Political economy of the size of government: What shakes and what Shapes

Published : 23 Jun 2020 11:42 PM | Updated : 06 Sep 2020 09:35 AM

Jamaluddin Ahmed

(Continued from last day's section, Part:5)

The Bangladesh Scenario: Until recently, the operation of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh have been running with 231 office organizations under 36 ministries. Soon after the independence, number of ministries were 21 in 1972, 13 in 1975, 33 in 1977 under military dictator, 19 in 1982 also under military dictator, 35 in 1995 under BNP-Jamat lead coalition, 36 in 2000 under Awami League-JSD & JP coalition, strikingly 72 in 2001 lead by BNP-Jamat. Since independence, different governments have formed 16 committees and commissions to reform bureaucracy and public services within the country. However, the situation has not changed under the Grand Alliance since 2009 showing significant increase in the size of the government in terms of size of cabinet, expenditure and number of civil servants and departments. 

An analysis of the 231 office organizations reveal that 48 are under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, 20 Law and Justice, 16 Health and Family Welfare, 11 Home Affairs, and 10 in Education. Ministries of Establishment, Defense, and Cabinet Division each have 9 offices under their supervision with the Prime Minister being the in-charge for all of these 27 offices. Ministries those have 7 offices under them are Communications, Information, Housing and Public Works, Shipping and Agriculture. Labor & manpower and Commerce are two Ministries who supervise 6 offices each. The Prime Minister being the in-charge of Power and Energy Ministry has 5 offices under them. Ministries each of those have 4 offices under them are LGERD, Industries, Fisheries and Livestock, Land, including Environment and Forest. 5 Ministries, such as, Disaster and Relief, Religious Affairs, Planning, Youth and Sports and Culture each have 3 offices under their supervision.  There are only 2 offices each work under the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications and Women & Children Affairs. There are 8 Ministries running with 1 office under them are Foreign Affairs, Food, Textiles, Hill Tracts, Civil Aviation & Tourism, Science and Technology, Social Welfare, Water Resources, and the Prime Minister’s Office. In addition the Parliament Secretariat and Election Commission each have 2 offices and 1 office work under Bangladesh Public Service Commission.

On the cost and effect of the Expanding Size of Government of Bangladesh since Independence Jasim (2014) reports that the number of ministries has doubled in Bangladesh since independence - from 21 in 1972 to 42 in 2014. The divisions under different ministries have expanded in two decades-- from 49 in 1994 to 59 now. Likewise, the number of autonomous bodies has increased from 199 to 247 during this period of past twenty years. Departments and directorates of Government have risen, in numbers, to 275 now, from 221 in 1994 and 181 in 1982. The overall numbers of ‘civil’ or ‘public’ servants and public sector employments have thus virtually trebled since independence, rising from 4,54,450 in 1971 to 7,79,000 in 1982, 9,46,749 in 1992, 1,000,983 in 2001, 119,557 in 2005, and 1,760,864 in 2014.  The aggregate number of ‘civil servants,’ as of now, reflects an annual compounded rate of growth by about 3.0 per cent against an average population growth rate in the same period at about 2.25 per cent.  Figures, noted above, may, however, require some adjustments, on a more detailed scrutiny of statistics.

But one thing stands out clear: the size of Government, in terms of numbers of those employed in ministries and their divisions, autonomous bodies and departments and directorates, has expanded, outpacing the country’s average annual population growth rate, on a compounded basis, over the last 44 years since independence.  The figures of those engaged in defence services, officers and support-staff for a good number of projects under the annual development programme (ADP) and temporary workers employed in contingency posts or covered under ‘master roll’ of departments and directorates etc., have been excluded here. If these are included, then the picture will be ‘bigger’ about the size of Government. According to knowledgeable circles, the size of Government has a “strong bearing” on cost of running it. The burden of this cost, as such circles noted, does ultimately fall on the people who bear the load of direct and indirect taxes, fees and other government charges. Trends of compensation costs for both serving and retired government employees show that the bill on account of pay and allowances as well as pension and retirement benefits has been bulging steadily. It has increased not only in absolute terms but also as relative ratios to the government’s revenue expenditure and gross domestic product (GDP) at current prices.  

Jasim (2014) talked to a number of analysts of public expenditures, economists, former civil servants and other competent experts to obtain their views on, what appeared to be, on the basis of available statistics and data, an unending expansion of size of Government in the country and its wider ramifications.   Their views covered a wide range of areas, centring the moot issue -- size of Government. Most of them made one common observation: time is ripe now to give a serious thought to right-sizing -- meaning neither down-sizing or over-sizing -- Government.

The advantages of greater use of today’s digital technology and modern management practices, styles and methods do also heighten the need to taking such developments into consideration while making a meaningful exercise to this effect, they suggested.  The expansion on growth of Government, according to them, must not be stimulated by pure political considerations, like increasing the number of ministries to accommodate more intra-party groups and to give new ministerial positions to keep some influential happy, spreading Government’s wings unnecessarily to absorb the politically favoured ones in jobs in civil service or creating jobs for dispensation by political leaders without examining, on dispassionate grounds, the need for the same. 

Jamaluddin Ahmed is General Secretary, Bangladesh Economic Association and Chairman, Janata Bank