The initiative will contribute to cementing people’s empowerment in the country, according to Department of Social Services
Hello sir, welcome to our office. How are you? Please take a seat.
A hand then stretches out and offers a glass of fruit juice to the visitor.
"Tell me how I can help you," says a low-pitched voice, assuaging the visitor's discomfort and hesitation.
One could interpret this as a regular scene from a five-star hotel or a world-class multinational company. However, dear readers, you might be astonished to see this scenario is now common to all social service offices across the country.
Incredible? Maybe. Because, the Department of the Social Services is rejecting harassment and ill treatment by government offices to introduce its unique welcome juice idea.
Social service offices across the country now receive service seekers with a glass of fruit juice. An officer then listens to their problems and tries to address the issues to the best of their ability.
Initiated a year ago by Gazi Mohammad Nurul Kabir, former director general of the social services department, the initiative aims to end the public's – especially the poor's – fear and hesitation in seeking services from government's social service offices.
He said service seekers are frequently deprived of good behaviour at public offices. As a result, a negative perception of government offices has developed among the public.
"Last year , the idea to change social service offices crossed my mind. I requested all department officials receive service seekers with respect and a glass of juice. My colleagues welcomed my concept and started it across the country," he said.
He further said his idea could be worth following for all other government offices – to restore their public image.
When asked how social service offices manage the expense of implementing this idea, Nurul Kabir said there is no separate budget for this purpose. Every office spends the money from its daily expenses.
"Actually, this does not require a large sum of money. All it requires is a cordial attitude," he added.
Department officials said the welcome juice initiative will contribute to cementing people's empowerment in the country.
Government offices truly belong to the general public because the offices run on its money. And, officers work for the general public, officials added.
The officials believe this unique initiative will help the government offices become pro-public and a place for hassle-free services.
The Business Standard correspondent recently visited different social service offices – in Bhola, Faridpur and Meherpur – and found the individuals gathered in the waiting rooms of the relevant offices. At all the offices, the staff welcomed service seekers with a glass of juice.
The juice was prepared with: water, lemon, sugar, and – sometimes – pineapple and papaya. Staff members made the juice themselves and served it to service seekers.
The public appeared to be happy at the changed behaviour of the officers and staff. People who appeared hesitant, when they entered the offices, left satisfied and confident.
Sixty-year-old Shaheed Ahmed felt speechless after receiving a warm reception and respect at the Faridpur Sadar Social Services Office. He came to the office to seek the government allowance for his disabled child.
"We always hear the people are the source of power. However, I had never felt this at any government office. Today, I am really honoured, and it feels like this is my office," Shaheed recounted. His eyes glittered with delight.
Like Shaheed, 62-year-old Fatema Begum, too, could not believe her ears after hearing a staff member of the Meherpur Sadar Social Service Office offer her juice.
"I thought the juice was brought for some officer or other high-ranking individual. It was unimaginable for me as I had never experienced this at a government office," she said.
ASM Ali Ahsan, the deputy director of the Faridpur Sadar Social Services Office, told The Business Standard, "We are public servants. Our duty is to serve the people irrespective of class.
Most of the service seekers who fear entering a government office are poor. Their concept [about public offices] changes when they come to our office."
"This is a good initiative by the social services department. The whole atmosphere of government offices will change if they apply the idea," former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder told The Business Standard.
"We always speak of changing society with positive activities. The practice of serving welcome juice may play an important role in establishing a good society and fulfilling our dreams," he said.
Professor Dr Salahuddin M Aminuzzaman of Department of Public Administration, Dhaka University, said the concept was revolutionary.
"I think this initiative is the first such instance in the country's administration. It is admirable. The concept inspires a positive change in society," he said.
The entire society will change and benefit from this if the government introduces it [welcome juice] to all of its offices," the professor added.
The Department of Social Services, in fiscal year 2019-20, plans to distribute allowances and stipends among around 80 lakh poor and underprivileged citizens across the country – under various safety net programmes.
The allowance and stipend recipients include: about 44 lakh elderly people, nearly 17 lakh widows, over 15 lakh people on disability, around 1 lakh students on disability, 1 lakh orphans, and 52,600 nomadic Bede people plus hijra –third sex – individuals. Their allowances and stipends range from Tk500 to Tk1,300 per person.