THE cabinet’s final approval for the draft of the Public Services Bill 2018, on August 20, which subsumes important aspects of six existing laws that the passage of the new law would nullify, appears to be a welcome move as it aims at ensuring the promotion of public servants based on merit, competence, seniority, training and services considered satisfactory. As the Public Servants (Retirement) Act, the Services (Reorganisation and Conditions) Act, the Public Servants (Special Provision) Ordinance, the Public Employees Discipline (Punctual Attendance) Ordinance, the Public Servants (Dismissal on Conviction) Act and the Surplus Public Servants Absorption Act have all been considered in framing the new law, it is expected to lessen the complications in the handling of issues, till now under six laws, under a single law. But what makes the proposed law worrisome is that it provisions for the arrest of public servants, before a court frames charges in any criminal case, only after the sanction of the authorities concerned — a provision which is not applied to cases of other citizens.
While the provision in question in the proposed law, after its passage, would send out a negative signal as it is in contradiction with activities of the Anti-Corruption Commission, it will put backward the long-standing demand for reforms in the civil service. With the Anti-Corruption Commission requiring prior sanction of the authorities concerned, the commission, if the bill is passed into a law, would not be able to arrest any public servants even if it catches them taking bribes. While a situation like this is certain to clip the wings of the commission and thwart proclaimed efforts to cut down on corruption, this will rather provide public servants with an incentive of a sort to engage in corruption as the commission fighting against corruption would not instantly be able to do anything. As for people wronged by the corruption of public servants, they may not have the redress that they would be looking for, at least at the earliest, if the bill is passed with the provision at hand. The complainants would need to wait for the sanction and the delay. If it is prolonged beyond a reasonable period, it might leave the scope for the cases to be quashed. Besides, would this be legal to set different standards for setting the criminal law in motion for the people who are in the government and the people who are outside?
The proposed law would also hamper the justice dispensation in cases that have already been filed against public servants on corruption charges. The delay in sanction or the issuance of no sanctions would further complicate the issues. The government, under the circumstances, must revoke this ‘discriminatory provision’, as Transparency International, Bangladesh seeks to term it, in the draft of the law to ensure honesty, transparency, professionalism and neutral public administration. The government is left with no option but to drop the provision if it means a public administration free of corruption.
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