Should the existing quota system stay for an indefinite period?
The quota system has drawn huge controversy by different groups, and has become one of the much talked about issues in recent times. Just a few days ago thousands of students and graduates of different universities in various parts of the country staged sit-ins and held rallies protesting the existing quota system in BCS exams and other government recruitment tests, and demanded that the quotas be brought down to 10 per cent from 56 per cent.
Students who oppose the quota system believe that the system is destroying merit while depriving deserving candidates. They have pointed out that if anyone from a family enjoys the benefit of quota, why members of other families not get it. The quota system must be abolished in order to ensure equal opportunities for all.
The quota system was introduced in our country by an executive order on September 5, 1972, prior to the adoption of the constitution. After independence, adequate support and facilities were not provided to freedom fighters and their children. As a result, they were given the opportunity to join the civil service with 30 per cent reserved places under the quota system.
The protests have sparked a lot of debate on various social media platforms as well, as it deals mainly with two very sensitive issues, i.e., quota for freedom fighters' children (and their grandchildren) and for women. It is noteworthy that, there are 258 types of quotas in public services without any reform in the last 46 years. So, they are urging to curb the percentage of quotas.
Under the current system, most candidates were recruited through the quota system (56 per cent) instead of merit - causing discontent among a large section of general students who are deprived despite scoring higher than candidates. There was no country in the world with an everlasting quota system; rather the system operates for a certain period in order to bring the backwardness communities into the mainstream.
Intellectuals and experts have said that, most candidates are recruited through the discriminatory quota system instead of merit. So, the qualified candidates are not coming into the public service which is why the country is often being deprived of capable bureaucrats. They think that the quota system must be revised and rationalised keeping in view national and international realities and the aspirations and increasing demands of the people.
Most significantly, the children of freedom fighters think that their fathers did not fight in the Liberation War to secure a quota privilege in the job market for them, but they fought for the welfare of this country. Many also think that it's not ethical that they are getting advantages as children of freedom fighters.
Bangladesh is the largest least developed country (LDC) in terms of population and economic size, and anticipation is that would become a developing country by 2021. Like every LDC country we are currently facing many challenges, and creating a skilled manpower is one of them. Capable manpower will lead us to compete on international levels, but quota system in civil service may slow down the forward thinking process.
Recruitment through the discriminatory quota system has left the nation with two grave consequences- competent candidates being driven to other jobs and civil service being devoid of merit in the long run. On the other hand, a pool of talented candidates may also leave the country and go to other countries for their career by creating an intellectual void in the civil service cadres of our country.
In present world, civil service has emerged as an important independent variable that greatly influences any kind of transformation in the society. Civil cadres are indispensable actors in initiating and making government policies and programs, and also in implementing those. But, the most noteworthy flaw in the quota system is that the merit quota (44 per cent only) has been knowingly ignored in the recruitment of civil cadres!
Bangladesh is a democratic country with a massive population of over 166 million. After gained independence, we have passed 46 years. Throughout this period, we expect that the deserving family members of freedom fighters got the opportunities for being entertained in government jobs. Standing after 46 years it will be a big burden for us to provide quota in government service to the freedom fighter's grandchildren also.
Allocating quotas is no doubt good, as far as it is a method of equality on the social, economic and educational backwardness community. But, the impact of excessive quota in public service may cause serious trouble for the country, and has a ripple effect on the upcoming generations. To keep meritocracy in the future leadership, we should concentrate on the public service recruitment to ensure the entrance of meritorious candidates.
Now, the biggest question that lies in front of us is: Should the existing quota system stay for an indefinite period? The emphatic answer is "No". So, to ensure good governance, to make our country competitive in the world, and to make recruitment more diverse, representative, and responsive, the quota system in public service needs to be revised and reformed as it was never appraised and evaluated.
The reform of the quota system in Bangladesh is a sensitive issue in the context of politico-social realities. We expect that it will be not politicize and sensationalized. We may consider this as an opportunity to reform the quota system, which must not be missed. Let us be more pragmatic and sensible, to promote the national interests of our country.
The writer is senior Faculty Member of Carter Academy