It is usually argued that the public sector cannot perform CSR activities but Qatari public administration’s success in doing CSR may have a wider relevance for Bangladesh
The world has come up with many terminologies and concepts, such as corporate social responsibility and governance in the process of serving humanity's most pressing needs as well as addressing social problems effectively. The term "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)" was officially coined by Howard Bowen in 1953. CSR concerns the whole gamut of philanthropic activities by business organisations with the aim of serving humanity. On the other hand, the term "Good Governance" was first used by the World Bank (WB) in 1989. As applied to the public sector organisations, good governance essentially is accountable and audited public service which has the capacity to design and implement appropriate policies for the welfare of the society.
It is conventionally argued that governments, more precisely, the public administration sector cannot do CSR activities as it is primarily the concern and mandate of the private corporate sector. In striking contrast, however, several globally reputed theorists – notably Andrew Crane, Dirk Matten, and Laura Spence – argued that a growing body of public sector organisations has lately been adopting CSR policies, practices, and tools that are quite similar to that of the private sector.
Here we attempt to explore the CSR activities designed and performed by public administration, and propose to call the phenomenon "Public Administration's Social Responsibility (PASR)." We pursue and unravel PASR by drawing on some examples from the State of Qatar that may have wider relevance for Bangladesh.
Migrants constitute more than 80 percent of Qatar's total population and 94 percent of its labour force; the ratio is supposed to be the highest globally. We opt to highlight some CSR activities in the public sector in Qatar by illustrating the concept 'PASR'. Apart from Qatari citizens, these activities appeared as being immensely useful in serving the migrants' most pressing needs.
Qatar has set out a strategic vision targeting the year 2030, called Qatar National Vision (QNV). The vision aims at building an advanced society capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living. Among the four pillars of QNV, under the purview of the human development pillar, Qatar's health policy intends to promote better health, better care, and better value for all. Its health care is dominated primarily by the public sector. The country is spending nearly 4 percent of GDP on health, which is reportedly the highest in the Gulf region. The main health service providers are Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Primary Health Care Service (PHCC). While the HMC charges a minimum fee for visiting the doctors, the PHCC provides this health service free of charge. In the usual situation, health service recipients are required to pay only 20 percent of the total costs of services (medicine, medical examinations, and doctor's visiting charges in HMC). By providing 80 percent waiver in medical services, Qatar has been able to set an example of giving world-class care at an affordable price.
Our observation shows that some patients suffering from deadly diseases such as cancer from different nationalities got treatment; and some are currently under treatment on a gratis basis. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the country provided treatment to all people irrespective of both nationality and immigration status. Interviews with the first-named author reveal that patients have been highly satisfied with food, accommodation, and treatment which required Qatar to invest a huge amount of money. One Bangladeshi doctor mentioned that she was given quarantine in a five-star hotel while she was diagnosed covid-19 positive. By considering every soul invaluable, Qatar did not hesitate to provide world-class treatment to the migrant workers.
Qatar has set examples of providing long-term treatment in the HMC with minimum cost. For example, HMC has been taking care of one critical patient since 2019. Although, the family of the patient pays a small amount, the actual cost is much higher than the paid amount. In order to reduce the pressure of such cases, Qatar has come up with innovative ideas that would allow patients to take the same treatment in the house. Patients who need long-term treatment will be discharged from the hospital after a certain period and nurses will be employed to take care of the patient in their home.
The above cases illustrate that Qatar has put social profit maximisation at the core of its business. This is a key feature of the higher form of CSR activities and serving humanity. Secondly, corporate engagement in CSR typically contributes to enhancing the image and brand name of the companies. In line with these characteristics of CSR, the aforementioned services have earned a degree of popularity and reputation for the country from home and abroad. Put differently, both the private corporate sector and public administration have some intentions to provide social benefits.
Qatar has also created a fund called the Workers' Support and Insurance Fund to pay the workers unpaid wages in cases where the company is banned or blocked due to illegal activity or the employer is out of business. The fund is devoted to maximising social benefit. In the case of CSR, companies earn profits from the key stakeholder-the customers and spend some portion for social causes. The fund has also been created mainly with income earned from different types of fees given by the workers.
In sum, the conventional mandate of public administration is to implement public policies of a government. In pursuit of a wider vision and cause of serving humanity, the public administration sector seems to have expanded beyond its myopic traditional limits. The examples of socially responsive activities carried out by the public administration of Qatar touch and traverse the domain of wider humanitarianism and CSR.
It is worth noting here that unflinching political will and support from the top leadership are important for PASR to succeed. His Highness, the Emir of the State of Qatar-has accorded systematic guidance and custodianship to all these welfare policies and programmes, which helped the country to wade through the difficult time and pursue the long-range Vision 2030.
Dr Muhammad Mustafizur Rahaman is currently Counsellor (Labour) at the Embassy of the People's Republic of Bangladesh to the State of Qatar. He was an International Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) at Kyoto University, Japan (2014-2016).
Niaz Ahmed Khan, Ph.D. is a Professor and former Chairman, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. He was also Senior Academic Advisor of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development and National Defense College.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.