The World’s Most Inappropriate Government Agencies
Five offices that should consider updating their image.
The Backward Classes Bureau
What they do: Provide welfare services for and represent the interests of poor Indians. Approximately 50 percent of the world’s second most populous country are members of “backward classes,” a rather blunt designation for lower-caste Hindus and other disadvantaged religious and ethnic communities.
The National Commission for Backward Classes (a separate body from the bureau) maintains an extensive list of criteria for what are known as “other backward classes” (OBCs) — meaning that, frequently, new groups gain or old groups lose the designation.
A key indicator of backwardness is the type of job generally held by members of the given caste/class. Generally, Indians involved in agriculture or traditional craft making, with little parliamentary representation, or of low education or economic status, qualify for OBC designation.
The practice of having an agency for backward-class affairs was written into the 1949 Indian Constitution, and the first commission was created in 1953. In India’s 28 states, there are literally hundreds of groups that are classified as OBCs. Backward classes are reserved 27 percent of university placements, an extremely valuable commodity in modern India. Few will disagree with the principles behind the work the bureau is performing, but a name change is definitely in order.
What they do: What the KGB does best. Belarus remains an outlier of Soviet-style authoritarianism in Eastern Europe, and its longtime leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, is commonly known as “Europe’s last dictator.”
Lending credence to that claim is the fact that Belarus has never bothered to change the name of its State Security Committee, or KGB. Russia at least had the sense to change its notorious spy agency’s name to the more anodyne Federal Security Service, but Minsk apparently prefers the naked truth to Orwellian doublespeak.
The Belarusian KGB touts itself as a jack-of-all trades intelligence agency: Its website lists counterintelligence, foreign intelligence, crime prevention (including terrorism), governmental operations security, and international law enforcement cooperation. The KGB also claims to have excellent relations with Interpol.
It seems, however, that the KGB is not quite up to par with the brutality of its Soviet predecessor. After anti-government activist Andrey Kuzminsky displayed the banned national flag favored by the opposition in a protest, agents descended on his house for interrogation — but left him with a mere warning. Lest it seems the KGB isn’t all that bad, though, the bureau regularly raids media outlets and bans what it deems “extremist materials.” The State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report accuses the KGB of beating detainees, gross privacy abuses, whitewashing anti-Semitic crimes and materials, interfering with NGO activities, and a whole host of other human rights violations.
Central Propaganda Department
What they do: Enforce proper thinking. The ruling Communist Party greatly fears a potential free flow of information to its populace and has created a massive network of censorship to avoid such a possibility. State propaganda is an integral aspect of most authoritarian governments — and a good number of democratic ones for that matter — but rarely is the agency behind these efforts so transparent about its intentions.
Interestingly, the department is not officially part of the Chinese government, and is given no legal authority to enforce media censorship — but according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, it still screens content to ensure that “anything that is inconsistent with the Communist Party’s political dogma” never sees the light of day and works closely with state authorities tasked with restricting information.
The department’s main strategy to restrict content is the encouragement of self-censorship among Chinese journalists. News outlets are expected to take their cues on what constitutes acceptable reporting, and what the party wants reported, through comments made by party officials. Furthermore, editors are forced to attend “indoctrination sessions.” The department also handles “red tourism,” a package of the most important sites in China, as perceived by the party, for visitors to see and maintains China’s version of Civil War battlefield sites, the party’s “patriotic education” bases.
Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice
Country: Saudi Arabia
What they do: Enforce a strict interpretation of sharia. The committee is tasked with enforcing the Saudi state’s hard-line interpretation of religious law, looking to punish those guilty of actions deemed “un-Islamic.”
The mutaween (religious police), charged with carrying out the dictates of the committee are all too eager to crack down on homosexuals, interaction between single men and women, and Saudis straying from Islam’s dietary restrictions, or regulate anything else they so desire. On the committee’s official government website, some of the most recent queries dealt with whether Muslims are allowed to participate in April Fools Day, whether watching sitcoms is acceptable, or if Saudis can use mobile-phone ring tones (no, no, and no, respectively).
The committee became internationally infamous for causing the deaths of 15 schoolgirls, killed in a 2002 fire. The girls weren’t allowed out of the building because they weren’t wearing proper Islamic dress — some were beaten as they tried to escape the flames. In early April, the committee had sentenced a Lebanese “sorcerer” to death, but he was granted a stay of execution at the last moment. Despite the propagation of vice and virtue committees elsewhere, such as in Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip, the powers of the Saudi agency have been scaled back in the last few years: the mutaween are no longer able to interrogate those suspected of un-Islamic behavior, and they lost their carte blanche legal authority due to outcry over the death of two Saudis in their custody.
Ministry of Lands, Land Reform, and Rural Resettlement
What they do: Ruin the economy of a once-promising country. Upon gaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe appeared to be an African success story, with a burgeoning agricultural sector and modest economic growth. Today, agricultural production has plummeted, making the former grain exporter heavily dependent on food aid.
Much of the current disaster has to do with President Robert Mugabe’s disastrous land reform and redistributive policies. The ministry’s website claims the program “revolves around land reform where the systematic dispossession and alienation of the land from the black indigenous people during the period of colonial rule, are adequately addressed.” The ministry also promises to “enhance agricultural productivity, leading to industrial and economic empowerment and macro economic growth in the long term.” Reality tells a different story. Inflation levels were reported as high as 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent before the country encouraged the use of foreign currencies in 2009. Unemployment levels are as high as 80 percent. Agricultural production since land reform began has fallen by more than half and approximately 1 million refugees have flooded neighboring South Africa in the last few year
Veterans of the Zimbabwean wars of independence (Mugabe was a major figure in the struggle) against the white-dominated regime in then-Rhodesia were encouraged to seize commercially white-owned farms by force. Around 4,000 white farmers have had their land expropriated and redistributed in the last 10 years. Promises of state assistance for the new farmers have not been kept, decimating Zimbabwe’s agricultural production and turning this once breadbasket into a basketcase.