Taking the press as a guide

The government in a developing country like Bangladesh is found handicapped by many factors. One such  main factor is the lack of information. The controlling heads of the government machinery do not usually get good feedback on many governmental programmes and activities. The routine information  they get about services deliveries of the government or the quality of  such services are usually distorted by government officials down the line as they seek to hide their inefficiencies, corruption and failings. In this situation, the press can be a very useful and very handy instrument indeed at the hands of senior figures in the government to try and address governance related issues which is deeply desired by most countrymen and the donors who extend  different forms of assistance to Bangladesh.
Not all senior figures in the government  possess   virtuous characters. They too can be prone to misinforming and hiding  of facts in their own vested interests and to protect their minions in governmental services.  Nonetheless, there are also a  number of well intentioned senior government functionaries and a few ministers perhaps who are not soaked in immorality and retain the instincts to work in the public interest. But they are  probably not playing their role to the optimum for, among other things, not taking the press as their guide.
It should be all very easy for a Minister or a departmental Secretary to take action in response to the ills that citizens or  countrymen face  in their lives. If the same is done, then governance will surely improve in these areas. But the same is not happening because the  Secretaries or  Ministers are not probably paying as much attention to what the press has to say about the activities or performances of their departments or ministries respectively. Usually, the Secretaries and Ministers have their personal secretaries whose functions involve the production of regular clippings from newspapers articles and reports about the functioning of the departments and the ministries. The government run corporations employ  public relations officers (PROs)  for a similar  informative role. The PROs are supposed to keep the chairmen and departmental heads well informed about people’s grievances and all disclosures about the underperformance of the corporations so that corrective steps can be taken based on such information.
But how many personal secretaries of the Secretaries and Ministers and how many PROs are doing their job with any dedication ? A few perhaps. If it were otherwise, then the  situation could be much different  and government could gain from acting on information supplied by newspapers. A typical personal secretary of a departmental Secretary or a Minister is more likely to be a person with real interest in arranging appointments for his boss with outsiders who come to lobby for various wheeling-dealings such as authorisations, approvals, etc. These endorsements are suspected to fetch  monetary gains for their recipients. The personal secretaries find greater incentive to devote greater part of the day to these tasks as they stand to make pecuniary gains  for themselves by arranging the meetings with their bosses. Thus, they  have marginal interest in  knowing  what newspapers have to say about  their performance and even less interest to convey the same to their bosses for taking action.
Therefore, the Secretaries and Ministers who really have public service in mind should do well to advise their  personal secretaries to restructure their mentality. The personal secretaries need to be strictly ordered to prepare paper clippings of newspaper reports and  comments about the departments and ministries   on a regular basis and to submit the same to the Secretaries and Ministers for their scrutiny. The secretaries and ministers themselves should  try and develop the habit of reading  six or seven or more newspapers every day. Such a reading habit can yield for them a great deal of information about the  field level experiences of people  in their interactions with their departments and ministries. The same can be of immense value in redressing grievances, taking corrective measures or introducing new policies.
Not only the Ministers and Secretaries ought to institutionalise the  daily scanning of newspapers to learn what  the people think of their activities, their lapses, their shortcomings and  inadequacies, the greatest  need  is for this culture to bloom where it  would have the most positive impact — at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. Surely, some persons  there go through newspapers and   take selected clippings from the press for bringing to the notice of the Prime Minister. But there is probably room for this system to be further improved.
As it is, the  government is seen as largely unresponsive to  even screaming in the press about various issues. Every day, the newspapers in Bangladesh produce a large number of investigative reports on governmental organisation that relate mainly to corruption, underperformance and an assortment of other ills. But hardly anything punitive and corrective are seen as done by the government as reactions to these newspaper exposures. There could be two interpretations of such nonchalance on the part of the government : either the newspaper accounts are not read by officials who should be concerned or they deliberately decide to turn a blind eye to the same. Therefore,  a system should be devised for top officials to  be  obliged to read  or made aware of newspaper reports and comments in relation to their departments and, more importantly,  for them to be similarly obliged to take swift and uncompromising actions in response to these reports and comments.  Government must have a good enough system in place to get feedback from newspapers and to respond to them swiftly and adequately. If this is done, then newspapers  will have acquired a valuable role in helping to improve governance.
For instance, a newspaper may produce a report on some traffic management related inefficiencies or corruption by traffic policemen. In another case, a report may be about  corruption in some government run educational institutions. Another report may focus on serious lapses in public health care.  Every day, the  pages of newspapers carry many such exposures. If  officials in the relevant departments or ministries take care to go through these articles, clip them and place them for attention by superior officers and, if the superior  officers decide quickly to take sincere action in response to each and every valid report or comments, then surely  in no time a new culture can emerge in the civil services  to make the services a lot more proactive, dynamic and efficient.
The Prime Minister can take the most powerful step to this end by  ordering  the mandatory development of a system whereby all government bodies would be required to compulsorily respond to substantiated newspaper reports and comments about them. There is no such compulsion to do so at present and this  lack of compulsion to react  compulsorily  to newspaper reports has kept unabated corruption and inefficiency. This situation is bound to change with the institutionalising of a system in all government offices to duly take note of newspaper reports and comments and to respond to them in right proportion.


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