Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is it more important to increase the efficiency of modern public service, or its democratic accountability?

In a perfect world public administration would be considered as a heart of government that has been elected by the people of one country. Beside this, many would like to believe that public servants will always demonstrate the ability to act in accordance with democratic principles while they implement various policies. However, in the real world there are many hurdles and challenges in regard to the achievement of efficiency and the democratic accountability in modern public administration. In my opinion, both values are equally important for the satisfying democratic society and both should be the priority of each individual aiming the career in public sector.
Unfortunately, there are many recurrent evidences of the negative perception of the bureaucracy in the public opinion in everyday life of the citizens. Many observers of public administration have given plenty of examples of how inefficient public administration can be. Mills and Simmons (1995) explained the first impression of the word bureaucracy in a very interesting way:
When the people hear the term bureaucracy, they are likely to think of all the bad experience they have had with the large organizations, especially with the governmental organization [...] the term bureaucracy conjures up terms of red tape – lost files, unanswered letters, forms in triplicate, unsympathetic officials...(page34)
On the other hand, in his view of bureaucracy, Whitaker (2000) presented us very true description of how public and private sectors work and how they differ from each other. According to his (2000) explanation of similarities and differences between both sectors, we can recognize that the inefficiency of public sector, for instance, is due to the problem of measurement of the public service performance. This is much easier to accomplish in the private sector management, because of different methods of measurement - profit return, market share, share value etc. Furthermore, this is not the only reason that explains why it is difficult to organize the public management in most efficient and democratic way. In addition, Brooks (1994) explains other obstacles in achieving efficiency within bureaucracy:
One of them involves the powerful sources of inertia within the bureaucracy. Bureaucrats are like other people in resisting changes that threaten do deprive them of the things which they believe necessary in order to achieve their goals. [...] The demands of efficiency may, for example, clash with expectations that government bureaucracy do only things and spend money in only those ways that have been authorised by the people’s elected representative.
Being aware of the mentioned problems it is not surprising, why there have been made a lot of calls for improvement of the public management over the last century. Bruce Doern (1993), for instance, studied the subject of need of reinvention of public administration management. Doern (1993) brought up the idea of “democratic bargains” which were supposed to return lost confidence of the people in the public service. He (1993) assumes that the range of departments and their composition have to be changed in order to accomplish the efficiency and the democracy. He gives the practical solutions which already have been proven as effective in Britain and other modern democracies. He suggests the things as that the size of government organization has to be under strict control, or quasi-market approach to the service delivery. Small cabinets were also one of his ideas that have been already implemented in modern public service managements. Moreover, in attempt to get government right, Marcel Masse (1997) believes that the government has already taken further steps to set their objectives in reaching the effectiveness due to growing pressure of international business competition, in terms of keeping pace with new technology, increasing level of education in among citizen as well in increasing the transparency of public service. In spite of all attempts to strengthen the efficiency, we still must ask ourselves have all these attempts, measures and objectives really contributed to the overall portrait of responsible government that is not influenced by any party, patronage, partisanship or interest groups. Is the need for greater efficiency of modern public administration the only requirement that has to be fulfilled? I believe that without the ability of people to have right to hold their elected officials on democratic accountability, there is no effective and responsible government, not even the democracy. Furthermore, I doubt that those two values can ever be reconciled, because of continuous influences by different interest groups, that the elected officials experiencing during their careers. Inwood (2008) explores many challenges that public servants, ministers and their deputies facing when they run their departments.
In Inwood’s (2008) examination of the main aspects of the democratic accountability, he explores the ministerial responsibility, accountability of public servants and the role of the Office of the Auditor General. In a term of ministerial responsibility Inwood (2008) claims next:
As you may know, the theory of ministerial responsibility tells us the individual Cabinet ministers are ultimately responsible for all the actions of their departments, and must answer for them when they make a mistake [...] No minister in Canada has ever resigned because of a mistake made directly by a subordinate in his or her ministry, unless the minister has been seen to be personally responsible (page.376)
Inwood (2008) claims that democratic accountability as much complicated as we include the concern that accountability cannot be derived of political and administrative responsibility. The public officials, at all level, have to be constantly scrutinized by the public in terms of their sincerity, responsibility and trust in order to maximize their openness and democratic accountability. He (2008) claims that there have been introduced various measures into public administration in order to enforce the responsibility of various government departments.
At the end, it can be concluded that although there have been made significant improvements in modern public policy in terms of their democratic accountability and the efficiency, we are still aware of how vulnerable those two values are. The patronage, resistance to change or attempts to conceal the information from the public as well the lack of responsibility are still present in the modern public policy. Regardless the fact that the bringing together of both discussed values is very complicated and challenging process, we should not stop considering it as one of the priorities of modern public administration. Moreover, our elected representatives have to continue to encourage the public to have the ability to comment and criticize the work of public servants. In conclusion, Inwood mention the next critical moments:
But remember that the accountability is based in the underlying principle of responsible government. This fundamental democratic premise of the Canadian system of government should derive all attempts at coordinating the actors, institutions, ideas, and formal and informal systems and processes that animate the regime of accountability. Failure to focus on the basic point means that citizen will be ill-served, since both politicians and public servants may be less inclined to pay attention to their assigned and accepted responsibilities and to understand that it does matter. (page.394)

Are we really committed to the human rights principles?

I will try to answer on them in the way I observe this matter. The fact that there is a gap between the promises held out by the human rights laws and the reality ordinary people are facing in this society is due to many interrelated influences.

First reason for the existing gap is the fact that government and many institution that are supposed to protect human rights principles are influenced by thousands of different interest groups that put heavy pressure on institution in order to achieve their goals. One of the most influential groups that are an opponent for total implementation of human rights in everyday life is corporate elite. I believe that the corporate elite is not benefiting from the protection of economic rights and as a consequence of social rights too. If those economic right principles are protected and if each person had equal opportunities to set their own goals in regard of economic destiny, how will big corporation record huge profits? How they are going the benefit from the high taxes for running their business? How they are going to profit if they are supposed to give something back? As a result, the government and the political parties, as we see today, are under heavy pressure in making decisions. As a consequence, the government is downsizing, and I think we may end up with increasing poverty rates, with no protection of basic worker rights or with the difficulties in providing services.

In addition, human rights principles that generation have struggled to accomplish and institutionalize are unfortunately very fragile.Luckily, there are also many groups that are continually monitoring the human rights status, and that are working very hard to point out problems that few politicians give weight to in their election campaign, although those problems are more urgent than any others.

The third reason of the growing gap is more complicated to explain and is somehow related to the human nature. Personally, I believe that many people in the world do not have sense for other people needs or to be more precise, people are aware of the reality, but they don’t do anything to change it. I think that the action is the same as the inaction. If the society is undemocratic and if the human rights are constantly violated, but nevertheless we keep our eyes closed and do not call for change, something most be terribly wrong in the way we are thinking and in the way we treat each other.