Spilled beans


Saad Hammadi writes on the recent remarks made by the prime minister’s health affairs adviser Syed Modasser Ali

Recent statements made by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s health affairs adviser Syed Modasser Ali undermines the public, who voted the government to power, and the promises made to them, on two accounts. Firstly, he brushed aside any responsibility of the government at divulging information to the media, saying that the health department is not obliged to give any information to journalists. Secondly, he made an open statement about ‘politicising’ government institutions by promising to recruit only party members.

During a discussion programme on the spread of anthrax at the Gopalganj Sadar Hospital, Modasser mentioned that the government is not obliged to disclose information to journalists. His remarks, about putting only party members in the 13,350 posts at the community clinics, have drawn widespread criticism from all levels of society, including his party members.

From the statements, we can draw some obvious conclusions about the government’s modus operandi. This not only undermines the merit of the applicants for the posts, but also, as senior leaders of the Awami League say, it contradicts the prime minister’s instructions to ensure recruitment on merit.

However, Ali recently defended his statement in an English language daily saying, ‘if 50 people qualify for a single post in a union parishad clinic, who should we appoint? We will of course try to have a party man in that case.’

Deeming Ali’s remarks as ‘isolated comments’, information minister Abul Kalam Azad on September 23 told the media that the government believes in the full freedom of the press. It is now a wait of time to see how much the government exercises the free flow of information, whether Azad is true to his word or Modasser had drawn the skeleton out of the closet.

The way Modasser drew curtains over an allegation of corruption and irregularities in the procurement of medical equipments at the Sadar Hospital of Gopalganj by refusing to provide the information, the purpose of Right to Information Act is compromised and in principle becomes void.

The chief information commissioner of the Information Commission Bangladesh in an earlier interview with Xtra said, ‘the government has to organise itself in a manner where its branches can act as facilitator of good governance. You need transparency for that. It is only possible through providing information and access to such information without obstruction.’

Most importantly he pointed out, ‘in order for the process to be effective, there has to be political will.’

Indulgence of such open statements about denying information also puts the Right to Information Act at stake. Senior leaders of the Awami League have said to the media that such remarks are ‘anti-people’ and against the policies of this government.

Obaidul Quader, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the information ministry, on September 21 said the government believes in the free flow of information and that is why it has passed the right to information (RTI) act.

If Ali’s comments about recruitment are not withdrawn, it will hinder growth of professional excellence in an important sector like healthcare, believed Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh.

The TIB executive director noted that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure a competitive environment with equal opportunity for all to get government jobs. He found it unfortunate that the adviser gave a veiled threat to officials in case only the ruling party men are not appointed in the community clinics, even if they do not qualify for the jobs.

Successive governments have politicised some of the most important state institutions for its benefits. Since assuming office on January 6, 2009, the Awami League government has transferred around 500 officials at various levels, including the secretaries to the home, establishment, communications, information, education, power, energy and local government ministries, apparently to reshuffle the bureaucracy in its favour. At least 342 bureaucrats, including eight secretaries and around 30 additional secretaries, have been attached to the establishment ministry as officers on special duty (OSD), of whom 176 are either on training/study leave or on study deputation.

In light of such practices, Modasser Ali’s statements only strengthen and reestablish the government’s commitment to politicisation of institutions. On top of that, when he bars the media from getting information, it shatters any hope of change in the style of governance.

The column was first published in New Age Xtra on October 01, 2010.

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