Altering perceptions of



May 22, 2022

Altering perceptions

M Ali Siddiqi discusses the inevitability of bringing about a crucial change of perception

Despite the stronghold of Altering perceptions & deeply entrenched traditional dominant classes, it however, is witnessed that undoubtedly the bureaucratic machinery of the state still matters though with evident weakness. This problematic issue is denoted by immense expansion of the private services sector, especially in banking and finance, telecommunications, legal, health and educational services, media, non- governmental organisations, along with the traditional trading class and those who benefit from the informal economy. What makes the state machinery even weaker is the number of people who may not yet be categorised as emerging middle class on the basis of their income or assets but have middle class aspirations. This may be a result of the bureaucratic machinery being exposed to the middle class lifestyle and values through formal education or migration from rural to urban areas that their perceptions somehow remain static.
Though it is not clearly stated but it is fast being realised that the majority of the population now resides in urban centres. The improved per capita income, consumption behaviour and anecdotal evidence confirms that the resulting urban- educated middle class has disposable income and resources that it can and has invested into political action to shape the redistributive mechanisms of the state in its favour in order to get its piece of the cake from the state and gain political empowerment and social status. The increased political power of this class is manifested in the changing nature of institutions such as the media and judiciary, which both largely represent and respond to the needs of this class. The NGOs, trade associations, professional associations also represent this class. This phenomenon has decisively reduced the efficacy of the state apparatus as they have lost their crucial ability to end up as the final arbitrators.
The current spate of political upheaval is in a way reflecting the enormous gap of perceptions between people and the official machinery of the state. Government today is a large-scale administrative job requiring experts to operate it. It is also becoming manifest that unless the electorate is given the opportunity to change the key experts as well as the politicians, elections will lose much of their significance and the governments coming thereof will face reduced powers to manage bureaucracy. This problem will become more and more significant as efforts are made to increase the economic and social welfare role of the state in which a weakened political dispensation will try to implement development schemes through weak machinery. Ideally, even a weak dispensation may be propped up by a strong administrative setup but a weak governmental apparatus may not be able to support it in turn.
There is no simple solution to the dilemma of keeping government administration efficient as well as responsive to the will of the electorate. The increase in the power, function and sheer size of modern government necessitates the existence and sustenance of bureaucracy. It is utopian to think that the electorate’s dismissal of the inexpert politician, who formally heads the bureaucracy, will by itself change the course of bureaucratic-activities. In this context the question that never loses its importance is that who controls the existing bureaucratic machinery and such control is possible only in a very technical specialists. Generally speaking, the trained permanent official is more likely to get his way in the long run than his nominal supervisor, the cabinet minister, who is not a specialist.
In wake of the modern approaches to altering perceptions of bureaucracy is that for the most part they have not raised questions about the social origins and the relationship of such factors to government policy. It is possible that the expert’s blindness to the sources of civil service biases may be related to their own identification with the government administrator and their disinclination to accept the fact that the behaviour of their own group is determined by personal prejudices. This factor would well be discernible when a civil servant presents the data to his minister with the aim to carry out the policy of the government in power and then reverses his policy when new government comes into office and this factor in Pakistani context plays a disastrous role in governance. This factor becomes crucial when it is applied mainly in terms of struggles among interest groups and political parties in which the bureaucracy is supposedly a passive and neutral factor.
With improved understanding and changing perspective, however, it is deduced that the government bureaucracy does play a significant role in determining policy but still it leaves the bureaucrat in a social vacuum as he did recognise that he plays an active role but the determinants of that role are analysed purely on the bureaucratic level. The bureaucrat’s actions are analysed on the basis of the goals of the civil service-self-preservation and efficiency. These interests may be defined in terms of prestige and privilege, preservation of patterns of organisation or relationships within a department, or maintenance of department traditions and policies.
There is little recognition that the behaviour of government bureaucrats varies with the non-governmental social background and interest of those controlling the bureaucratic structure. Members of a civil service are also members of other governmental social groups and classes. Social pressures from many different group affiliations and loyalties determine individual behaviour in most groups in a given situation cannot be considered as if the individual or group members had no other life outside the given situation one is analysing.
In this backdrop change of party in government, however, does not usually require a civil servant to make any major adjustments and the functions of departments and of government as a whole remain fairly constant. It is required to be kept in view that changing the perceptions of bureaucracy become vital as it does make a difference to society in which a set of bureaucrats controls its destiny. In this context it is suggested that there is need to develop a bureaucratic social structure in order to operate efficiently. This still leaves a large area of indeterminate social action for a bureaucratically organised society as a definite theory of bureaucratic behaviour neglects the implication of an alternative pattern of bureaucratic response.
There is hardly any doubt that permanent non-political officials are required to insure continuity of government regulation and practices and made for stable relations with the state, regardless of shifts in party fortunes. This idea of merit civil service is now steadily challenged in Pakistan simply because as long as party politics remained contests between groups who accepted the basic orientation and activities of the state and the society, the bureaucratic perception cannot remain static. It is therefore imperative that the bureaucratic machinery starts altering in deeply-held beliefs and aim for creating more bureaucratic structures for effective decentralisation of administrative system and to facilitate devolution and efficiency of government as well as better representation of the people in governance.
Bureaucracy is required to view the challenges from within the ambit of governance and try to separate their functional thought process from political considerations. It is certainly easier said than done but there is probably not much space left to justify the existing perception prevailing within the bureaucratic setup of the country. This change is virtually mandatory as there is no alternative to bureaucratic machinery in the state and a desired change of perception within it is as crucial as its very existence. TW

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M Ali Siddiqi is a writer who contributes to leading periodicals


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