How the Secretariat runs on ‘limited scale’ in pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only had an unprecedented impact on people’s lives but also changed the way offices are run. Operating on a 'limited scale', the Secretariat is no different.

While some ministries and divisions have a relaxed schedule, others face an increased workload.

A corridor is seen empty which is unlikely to be the case during regular office time. Photo: Shahidul Islam

No more than 25 percent of the employees are attending the ministry offices at a time. Although the attendance is low, tasks that are important for the public interest are not left undone, according to the officials.

On Sunday, found one or two people working in the office rooms instead of the usual five. Some of the rooms were locked.

Some of the ministries, including the Ministry of Labour and Employment, have set up a disinfectant tunnel at the entrances. Photo: Shahidul Islam

Some ministries have set up disinfectant tunnels at the entrances while some have hand-washing facilities. Disinfectant mats can also be seen in some of the ministries.

Officials kept hand sanitizers in some of the rooms while the lift buttons were sprayed with disinfectants.

One must walk through a disinfectant tunnel to enter some ministries. Photo: Shahidul Islam

Some officials have hung a notice in front of their rooms, urging others not to enter unless it's absolutely necessary, using a rope to mark the border. As the work is progressing slowly in the present circumstances, some ministries took up refurbishment and infrastructural repair work.

Among the 58 ministries and departments of the government, 17, including the president’s office, prime minister’s office, armed forces department, defence ministry and foreign ministry, have their offices outside the Secretariat. The rest have their offices inside the building.

A disinfectant tunnel is set up at the entrance to the Health Ministry. Photo: Shahidul Islam

The government allowed offices and other workplaces to continue operating on a limited scale on May 31, following 66 days of lockdown amid a worsening coronavirus epidemic. The ministries overseeing emergency works had been operating on a limited scale during the lockdown.

Offices and workplaces will run at a reduced capacity until Aug 6. The Cabinet Division will later issue an order on the next move.

"As the offices are operated on a limited scale, it has reduced the workload to a certain extent," said Public Administration Secretary Sheikh Yusuf Harun.

Some ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture, are rolled out disinfectant mats at the entrances. Photo: Shahidul Islam

“Some ministries have less work while others, especially the Health Ministry and Public Administration Ministry, have more tasks at hand. Those working on foreign communication don’t have much to do now, but the Foreign Ministry has seen an uptick in their overall workload,” he added.

As per the government orders, office attendance is limited to 25 percent of staffers. Older employees along with expecting women are also from attending offices.

“But tasks important for the public interest can’t be left undone. Government employees are accountable for those.”

Lift buttons are sprayed with disinfectant. Photo: Shahidul Islam

It is becoming hard to run the ministries with a limited number of employees, according to the public administration secretary.

Offices can be operated with 25 percent of its employees, believes Soltan Ahmad, additional secretary of the Cabinet Division. “We’re working in full swing. The workload is heavier than before. Senior officers are attending office regularly,” he told

“Other officers are asked not to come if they can complete their work online from home. This is how we’re managing.”

A Dhaka city corporation staffer is spraying disinfectant on the walkways inside the secretariat. Photo: Shahidul Islam

As the Cabinet Division coordinates the local administration, it has more work during the COVID-19 epidemic, the additional secretary said.

Most of the officials in the health ministry were busy at work.

“We’re going through a tough time. The workload has surged like never before. We are working whenever it is needed; be it day or night,” said an official in the ministry.

Some officials have kept hand sanitisers in front of their rooms. Photo: Shahidul Islam

The education ministry has created a work routine for the sub-divisions. The heads of the offices were asked to prepare a duty roster for the second, third and fourth-grade employees.

The Cabinet Division along with the ministries of health and public administration are working more than before, according to the officials.

Some of the rooms in the Secretariat are locked as employees are only attending work in accordance with the roster. Photo: Shahidul Islam

Also, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief is busy distributing aid among those who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic and the recent floods. The ministries of food and agriculture have also seen their workload grow, officials said.

Although it did not have much to do in the past, the Ministry of Textiles and Jute now has its work cut out after the government decided to close down all state-owned jute mills and send almost 25,000 workers into early retirement.

Some of the ministries are taking advantage of the reduced workload to carry out refurbishment work. Photo: Shahidul Islam

“Our workload hasn't reduced but there’s a change in the way we work,” said Farida Parveen, additional secretary to the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.

“Most of the work is done virtually now, whereas earlier we used to go to the Secretariat to get things done,” she added.

Car parking has become easier inside the Secretariat as attendance has been limited to 25 percent of employees in each office. Photo: Shahidul Islam

“Many of the ministries have no work on its hands but they won't admit it. Some of the officials have to attend their offices and then try to show that they have work to be done. In reality, there’s nothing of the sort,” said an official, asking to remain anonymous.

As of now, six secretaries have been infected with the novel coronavirus during the limited-scale operation of offices aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.