Analysing role of bureaucracy

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (January 25, 2010)
The Nation (January 26, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Of late, the role of bureaucracy has come in for great discussion and debate across the world. It is good to see this debate as it involves key issues of governance, policy formulation and policy implementation. Whatever system being followed by the countries, the existence of bureaucracy is a necessary condition to run the affairs of the state. Now it depends on the structure of the government as to what type of role it wants to assign to bureaucracy. There is no denying the fact that bureaucracies are doing good work too within their allotted ambit but then you need to see the difference in the role and orientation of bureaucracy among the developed and developing worlds. Let us look at the role of bureaucracy in both developed and especially developing countries vis-à-vis policy formulation in order to identify why our country has performed so poorly in the delivery of services.

The main function of bureaucracy in any part of the world is to implement the policies of the sitting government with full commitment and devotion. The basic idea behind the formation of bureaucratic structures was to provide 'permanent' government in the sense that the bureaucrats kept running the system of the government for the larger benefit of people as they were and are civil servants. Political executive in the form of politicians could come and go but the bureaucrats stayed on to look after the working of the governments. So their job has never been formulation of policy. They do help political leadership in policy making but never make policies themselves. It is the within the sole domain of the politicians to formulate policies as their mandate stems from their being elected representative of people. It is a pity that the political class has abandoned its role of policy formulation and bureaucrats have taken over this role by filling in the vacuum.

Going by the working of the bureaucratic set-ups, it becomes clear to identify the fact that the pattern of their functioning is often rigid and inflexible. Every thing is to be done in an unimaginative and imitative manner. This rigidity cripples initiatives. That is why bureaucracies are a great hurdle in the way of reform and improvement.

Since bureaucrats are not elected representatives, therefore, they can not be expected to know the public aspirations and sentiments. Thus if they happen to perform the policy-making function, they are very likely to fail as they are not programmed and trained for it.

One of many characteristics of bureaucracy as noted by famous German sociologist Max Weber is the spirit de corps even at the cost of public interest. It has often been observed that when the status quo is challenged, all moral and professional principles are set aside aimed at protection of vested interests. Therefore such a group can not be given a role of policy maker as their interests and those of their targeted class may come in to clash with each other.

In third-world developing countries like Pakistan, bureaucracies are often politicized to the detriment of the operationalisation of the institution. So such a biased and prejudiced institution can not be expected to play an impartial role of policy-making.

In our view, the purpose of policy formulation in larger interests of people of Pakistan will be served if we bring about reforms in our civil services to make them compete with the demand of the changing times. The response of the state structures should be proportional to the enormity of the tasks facing the state systems.

The institutions play the basic role in the policy formulations. They are assigned different tasks. They collect data and information through various sources, analyse it scientifically and professionally and then reach conclusions through this process in a rational manner. After getting feedback, they then revise their results. Thus they come up with the best formulated policy evolved through consensus.

It is a misfortune that our policy making on key issues of state and society has been unstructured, whimsical and highly individualistic. This has cost our country very dearly in almost all walks of national life. Therefore we need to move fast to more organized and institutionalised policy-making.

There are three major pillars of a state mentioned in the constitution namely Parliament, Judiciary and Executive. The function of parliament is law-making. Judiciary is tasked with interpretation of laws and the role of Executive branch of government is to make policies and implement them. Now executive is further divided into two distinct branches with different mandates i.e. political executive and Implementing executive.

The job of political executive is to make policies and the job of government machinery as bureaucracies are also referred to is to implement those polices. In perfect democracies, this is the norm, whereas the case of the third-world countries is different where roles of various branches are overlapping causing confusion and bad governance. Therefore if any effort to reform governance and bring about change in how the country is to be run is to succeed, submission to the constitutional requirements is a must. Our constitution amply provides us the solutions to our national problems, what is required is the willingness and commitment to respect the constitution.

Institutionalisation of policies can only be done if we clearly draw a clear-cut line between arrangements for policy formulation and policy implementation. Failure in this respect is sure to cripple our efforts at reform and improvements. We also need to identify the relevant institutions for that purpose. It is by taking recourse to the ideas of decentralization and delegation that we can succeed against heavy odds.

Here question arises as to why institutions are so important in achieving the above-mentioned aims? The following reasons could be cited in this regard:

  1. The process of institutionalisation is instrumental in achieving efficiency in organizations and processes.
  2. Since institutionalisation emphasizes on separation of powers, therefore every organ or institution is geared to achieve results in time and will observation of transparency.
  3. In institutionalised decision-making, substance not form Is important. So people may come and leave but the process continues. Thus continuity of policies is ensured and it is helpful in delivery of services to the society.
  4. The inclusion of diverse viewpoints into the whole of policy formulation in institutionalised mechanisms gives it a bipartisan touch, which is necessary for fair play and meeting the ends of justice.
  5. By virtue of decentralized activity and its responsibility in institutional policy-making, it is easier to fix problems and conduct accountability.

(The writer is a PhD candidate at an Australian University)