On the eve of the International Conference on Governance and Public Service transformation in South Asia, Dr Rizwan Khair, Director, Institute of Governance Studies, talked to OneWorld South Asia’s Ankita Sharma about the importance of bureaucracy in good governance and the need to have conferences like these as brainstorming sessions between countries.
OWSA: Having similar histories, what value additions do you suggest to ensure the sustainability of democracy in the region?
Dr Rizawan Khair: Democracy had worked well in India, because the leadership had a vision towards making it work. In other parts of South Asia, the picture is different, as most of the countries did not have a rich history of democracy. Pakistan and Bangladesh were under authoritative regimes for a substantial time since their existence. In addition, dynastic politics have also contributed towards putting a spanner in the functioning of democracy.
Therefore, democracy in these nations is flawed and still at a very nascent stage. The need of the hour is to make conscious efforts towards inculcating democracy within the party, which will then manifest itself at the national level as well.
OWSA: Elaborate on the role of bureaucracy in the governance of a nation? What steps need to be taken to redefine the service?
Dr Rizawan Khair: Bureaucracy has a very crucial role in the governance itself because you cannot de-link the State from the governance process. The core of the whole governance reform agenda is based on the State where other actors collaborate with the State, thereby making it a governance collaborative model. The State in this case is a very important actor. If we remove the State, other actors do not have the legitimacy or the power or the resources to carry democracy further. Here civil society agents like NGOs are not very influential. This is where the role of bureaucracy becomes very crucial, because this is the only group that can reform the governance from within. The problem with bureaucracy in the context of South Asia is that it has become a little bit politicised. This undermines the cornerstone of bureaucratic process, i.e. instead of being swayed by any political party they should function independently wholly focusing on creating public value. If you want any kind of reforms within the bureaucracy, the whole idea of adding public value and creating public reforms needs to be re-inculcated in the cycle of bureaucracy. And this value has been lost over the years.
OWSA: What are the various e-governance methods that are being implemented in Bangladesh along with their impact?
Dr Rizawan Khair: E-governance is a relatively new concept in Bangladesh. The present government has initiated a fairly good initiative called the Digital Bangladesh train, but the problem lies in the top down approach that it follows. If you don’t have the backward linkage, initiatives like this can seldom sustain. There is certain amount of awareness that needs to be built up among the grass roots, in order to make initiatives like this a success. This can become a reality by the effective use of RTI, but unfortunately, the NGOs and civil society are not making use of this instrument. Specifically in the Bangladesh context, the NGOs are also covered under the RTI. There is a two-way accountability, and hence the civil society organizations hardly try and spread awareness about it.
OWSA: Your final word on the International conference on Governance and Public Service transformation in South Asia?
Dr Rizawan Khair: It’s important because it provides a platform for the practitioners and the academicians to come together to brainstorm on different issues.