Mahbubul Alam

Head of Governance, Quay Asia Ltd.

Mahbub, a retired Secretary to the Government of Bangladesh, has 32 years of diverse experience in the public sector.

We had a discussion with Mahbub about his career and expert insights. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.

What was your first paid job?

After qualifying in the Bangladesh Civil Service examination, I was selected for my dream job in the BCS (Administration) cadre. I joined as an Assistant Commissioner in the Ministry of Establishment in 1986. My first posting was in the Deputy Commissioners Office of Gopalganj district which coordinates the work of all departments of the government in addition to maintaining law and order through exercise of magisterial power, management of land and general administration. I was responsible for providing protocol service to the VIPs arriving in the district, looking after the trade and commerce and trying criminal cases as Magistrate. During my tenure, I had the opportunity to visit or inspect all the local government institutions in the district and work in almost all the sections of the district office. This has provided me a strong foundation for becoming a Deputy Commissioner later on.
 
Disaster management also was the responsibility of the DC office, and the tornado in Tungipara remains in my mind. While President Hussain Muhammad Ershad was visiting Kasiani upazila in 1986, a devastating tornado almost wiped away all the houses, buildings and trees of a 10 kilometer strip, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds. We recovered the wounded people, established temporary shelters and continued relief and rehabilitation work for months. During that time, we seldom slept more than four or five hours a night, though I really enjoyed the diversity of work and never felt bored.
 
What has been your greatest professional achievement?

Actually, to single out my greatest professional achievement from so many diverse responsibilities during the 34 years of my journey is really difficult. I think the most memorable one was conducting a fair and peaceful national parliament election in all 13 Upazilas (Sub-district) while working as Deputy Commissioner of Kishoreganj district in 2008-09. Not a single incidence of rigging was reported, and while the Bangladesh Awami League won all six seats, even the the unsuccessful opposition candidates also congratulated me for conducting such a fair election. Two of the elected MPs, Mr. Zillur Rahman and Advocate Abdul Hamid became the President of the Country consecutively. 

During my tenure as Director General of the Local Government Division, project implementation success was nearly 97%, highest at the national level for two consecutive years. My strong personal initiative and team work to monitor the progress of implementation of 275 development projects worth BDT 1.65 lakh crore contributed towards this achievement. Moreover, the quality of implementation and functioning of more than 5000 LGIs has improved. While scrutinizing the projects, we saved billions in government money by pointing out padding and removing redundancies.

In 20 years’ time what single important change would you like to see in Bangladesh?
 
In 20 years, I want to see Bangladesh free from income poverty using digital technology. Vision 2021, Agenda 2030 of the United Nations and Vision 2041 — all these includes development agenda based on a technology and knowledge based society. Innovative solutions to solve problems will enable the government and the people to bring in positive changes in standards of living which should eradicate poverty.
 
In Bangladesh what opportunities exist now for young people that did not exist when you were a student?
 

Bangladesh has more young people than any other country — almost 35 percent of the population are youth. Creating opportunities for them is a big challenge, but the government is very keen to create jobs.
 
What has been Bangladesh’s greatest achievement in terms of social or economic development in the last five years?
 
Economic progress and human development: Bangladesh has made progress on both parameters by investing in infrastructure and people. Furthermore, our GDP increased, our literacy rate is higher and our primacy education enrollment rate is leading.
 
What remarkable innovations have there been in your profession or area of expertise?
 
There’s been a change in mentality of the bureaucrats. After independence, we inherited a colonial civil service which was anti people and ruling class mentality. This colonial legacy continued until there was a shift in the late 1990s. Then the transformation of civil service started and it is becoming more pro-people day by day.
 
What are two of your strengths that have made you effective in your work?
 

My strengths are being hard working and eager to learn. Starting from my high school days, I was always hardworking and believe that there is no shortcut way to success. I have never avoided or missed any scope of learning, and I continue to learn from everyone I come along during my journey. Knowledge and hard work has helped me to be more effective in discharging my responsibilities. 

Who do you look to for career inspiration?
 

Initially, I looked to my Deputy commissioner Mr. A. F. M. Yahia Chowdhury. I was staff Officer to this Deputy commissioner for some time and he instructed me to respond to the people that come by when he was out of office. I followed these instructions, and when I was Deputy commissioner, I gave my staff the same instructions: As public servants, we must listen to and provide for the requested service to whoever comes to us.
 
What advice would give a young professional looking to start a career in your profession or area of work?
 

There are diverse types of work in government, so focus on the area you like and are capable in. Focus and become an expert because very few people need to be a jack of all trades. What type of experts are in demand? Nowadays, government is investing more in development projects and implementation management is a big challenge; there are few experts with the expertise to direct and manage development projects well.

Do you have any other interests?

Gardening! I was born and brought up in the greeneries of a village. From my childhood, I love gardening and throughout my career, I’ve kept plants and created gardens wherever I worked or lived. Flowering and fruit bearing both plants interests me. Observing germination of a seed and growing of plants give me immense pleasure. Just in late March, I planted one papaya tree on my balcony and now it has fruits. Besides this, I like book reading and travelling.