THE administrative structure of the independent and sovereign Bangladesh was a continuation of the system as obtained in the British Indian times until 1947. The system in the territory was strong and well knit. Bengal under the British Raj was then called a ‘regulated province’. It had its supremacy of the civil magistracy under well established laws, rules and regulations. The police worked under the system according to the rules and regulations and the civil magistracy.
At the top was the chief executive, the British monarch-appointed governor general in case of the whole of India and the governor in case of the province such as Bengal since 1947. After the retreat of the British imperialist and the partition of the subcontinent in the succeeding states of India and Pakistan, the chief executive was an elected prime minister. In the province, the chief executive officer was an elected chief minister. In Pakistan, however, after military takeover in 1958, the chief executive the prime minister was replaced by a president. The president was assisted in administering the country by the civil service system as it had worked since British colonial times.
In the sovereign and independent Bangladesh, there was no exception to the colonial continuity. We in the 1960s found that the civil servants, selected by competitive examinations, remained at the top of the system. They continued to run it efficiently under the direction of the chief executive, whether elected or not. It was a hierarchy system where authority flowed from the higher to the lower. The classification was usually rigid and there was no regular exception.
Unusual case of CEO of social welfare
IT MAY be asked as to how in 1976 and 1977, I, as the new director, head of the Directorate of Social Welfare, could be functionally so close to the virtual and then real chief executive of the country, president General Ziaur Rahman. As I described earlier, my relationship with president Zia began in 1974 during my brief visit to Dhaka from London when my friend Colonel Shafaat Jamil introduced me to him. Later, from 1976 after my return from London, Shishu Bhai (General Nurul Islam), a close associate of General Zia, took me closer to him. He was instrumental in getting me appointed by General Zia the head of the Directorate of Social Welfare. I agreed to the posting as from my teenage, I was attracted to and actively involved in social work. I had some dim knowledge about the working of the organisation. In that position, I actually had the rank of a senior deputy secretary. As a member of the top cadre service, the erstwhile civil service of Pakistan, usually such an officer could not and did not have easy access to the chief executive of the country such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Things were different in my case in 1976. My informal relations with Zia shaped by friends like General Nurul Islam Colonel (later Brigadier) Shafaat Jamil were instrumental in building up an unusually close relationship. This made me become a virtual policy-maker and director of social welfare, in general, and women and youth development, in particular.
I DID not know whether General Zia had any political ambition to pursue the activities of social welfare. Even if he had, there were other powerful and suitable instruments such as the ministries of home, local government, education, etc. But he chose social welfare as a potent medium through which to shape the poor and numerous, the women and the youth as forces for development. He said this to me without mincing a word and never expressed any political ambition to be achieved through these activities.
As far as I was concerned, I had no political interest. My last political connection ended with the close at my university days in 1963 when I left Dhaka University as a student leader, a chief of the defunct middle-of-the-road student organisation, the Student Force. As a Dhaka University teacher from 1964 to 1967 and a member of the erstwhile CSP from 1967 to 1980 I had no political aim as both. Thus Zia’s politics which did not appear clear in the mid-1970s and did not have any impact on me.
The plans and programmes we drew up and implemented in 1976–1979 in the fields of social welfare, including women and youth development, were basically developmental. These wanted to achieve the full force of the people through development oriented work and not mere charity.
To be continued.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).