Bangladesh Cabinet continues to increase it’s size: 300 MPs represent the total country’s population in Bangladesh. Over 50 Cabinet Ministers will represent 300 MPs. 5 MPs to represent a Minister. This is a huge change in terms of a countries economy and infrastructure, as all this change also increases costs.
When the Awami League took power in 2008, the Cabinet was formed with 31 members out of which 23 members were ministers and 8 members were state ministers. Accordingly, this is now the third expansion of the Cabinet within a single term of government.
Prior to this recent change the number was 45 from 31. Now it will be increased to 51.
In fact, the Ministry appears to have doubled within a parlimentary term. This could also mean that the costs may have had to double to run these.
This change also opened the door to 7 members outside Awami League to take ministerial posts just before the forthcoming elections. These 7 members belong to the 14 party alliance.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s reshuffle of the cabinet swapping portfolios of some ministers and distributing ministries among the newly inducted ministers and state ministers also added to the old list.
An important change was removing Shahara Khatun from the Home Ministry and given the responsibility of Posts and Telecommunications Ministry. Newly appointed minister Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir is now responsible for the Home Ministry involving police law and order.
Communications Minister Obaidul Quader was relieved of his additional charge of the Railways Ministry as it went to new minister Mujibul Haque. It means that all the dynamic plans of Obaidul Quader with Railway transformation, the successful and dynamic Minister so far seen in the whole of Awami League, will be giving away all his plans for the railway to the newcomer.
Does Size Matter?
This means that 300 MPs who represent the total country’s population will have 50 of them representing the cabinet. Therefore, every 6 MP will represent a Cabinet Member (Minister) ONLY if all 300 seats belonged to Awami League. But since that is not a possiblity, that all 300 seats can belong to a single party, it appears that the Government which has only 263 seats with it’s alliance will have 51 of those running a government. That is approximately every 5 MPs representing a Cabinet member.
In other words, 1/5th of the MPs now represent a Minister. In comparison, a country like UK with 650 MPs do not have 51 Cabinet members. This size of Cabinet in Bangladesh appears to be, in comparison with many other countries, an extremely large Cabinet.
Most importantly, now that the trend has been broken, it will follow with the BNP if they take over in the next election. The likelihood of the Cabinet being reduced under an elected government in Bangladesh is minimal.
On the other hand, the Caretaker Government which had run Bangladesh for a few years had a limited number of advisers who were able to run the country better in comparison with elected governments, according to many international observers.
Of course, in a Democracy the pressure is on a Prime Minister to honour the loyalists with posts in the Ministry in order to sustain power and get the required support from the party. This has also been the case even, for example, in the United Kingdom where the Conservatives had to create posts and also at the same time give away some posts to the Liberals, their Alliance, who helped them stay in power by securing the majority seats.
Though many can see a justification in this approach but the question for Bangladesh is as to whether it requires this huge number of Ministers or Ministries to run the country with a comparatively lower GDP.
The side effect also being costs and red tape, let alone the charges of corruption they will attract if their opposition takes over from them. For example, when the Caretaker Government was in power just before the current regime, the newly appointed Home Minister, Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, was charged with corruption because he had too much undeclared assets according to the relevant Body. Of course, when Awami League took power the charges were dropped. It was claimed that Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir and has family were intentionally harassed by the caretaker government.
Another example was when Calgary-based Niko Resources Ltd revealed during a court hearing in Canada that a BNP minister had to be bribed to secure a deal with the government, thereby confirming the mode and method of bribery that had been in place at various stages. The Mounties’ case against Niko centres around alleged gifts for a junior energy minister in Bangladesh, A.K.M. Mosharraf Hossain; In 2005, at a time when Mr. Hossain was responsible for assessing what compensation Niko should provide to villagers after explosions at one of the company’s drilling sites, a new Toyota Land Cruiser, purchased by Niko, was delivered to his house. At the time, Niko said that it had provided the luxury SUV to its partner in Bangladesh, the state-owned gas company known as BAPEX, and denied having any knowledge about the vehicle’s ultimate destination
In fact, the whole continent acknowledges the possibilty of such situations of this nature. A minister in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh told officials in August 2012 that they could “steal a little”, but should not be “robbing” public funds. It was thus clear from the speech that corruption was something acknowledged even in India a country born from the principles of Gandhiji and a much more developed country than Bangladesh.
Challenges Ahead in monitoring the large Ministry
The challenge therefore for the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is to ensure that her Ministry does not get a bad reputation as has happened in the past. This is where size also matters, the bigger the Ministry the more difficult it is to keep tabs, the more tendency of the members working for it to hide under red tape if not “lobbying”.
This is very true specially where Ministers are seen not be in control of what happens in their departments. This was clearly noted in another recent incident which caused the Railway Minister Suranjit Sen Gupta, known as “Sen Babu” to give away his portfolio.
Sen Babu, a realist, has maintained a very good reputation to date and until that event took place and nothing could touch his reputation till then.
In fact, he and Tofail Ahmed, a senior awami League politician, also referred to as “Tofail Bai” because of his seniority had passed the “litmus test” undertaken by the Caretaker military government in 2007/2008.
None of these two people had been accused of any charges at that time, when nearly all BNP and Awami League leaders and MP’s were going through a tough time from the then caretaker government, an incident which is repeatedly reminded by the Prime Minister in her speeches as part of her memory of the caretaker government.
It was because the Caretaker Government had identified common grounds with these two individuals that they later were tagged by their own party as “reformists” and were removed from the favourite list of the party.
Although Sen Babu’s outspoken ability had secured his Ministerial post with the Railway Ministry, with a view to stop him from being outspoken against the government, it soon appeared to be a “temporary” post. His driver claimed that Suranjit Sen Gupta’s personal secretary (non civil servant) along with two civil servants from Railway Department were using the Minister’s car at that time for transporting “bribed” funds -huge amount of cash hidden inside it – with the intention of taking it to Ministers house at night.
Although there was no direct evidence linking Sen Babu with money or links to this money, which his secreatry later claimed was his personal money, the event forced Minister to resign in order to preserve his dignity. In fact, this was the first time that someone resigned out of embarresment amongst Bangladeshi politicians . By doing so Sen Babu maintained his dignity.
These incidents show that where Ministers themselves are clueless as to what goes on within their department, it would be very difficult for the Prime Minister to know about these incidents in the background in order to monitor or control.
However, Tofail Ahmed has so far not been given any posts by the party of that of Ministerial role since 2008. Critics say that it was due to the fact that the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, still holds a grudge against him for being on the other side of the fence when the caretaker government was planning the “minus two formula”. He, one of the most senior politician of the country, on the other hand, claims that he is not ready for a Ministerial post.