
convention was followed where advice of the PSC were generally accepted (Amin
1985; Ahmed 1990).

During interview, an ex-member recalled that an ex-Chair, for no reason at all, decided to form a single
interview board. The members suspected that the reason was to provide good marks in viva-voce to the
candidates loyal to the ruling party.
316 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

During the Pakistani era, the PSC’s authority was limited. Due to political turmoil
during the early years of combined Pakistan, it was difficult for the PSC to work as
an independent body, free from all executive influence. Moreover, the short-lived
democratic regime made the matter worse for the institution. Though the 1962
constitution inserted a provision that while taking decision regarding the methods of
recruitment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary matters and matters affecting terms and
conditions of the service, the president was required to consult the PSC, “…in
practice, this authority is not so extensive as it may appear, for the president may, by
order made after consulting the commission, remove any of these matters from the
commission’s jurisdiction. Moreover …there is no obligation to accept the
commission’s advice” (Braibanti 1966a:120). However, despite all these limitations,
the post-1956 Pakistan saw an effective PSC, in terms of appointing persons on
merit into the civil service. The situation became worse after the independence. It
almost became a custom for the government not to pay attention to the
recommendations of the PSC. For instance, it took the PSC 10 years to make the
government understand the importance of a simple modification of the quota
reservation policy (Ali 2004).

Appointment of members and chair based on political leaning

The central problem regarding the PSC as reflected in existing literature is the
appointment procedure to appoint the chair and members of the PSC. It is well
known that in the PSC, the most significant role is played by the Chair. It is the
Chair, who deals with administrative matters, who is in charge of budget
preparation and in reality, sets the tone for the institution (IGS 2007). Therefore,
the appointment of the Chair, i.e., his/her qualifications, eminence, capability and
integrity is of utmost importance. Since the British period and up to 1971, successive
governments tried to appoint members and chairs with proven capability, with good
academic background and the persons so appointed were persons of the highest
integrity. Quite interestingly, this tradition was first ignored just after independence
when a democratic government assumed power. The Chair appointed at the time
lacked competence in managing the public personnel system and a number of
members had loyalty to the party in power. During the two successive military
regimes, though the members and chairs were deliberately picked by the military
dictators, in their activities, they showed enthusiasm to bring about change in the
institution, the ability to ignore requests made by the government, the capability to
get their jobs done despite limited resources and vast ranges of experience to make
the recruitment procedure a meaningful one (Ahmed 1990; IGS 2007). However, the
post-90s democratic government intentionally moved away from the convention of
appointing a person of highest integrity and capability as the Chair of the institution.
From that period, the persons’ appointed were university professors without prior
knowledge of administrative procedure and with visible leaning towards the party in
power (TIB 2007; IGS 2007).
Regarding the PSC, academic knowledge of a chair can provide the guideline
however, the practical experience of its inner working remains quite outside his/her
domain. According to the empirical research conducted by the IGS, the academic
background of the academics was not sufficient to provide them with the knowledge
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 317

surrounding administrative procedures, rules and regulations. Out of the four Chairs,
three were natural science faculty members of universities without having any proof of
their administrative capability with all of them holding strong political affiliation with
the ruling parties. It may not be a hasty conclusion that they were handpicked by the
democratic governments intentionally, knowing that it would be easier to exercise
influence upon them.4 The PSC recently received a career bureaucrat as its chair in
2007 and this appointment was made under an undemocratic regime. Democratic
governments’ denial to appoint a civil servant as the PSC chair may be a reflection of
political parties’ distrust of the civil service.

Executive interference in the PSC’s activities

The range of administrative independence had never been clear or transparent

throughout the history of the PSC. During the British period, the PSC worked as
an attached department of Ministry of Home Affairs, which one ex-Chair referred
to as an impediment to the institution’s independent functioning (Ahmed 1990).
During the Pakistani period, the “…Public Service Commission has been
subordinated to the Establishment Division of the President’s Secretariat to which
it is related as an attached department” (Braibanti 1966a: 122). The question of
independence was raised by the PSC Chair in Pakistani period, but neither the
Establishment Division nor the then President considered the issue (Braibanti 1966a,
b). The same practice continued within independent Bangladesh. At present, the
independence of the PSC from the Ministry of Establishment is determined by the
ability and status of the PSC Chair. Persons interviewed for the IGS study admitted
that being a career bureaucrat had always been an added advantage in case of
discharging duties. It has been noticed that it is easier for a civil servant to muddle
through the executive control, the MoE’s hindrances and obstacles because being a
career bureaucrat enables him/her to realize the deeply set values of the
administrative arena and to get the job done accordingly. If s/he is an ex-civil
servant, he/she will be able to manage his office well, but to an ‘intruder’ in the
administrative realm, the story is quite different. The MoE’s control through
deputation coupled with the lack of administrative knowledge of the PSC Chair may
lead to the PSC to become an attached the MoE.
We have found a strong correlation between the lack of administrative knowledge
on the part of the Chair and the MoE’s control over the PSC. As mentioned earlier,
five ex or current members of the commission were interviewed by the IGS for its
empirical study. Out of the three members who served during the democratic period,
two admitted that the MoE, indeed had a significant influence on the PSC and to
some extent, the Ministry determined the role of the PSC. On the contrary, the two
members who served their tenure during autocratic regime and under the

In Dhaka University, the teachers are divided into two panels—the white panel is considered as Pro-BNP
and the Blue Panel as Pro-AL. The first PSC Chair during the democratic regime is known as founder of
the Pro-BNP wing of the Teacher’s Associations. Parties who came into power later preferred to appoint
academics from their own panel.
318 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

chairmanship of career bureaucrats found no sign of interference from the MoE in

their activities. The lack of clarity regarding PSC-MoE relationship is reflected
through the existence of confusion among the PSC employees.

An analysis of problems faced by the PSC

The problems of the PSC that are shown in the literature, as well as found through
our study, may be divided into two parts—problems attained through inheritance and
the problems created after independence (Table 1). Problems like narrow scope of
operations, inadequate resources and the extent of governmental control are not new.
These problems were quite common during the Pakistani period. On the other hand,
though much attention has been drawn to the political appointment of the members
and chairs of the PSC, interestingly, it is not a recent phenomenon but rather an
emergence since the independence of Bangladesh. What the existing literature fails
to answer is—why the PSC was able to recruit competent civil servants during the
Pakistani period even though the analysis of problems remained almost the same? A
possible answer may be non-partisan appointment of members and chair. In contrast,
if the political appointment of the members and chair of the PSC was the seed of all
evils, the question remains—why the PSC did not become a gateway for ruling party
activists to the civil service of Bangladesh up to 1990?
Table 2 shows that during the democratic regimes, the appointments of the PSC
chairs were based on political affiliation; the MoE’s control over the PSC was
significant; the examination procedure was corrupt and appointment of party

Table 1 Check-list of problems of PSC in different regimes

Problems Period
British period Pakistani Bangladesh Bangladesh Bangladesh
(1926–1947; period (1947– (1972–1975; (1976–1990; (1991–present;
colonial) 1971; democratic) autocratic) democratic)

Appointment of X X √ –a √
members and Chair
based on political
Narrow scope of X √ √ √ √
operations of the PSC
Inadequacy of facilities √ √ √ √ √
and resources
Governmental control –a √ √ √ √
over the functions of
the PSC
Corruption in X X √ X √
Examination procedure

√ Significant presence of the problem; X absence of the problem

Non-significant presence of the problem
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 319

loyalists to civil service was evident. Thus, there exists a definite relationship
between the nature and type of regime and the performance of the PSC. The PSC
performed better under the autocratic regimes. On the other hand it failed to meet
the expectations during the democratic regimes. Now, we will attempt to explain this
paradox using the theoretical framework discussed in “Politicization of bureaucracy:
a theoretical framework”.

Table 2 The relationship between ‘who is the PSC chair’ and ‘problems faced by the PSC’

Issues Regime
Democratic Autocratic
1972–1975 1991–1996 1996–2001 2001–2006 1976–1981 1981–1990

Professional Civil servant University University University Civil Civil

background professor professor professor servant servant
of the Chair
Academic Soil science/ Soil science/ Political science/
background soil sciencea political botanyc
Political None Founder of Active Active leader of None None
association pro- supporter of pro-government
of the Chair government pro- teacher’s
teacher’s government association
association teacher’s
PSC–MoE Not found MoE’s Increase in Complete Cordial, Cordial,
relationship control over PSC’s dependence on PSC works PSC Works
PSC’s dependence MoE as an as an
activities on MoE independent independent
body body
Effective None None Change in Change in Introduction Introduction
change made quota examination of new of PSC
in reservation structure and recruitment related rules
examination policy marks distribution rules
Effectiveness Completely First Allegation Question leakage, None None
of the ineffective allegation of of tampering bribery,
examination question marks sheet cancellation of
procedure leakage examination
Nature of Favoritism, Favoritism, Favoritism, Taking bribe in Favoritism Favoritism
corruption nepotism, nepotism, nepotism, exchange of
appointing appointing appointing appointment,
party party party nepotism,
workers in workers in workers in appointing party
civil service civil service civil service workers in civil

During this period, two university professors served as PSC Chair and both came from the Department of
Soil Science, Dhaka University
The Chair appointed during the previous regime was allowed to serve his tenure and after him, the then
democratic government appointed another academic as Chair who prior to appointment was a Professor of
Department of Political Science, Dhaka University
In 2001, a new democratic government came into power and after the tenure of the previous Chair came
to an end, another Professor of Department of Botany, Dhaka University was appointed as Chair
320 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

Theoretical analysis of the PSC and its problems

The growth of colonial heritage in civil service

If we look into the nature of the bureaucracy of Bangladesh, we find that it bears a
colonial legacy in its public administration system (Huque 1997). During the British
period, the ultimate aim of the bureaucracy was to serve imperial interests of the
empire and that is why, “…it was designed to be administered by a handful of
administrators at its apex who would rule or govern” (Laporte 1981: 581). Even,
when the Government of India Act, 1935 was framed in the expectation that the
ministers would be Indians, it enabled the civil servants to bypass the ministers. In
fact, the bureaucratic system was framed in such a manner that it would curb the
development of indigenous political institutions (Khan and Zafarullah 1991). Thus,
there was no question of partisan selection of personnel rather attempts were taken to
select the best among the good men (Syed 1971: 168; Laporte 1981: 581).
The Pakistani period presented a different scenario for the bureaucracy. Until
1958, the political turmoil helped the bureaucracy (i.e., the CSP) to take control over
the politicians. The extent of this control was, in some cases so strong that the
bureaucrats made even a number of political decisions, like the dismissal and
appointment of the Prime Ministers, the dismissal of Constituent Assembly of
Pakistan etc. (Ziring 1962: 117–118). After the military take over in 1958, the
bureaucracy found itself in a difficult position as the autocratic regime started to
criticize the CSP for the condition of the country. However, the situation changed
soon when Ayub Khan decided to implement the Basic Democracies Order of 1959.
In order to implement the program, he needed an effective and efficient bureaucratic
machinery, which was contentedly supplied by the CSP. Thus, a partnership was
built between the army and the bureaucracy. Burki (1969) describes:

“The Basic Democracies Order of 1959 has given the civil servants working in
the divisions and districts “controlling power” over the new local bodies. Under
the system created by the Order, CSP Commissioners preside over the
Divisional Councils and CSP (or Provincial Civil Service) Deputy Commis-
sioners are the Chairmen of the District Councils. It is not surprising, therefore,
that the CSP displayed such enthusiasm in setting up the local bodies under the
system of Basic Democracies. The system of Basic Democracies stopped the
erosion of the power of the CSP; by being the undisputed leaders of the local
communities, the civil servants commanded authority not as the agents of a law
and order administration but as the representatives of an avowed welfare state”
(Burki 1969: 250).

This partnership helped the CSP to gain its elite status back and also prevented
the government from taking “undue initiative” to control public personnel
management system. This partnership was further strengthened due to Ayub’s
distrust towards political leaders and thus helped the CSP to consider itself as the
government and equate the national interest with its own (Syed 1971). Thus, the
PSC did not face any undue politicization in recruiting the best candidate following
the colonial tradition during this period.
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 321

Independent Bangladesh and the civil service

Because of the CSP dominance during the Pakistani regime, the CSPs became the
main target of political hatred after the independence of Bangladesh. There are
number of reasons behind this. First of all, the CSPs always made efforts to preserve
imperial heritage which would allow them to accumulate key positions in the
bureaucracy. Second, “they manifested a negative attitude toward politicians on the
one hand, and a paternalistic attitude towards the common man, on the other” (Khan
and Zafarullah 1991: 653). As a result, both the politicians and the citizens held an
anti-CSP attitude and the ruling political party promised to build an administration
free from elite and isolated attitude. Ahamed describes, “Bureaucracy was in fact a
much hated word in the political lexicon of Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujib often became
livid with anger when he denounced bureaucracy. Moulana Bhasani, another
prominent Bengali leader, did not complete a public speech without making a
stinging attack on the bureaucracy” (Ahamed 2004:106). Moreover, after the
liberation, the bureaucracy was divided into two groups and engaged in a ‘war’
within itself. In the one side were the bureaucrats who remained in Bangladesh
during the liberation war and on the other side were the bureaucrats who worked
with the government-in-exile. Therefore, the environment tempted the political
leaders to violate the standing convention of political non-interference in recruitment
and routine civil service management. Instead, they started to politicize the
bureaucracy to establish control over bureaucrats.
However, within a few years, the bureaucracy managed to regain its position. Reform
plans were shelved and the government found it necessary to rely on the bureaucratic
machinery (Carino 1991). The pace of this reliance received a momentum during the
post-75 scenario where, due to the colonial heritage, distrust towards political leaders
and paternalistic attitude to the citizen on the part of the bureaucracy, an effective
partnership was built between the bureaucrats and the military government. Thus,
according to Carino’s analysis as described in “Politicization of bureaucracy: a
theoretical framework”, during the autocratic regime, the interaction between the
bureaucracy and the government can be termed as ‘Authoritarianism and Bureaucratic
Coprimacy’, where civil bureaucrats and military power contrived in ruling the
country. At the same time, the experience of this relationship left a lasting imprint
upon the attitude of the bureaucrats.
Putnam in his classic study of 1973 on attitudes of senior civil servants of Britain,
Germany and Italy, has classified the bureaucrats in two types—the classical
bureaucrat and the political bureaucrat. According to his analysis, the classical
bureaucrats prefer to resolve public issues in terms of objective standard of justice,
legality or technical practicality and ignore the socio-political aspect. As a result, the
classical bureaucrats have nothing but distrust towards the institutions of politics and
to them the activities of politicians are “at best senseless, at worst positively inimical
to the permanent interests of the state”. And the impact is, as Putnam describes it,
“…such a bureaucrat may well find the ideas of pluralist democracy less congenial
than the quieter, more ordered, less conflict-ridden world of benevolent autocracy”
(Putnam 1973: 259–260). On the other hand, the political bureaucrats have a
different point of view. They acknowledge public interest as a pluralistic concept and
also are aware of political realities and political influences on policy making.
322 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

Contrary to the view of classical bureaucrats, the political bureaucrats consider the
politicians “…as a participant in a common game, one whose skills and immediate
concerns may differ from his own, but whose ultimate values and objectives are
similar” (Putnam 1973: 260).
Based on this classification, a study conducted by Jamil (2002) has revealed the
fact that bureaucrats of Bangladesh are mostly classical, i.e., they perceive politics as
a tool of gaining narrow interest, prefer to be non-partisan and moreover, expect
politics to be constrained (Jamil 2002). Consequently, Huque and Rahman point out
that the bureaucracy has always found itself in a comfortable position in case of
working with the autocratic regime (Huque and Rahman 2003). Khan and Zafarullah
(1991) explains it in the following way—
The military–bureaucracy relationship has been mutually advantageous for both
groups. The bureaucrats have all along manifested an aversion for politicians.
They seem to be allergic to political control and accountability. On the other
hand, they are comfortable in a work environment that is impersonal, formal,
and legal-rational and where the value system of political structures does not
impede bureaucratic norms (Khan and Zafarullah 1991: 658–659)
The military regime was not interested in taking any initiative that may hinder this
relationship. In order to perform in an effective manner, the martial law regime
required a civil service which was effective, efficient, capable and competent, thus it
did not want to jeopardize the whole recruitment process.5 The possible outcome of
which was non-interference in the civil service recruitment process.
Moving towards a democratic system, in fact, redefined the relationship
between the bureaucrats and the politicians. Looking back at Carino’s analysis,
two issues become pertinent here. First, the vulnerability of the bureaucracy
during regime change and second, the relation between the commitment to
democracy of the party in power and its interaction with the bureaucracy. The
restoration of democracy indeed placed the bureaucracy in a vulnerable position.
With its classical outlook towards the politicians, soon it became the target of
attack. At the same time, according to Carino’s theory, if the political parties that
assumed power possessed strong commitment towards democratization, they
might eventually move forward towards achieving the ‘Complementarity’ model.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
In its 16 years’ life-span (1991–2006), the nascent democracy of the country
suffered a setback as the parties that came into power attempted to strengthen
executive control at the expense of legislature and the judiciary. The centralization

One interviewee commented, “Well, the autocratic governments do not represent any particular political
party. Thereby, it is not necessary for them to sacrifice the efficiency of the civil servant at the price of
appointing their party loyalists.”
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 323

of decision-making in the executive office helped the party in power to

successfully maintain a patron–client relationship which allowed illicit channeling
of public resources to specific client groups (IGS 2007, 2008). Besides, this
executive ascendancy tempted the political actors to be involved in a ‘state-capture’
practice. Partisan politics seemed to permeate all aspects of public life and this
penetration of politics had an adverse impact on the structure and operation of the
public institutions (CGS 2006). Thus, the temptation of state-capture and
maintenance of patron–client relationship developed a ‘winner-takes-all’ system
which simply ridiculed the whole philosophy of democracy. The State of
Governance in Bangladesh 2007, prepared by IGS has depicted this scenario in
the following manner:
As the party in power was the system’s immediate beneficiary, the only changes it
was interested in making were to assure its return to office in the next elections. The
opposition waited, maintained its networks and prepared to win elections the next
time around and then capture its share of benefits. Thus, the consensus between
parties over the rules of the game continued with periodic outbursts of violence and
turmoil which intensified before elections (IGS 2008: xiv).
The possibility of a partnership between the classical bureaucrats and the
politicians were almost zero as by definition, the classical bureaucrats had no
faith in the politicians and the elitist mode of operation of the classical
bureaucrats made the politicians quite sceptical about them. The believers
(classical bureaucrats) and non-believers (politicians) regarding the politics–
administration dichotomy envisaged a battle field between them. Due to the
practice of ‘state-capture’, the political parties, instead of bringing about
systematic change in the politics–administration relationship was more interested
recruiting party men in the bureaucracy. The democratic era in Bangladesh
witnessed massive politicization but it was not to gain efficiency and increase
effectiveness. Rather, the primary emphasis was placed on recruiting “party men
bureaucrats” irrespective of their qualifications.

Politics–bureaucracy inter-action: consequences for the PSC

Because of the dependence of the government on the bureaucracy for efficiency,

effectiveness and legitimacy, the bureaucrats enjoyed a favorable partnership with
the government during the autocratic regimes. The government preferred to keep the
number of appointments to party loyalists limited. To this end, the autocratic regime
adopted a two-way mechanism. On one hand, they preserved the integrity of the
bureaucratic machinery to a visible extent by non-interfering in the recruitment
process and on the other hand, they allowed a certain level of ‘ad-hoc’ appointments
within the civil service to keep their loyalists satisfied. Due to an effective
partnership between the military government and bureaucracy, the whole system
worked relatively well. Consequently, what we had witnessed at the autocratic
period was that the governments at that period did not interfere into the PSC
activities especially regarding the conduction of BCS examination.
The above scenario can be depicted in the following manner (Fig. 1):
324 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

Situation Situation
Presence of classical
Loyalists to autocratic
bureaucrats in
administrative machinery

Solution Solution

Recruitment of competent Providing administrative

personnel posts in limited numbers

Measures Measures

Fair examination Circumscribing authority

Procedure of PSC


PSC’s independence in
discharging duties

Fig. 1 How PSC operated during the autocratic regime

As shown in the above picture, the presence of the classical bureaucrats in the
administrative arena helped the autocratic regime to build a partnership which is
later carried out between the bureaucrats and the loyalists to the autocratic regime.
The effective functioning of the government demanded two sets of solution—first,
to ensure a fair recruitment procedure and second, to continue recruitment on an
ad-hoc basis. As a result, the authoritarian regime, at one end, circumscribed the
authority of the PSC to allow the practice of ad-hocization (Ahmed 1990) and on
the other end, refrained itself from interfering at the entry-level recruitment process.
For its own sake, the government required competent personnel at the right place
and the recruitment of competent personnel demanded a fair examination procedure.
The final outcome was a semi-independent PSC, which carried out its duty
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 325

On the other hand, since the beginning of the democratic regime, the politicians
‘successfully’ captured the public institutions and rather than using these institutions
for delivering service to the people, they utilized them for private gain (CGS 2006).
In order to increase the pace of this ‘state capture’ attitude, the two major political
parties that reined the political arena during 1991–2006 depended largely on
politicization of public sphere. At the same time, the inherent distrust towards the
classical bureaucrats compelled them to devise a mechanism through which the
functioning of the bureaucracy could be controlled. Consequently, they developed
their very own understanding of administrative reality where the performance of the
civil servants was evaluated through their political bias. At the initial stage, instead
of merit or efficiency, devotion to the party became the most important criteria in
promoting or transferring the civil servants. From that, the political parties
concentrated on recruiting their party activists in the service and interference in the
PSC’s activities became a common phenomenon.
The following figure makes it clear (Fig. 2):

Situation Solution

Distrust in classical Inclusion of party loyalists in

bureaucrats administrative machinery


Appointing wrong person as

Members and Chair of the
PSC and making examination
procedure ineffective


An ineffective PSC

Fig. 2 How PSC operated during the democratic regime

326 F. Jahan, A.M. Shahan

According to the figure, the scepticism regarding the intention of the classical
bureaucrats and the existence of a pre-mature democracy tempted the ruling political
party to politicize the recruitment process to impose the ‘democratic control’ over
the bureaucracy (Jahan 2006). The bureaucracy, being in a vulnerable position,
initially failed to resist the politicization and later accepted it (Huque and Rahman
2003). People with political affiliation were appointed as members and chairs in the
PSC. Subsequently, the examination procedure was tampered to recruit party
loyalists in the civil service. This ‘solution’ of the democracy resulted in the failure
of the PSC in recruiting competent bureaucrats.


The success of democracy depends on the effectiveness of two ‘great gearing

mechanisms’ of government—the formation of democratic popular control and
the transformation of this popular control in line with the administrative reality
(Pfiffner 2007). Democratic popular control is shaped through the reflection of
people’s expectation of the activities of their elected representatives. When this
first mechanism succeeds in functioning properly then it is up to the politicians to
realize these expectations and implement an action plan with the help of the
bureaucracy. In the case of Bangladesh, the two types of regimes reflect two
different scenarios. During the autocratic period, the popular control was absent
and thus there was no reflection of people’s expectations in the activities carried
out by the government. The regime defined its own vision and through the
formation of an effective coalition with the bureaucracy ensured the designing and
implementation of an action plan to carry out its activities. The whole process
required the presence of a competent bureaucracy. On the other hand, during the
democratic period, lack of foresight and willingness of the ruling political party to
listen to the view of citizens resulted in failing to meet up of “the vision of
democratic popular control” (Pfiffner 2007). Furthermore, the regime’s reluctance
to build a partnership with the bureaucracy delimited its capacity to realize the
administrative reality. The vision was defined in an arbitrary manner and the
regime attempted to take control of the bureaucracy to develop an action plan
while interpreting this vision. Thus, the regime required a bureaucracy which
would remain politically loyal.
In this paper, we have shown that, during the autocratic period, as the regime
required a competent bureaucracy to carry out its functions, it preferred not to
interfere in the recruitment process. Thus, the PSC was allowed to discharge its
duties in a semi-independent manner. However, when a democratic government
came into power, it tried to ensure partisan appointments and recruitments to control
bureaucracy. Thus, the PSC’s authority to ensure a fair recruitment procedure was
circumscribed. The present interim government has initiated a number of reform
efforts to bring qualitative change in the functioning of the PSC. However, there
remains considerable doubt regarding the sustainability of these reform efforts when
an elected democratic government comes to power (IGS 2007, 2008). As the
previous sections show, this concern is not extraneous. A democracy, which is
refined or formal, tries to develop its very own method of making the bureaucracy
Politics–Bureaucracy Relationship in Bangladesh: Consequences... 327

work, making it responsive and responsible. The problem is, in the name of
democracy, what we have seen until 2006 is a “democratic malfunctioning” model
which takes little account of the existing social, political or economic structure of the
state. Democracy has always remained rhetoric to us. And, this has its impact on the
functioning of almost all the public institutions, including the PSC. If the democracy
that we have had in the last 16 years continues, there remains a possibility that the
reforms undertaken so far, in the long run, may fail to bring about the desired
qualitative change in the functioning of the PSC. The existing positive atmosphere
for change may fade away quite quickly, if the political parties fall short in
determining their mode of interaction with the civil service.1


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Dr. Ferdous Jahan : Dr. Jahan is an Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of
Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has part time affiliation with BRAC Development Institute, BRAC University.
Dr. Jahan is also a post-doctoral fellow of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of
Pennsylvania, USA. Her current academic interests and research include: governance; corruption; legal
empowerment of the poor; women’s empowerment issues in developing societies; how the state may affect
women’s empowerment through public policies and laws; and other development related issues.

Asif Mohammad Shahan : Mr. Asif Mohammad Shahan is a Research Associate/Lecturer at the Institute
of Governance Studies, BRAC University. He completed his Masters Degree in 2007 in Public
Administration from the University of Dhaka. His research interests are public management, governance,
bureaucratic politics and politicization of the bureaucracy, local government.