The landscape of public administration has rapidly evolved from the Weberian statist model over the last three decades. The functionally uniform and hierarchical organization that projected state’s power despite the form of the government of the day is being replaced by networked and inter-connected multi-organizations with competing and sometimes over-lapping spheres of government, political parties, associations and civil society.
The early 1980s saw the adoption of more corporate governance like New Public Management (NPM), especially in the Eastern Asia, which was credited with the growth miracle of these economies. However, the 1997 Asian economic crisis forced re-evaluations of the overall governance framework, just when the good governanceas a politically loaded terminology, which called for a holistic re-organization of the state, was beginning to take off. Although both NPM and good governance has been wholly adopted by many of the developed economies over the years, the administrative reforms have generally been path-dependent to a particular country’s past experiences and history.
In the developing countries, however, the public management changes have been rather mimetic, especially as it is promoted by multi-lateral organizations. The rationale for NPM as a critique of traditional bureaucratic model of public administration as exemplified by sclerotic yet invasive and over-extended state or a captive state has been widely advanced. Over the years, the NPM has evolved from a delivery oriented purely management agenda to include anything from capacity building, corruption control, political decentralization to public empowerment making it indistinguishable from the governance reform.
However, taking cue from the growth tigers of East Asian economies, it has largely been a state driven administrative changes conscious of rapid state-building imperatives within the larger strategic imperatives of state strengthening as exemplified by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
Most Asian states emerged from colonial rule, military rule or one-party authoritarianism, which has imparted a strong legacy of bureaucratic over-bearance. This has led to a paternalistic and highly centralized culture of public administration. As such, the public administration reform largely entails a process of “de-bureaucratization” to enhance institutional competency.
However, in fragile and failing states it may even entail an advance, albeit more efficient “re-bureaucratization”.
Compared to the old, the new administrative focus lay in effecting and imparting organizational behavioral change that transcends the public-private interface where whole range of entities from the state (as represented by government and the public administration) to the civic organizations and the market intersect. More than a mere public welfare, this entails policy steering that leads to network of different organizations in seeking to change client behavior– in terms of both participation and benefits.
Despite the obvious rationale for administrative reform, the cultural hurdles to reform, especially from the political sphere is tautological. While the legalistic approach would neatly clarify the relationship between the politicians, especially elected policy-makers and executives, de jure as articulated constitutionally; the public administration itself would take a more de facto approach as to the extent the political influence it is imparted on akin to scalar modulation as per vectors of politics.
Political definition, however, would be in terms of legitimacy: deployment of public administration for ensuring application of policy objectives of the government of the day. Trumping all these approaches that has become ascendant contemporarily is the economic approach, which defines the public administration’s relationship with politics purely in terms of efficiency and better public management within the holistic gamut of good governance.
However, the civil service itself, rather than a monolithic structure –gives an appearance of; is a collection of different operational units that may vary significantly from one policy sector to the other. Thus, the relationship between politicians-civil service varies across the policy streams – not to mention the variations in dominant political ideology or particular political party or politicians in power. The circumscribed dirigisme in vogue where the state is rolled back from greater public sphere rounded out by the imperatives of globalizations and macro-economic liberalization has triangulated a challenging scenario for
politicians-public administration relationship; where, the political imperatives calls for a greater delivery
of expansive policy objectives while at the same
time contemporary economic and policy frameworks calls for de-regulating or streamlined (re)regulation of public policy.
As such, despite the need for coalition formation, networking and indeed log-rolling, between the politicians and public administration; the relationship is fraught with inherent tensions that is in constant process of re-alignment and re-calibrations, especially in fragile and post-conflict states.