Book Reviews

Revitalizing the State

A hundred and fifty years and more have passed since the emphatic prophecy that the state would wither away. And in the last decade of this millennium, the state appears to have staged an astounding recovery to appear more pervasive than ever. Conscious of this, governments in England, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have embarked upon ambitious projects for redesigning the apparatus in order to provide citizen-friendly governance. Professor Khandwalla's study seeks to examine such attempts all over the world, draw lessons from their experiences and then examine what options are feasible for providing the world's largest democracy with a new face to greet the next millennium.

Khandwalla's survey begins with presenting evidence of the steadily increasing presence of the state, even in the supposedly anti-bureaucracy America. He then proceeds to study how differ'ent countries have sought to recharge the official bureaucracy, supplementing this with a three-pronged strategy: fragmenting the state for innovation, slimming the state for effectiveness, and, finally, reinventing the democratic state. The study is of great interest because, at long last, here is a professor of organizational behavior cour'ageous enough to cross thelakshman-rekha of his discipline and dare to explore the incredibly tangled skein of paraphernalia shrouding the mystery of the state.

Against the endemic criticism that the Indian state is bloated, let us arrange some facts Khandwalla provides: the American government employs 18 million personnel, which is also the number in India. The Indian central government employs five million of these, the same number as in the UK, while USA federal employees number four million. The criticism about unnecessary padding of government employment because of mistaken welfare state conceptions does not stand scrutiny when we note that where American government employs 8.1 percent of its population, India's fig'ure is only 2.4 per cent. Most interesting is the fact that it is the developed nations whose states are much larger (about 10 per cent of the population) than developing countries (about 4.5 per cent). It is revealing that, as far as the central government is concerned, in both types of countries there is hardly much difference (around 3 per cent of population). The real difference lies in the employment in state and local governments. While in developed countries the average is 6 per cent of the population, in the other category it is only about 1.5 per cent. Moreover, in the former category 66 per cent of public employees are linked to education, health and postal services, whereas this is 44 per cent in the latter. On the other hand, in developing states, employees working in administration, defence and internal security account for 44 per cent of the total employees, while this is only 27 per cent in developed coun'tries. Further, in the former state, employment is much higher for those not involved in agricul'tural occupations than in the latter (72 per cent in India versus 20 per cent in the USA).

From these data Khandwalla draws two important conclusions: as economies develop the state gets progressively decentralized regionally, and its emphasis shifts away from law and order to enhancing the quality of life; and across-the-board advice to cut down the size of the bureaucracy in poorer countries will not meet with popular support. The growth rate of public employment in the late seventies was around 6 per cent annually for developing nations (15 per cent in Zaire) against 2 per cent for developed countries (-1 per cent in Canada!). All this, of course, is a natural corollary of the his'torical situation, the developing nations being fledgling states deeply concerned with survival and providing employment to those without land. Hence, strategies for re-engineering will succeed only if they avoid harping on reducing the num'bers in public employment and concentrate in'stead on redirecting employment from security concerns to human development and the industrial sector.

Not only has the state not withered away, it has actually manifested in four different avatars in this century: (a) the interventionist welfare state after the Second World War (state spending rising between 25 and 50 times of the 1900 level by 1995 to maintain the quality of life through a battery of interventions in industrial and welfare sectors); the business or reinvented state of the eight'ies (bringing PERT-CPM and TQM concepts into governmental functioning simultaneously with deregulation drives and a mission approach that is customer-driven instead of bureaucracy-directed); the developmental state in poor countries where over-regulation and corruption led them into a debt trap; and (d) this is succeeded by the market-friendly but humane state imposed by the World Bank-IMF as a precondition to bailing them out of economic crises with mixed results, including further pauperization and a negative growth rate. This experience calls in question the role of international funding agencies in pushing the model of the Western good state irrespective of the local ethos.

It is heartening to find Khandwalla spotting the core of the problem that has impeded all attempts to revive the state in the poorer countries: since state action is implemented through the bureau'cracy, energizing this is as essential as revitaliz'ing the polity itself. Unless the existing 'soft state' can be facilitated to transform itself into a resili'ent nation that extracts accountability from its political and administrative executive, no amount of financial fiddling is going to bring about the desired change.

To this end, he studies success and failure stories from all over the world. The Malaysian success was based upon an Excellent Work Culture Move'ment launched in 1989, stressing fundamental values of public service: quality of service, pro'ductivity, innovation, discipline, integrity, account'ability, customer orientation and professionalism. It is truly an eye-opener to find that morning prayers were stressed as a productivity enhancing technique side by side with a host of awards for recognizing excellence in public service. On the other hand, the British experiment is dubious in its success as there is no information regarding the impact of productivity orientation on concern for the socially deprived and on the traditional values of the civil service, such as tendering advice without fear and favor. What is of im'mense interest is the Canadian experiment, Public Service 2000, which was wholly driven by the bureaucracy itself, One major area addressed in this for bringing about the change was training on learning how to learn continuously, and training on ethics, management of cultural diversity and people-related skills. These are precisely the areas in which the bureaucracy is most deficient all over the world. Canada remains a sterling in'stance of how bureaucracy can become a self-correcting mechanism and transform from a necessary evil into a positive force for social good, given a congenial political environment. However, the World Bank does not put this instance forward in its interventions, nor do Third World countries have access to details of the process. That is why Khandwalla's book is an important contribution in the area of public administration. Of course, the question of how to bring about the necessary political change will remain unan'swered. Back in the early seventies while sub'mitting his report on land reforms, Mr P.S. Appu, one of the most outstanding civil servants to serve India, had uncompromisingly stated that the basic reason for the failure of land reforms in India was the lack of political will. That remains an indelible blot on the Indian landscape even at the end of this millennium.

One of the most important contributions of management to the field of public administration has been the application of the corporate model to fragment the state into semi-autonomous or autonomous bodies stressing innovation and 'exnovation' (purging of unsuitable or irrelevant practices) to provide better services and higher productivity. In New Zealand, for instance, sev'eral departments were converted into state enter'prises, as also in England (the passport office) and Canada (the postal system and departments of statistics and printing). The danger, as seen in Brazil, is that unless there is a shared vision of social justice or economic growth simultaneously with capacity-building, this may result in a spoils system. Therefore, the market is not the mantra without the balancing factor of public interest for ensuring which the presence of state needs must loom large. Khandwalla's studies of privatization in these countries, as also Jamaica, Australia, Sri Lanka and Guyana, also reveal that this is not inherently superior as a form of ownership but when chosen as an option it remains vital to safeguard public interest side by side with ensuring autonomy to a high quality new management.

Along with this is the practice of devolution of powers to local organizations for items such as licenses, certifications and even adjudication (in India alone over six million cases are languishing in courts)-and extensive deregulation. The present Indian government is still shying away from giving a decent burial to a host of laws that have been found to be utterly irrelevant by a commission set up specifically for that purpose. Between the stated purpose of citizen-friendly governance and reality falls, as ever, the shadow.

Is it not sad that at the end of the first millennium of this era India should have finally got around to reinventing the democratic state simply by going back to the future? Khandwalla reminds us that it was around 1000 bc that the institutions of sabha and samiti came into existence for arriving at community decisions in a body through consensus. It took our politicians more than 40 years to provide the panchayat and municipal bodies constitutional status. Even today, most state governments have not transferred powers to them, as is typical of a 'soft state'. How then can any slimming of the state and the true reinvention of the democratic state come about?

Khandwalla refers to Arend Lipjhart's four-fold typology of political behavior in democracies based upon the behavior of the political elite (adversarial or cooperative) and the nature of so'ciety (pluralistic or homogenous) that warrants attention. When relations between political parties are cooperative and society is homogenous, the democracy is depoliticized (for example, Japan of the fifties and the sixties). When relations are adversarial and society is pluralistic, it is centri'fugal (for example, Italy). When adversarial poli'tically but homogeneous socially, it is centripetal (for example, USA). Finally, it is a consociation when political elites cooperate in a pluralistic society, as in Lebanon in the fifties when Muslim and Christian sects shared power in a coalition government. Where does India fit in?

The book ends with options presented for revamping the political system: fairer representation by changing to a proportional system which will obviate the demand for minority quotas; pro'viding for better electoral candidates by making public political service economically feasible for the honest and the competent, and recognizing that legislative work is as demanding as any medical or legal practice; training politicians in the art (instead of the craft, too much of which is in evidence) of governance and the science of decision making, and even instituting a sort of diploma without which no candidate would be eligible to contest elections; state funding for political parties to cover establishment costs; and stability by hav'ing a consensual government or even a ministry of professionals appointed on contract for a fixed period, with the prime minister entering into memoranda of understanding with the ministers on tasks to be performed and goals to be achieved, and de-linking cabinet Ministership from legislative membership (this would delink the motivation to use elections for personal gain as a minister).

The core issue, however, remains in the very nature of the Indian state. After Rajiv Gandhi made the first attempt to introduce management techniques to instill some toughness into governance, subsequent governments promptly fell back into the pristine rut. Conclusive evidence of its persistent softness was revealed when it swiftly implemented the recent Fifth Pay Commission recommendations for steep increase in salaries and perquisites of government employees (including the astonishing provision of both husband and wife drawing 30 per cent of their salaries for staying in the same self-owned house, and the pay'ment of bonus to postal and railway employees for non-performance), but did not implement the recommendations for freezing vacant posts, slashing holidays, fixing productivity norms and ensuring accountability.

I deliberately refrain from analyzing the 'menu of options' that Khandwalla offers for revitaliz'ing India's bureaucracy, particularly his analysis of what to do about the cancer of corruption, and whether the Indian model can be extended to others. The book should be read for cogitating on how to put together a meal that is masticable and not a Barmecide's Feast.

The entire matter boils down to a central con'ern: the prerequisite of a firm and sound system of nationally accepted values indigenous to the country upon which the revitalization of the state can be based and around which the strategy for reforming the polity can be structured. The Bible sums up in a striking eidetic image of the contro'versy over accountability and a code of conduct for those who govern: 'A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid... Let your light so shine before men, that they may sec your good works.'

We are reminded of Rome's reduced resistance to external aggression. At least some obvious similarities with the Indian situation-particularly in the context of the continuing Pakistani intrusion and the violent onslaughts of terrorist groups in the north-east will, one hopes, cause some discomfort, if not of alarm. This should prompt a serious examination of Khandwalla's valuable study for drawing up a strategy for revitalizing the Indian state. The three arms of the Indian state ' legislature, executive and judiciary ' are indeed the salt of the earth. 'But,' says the Bible, 'if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.'


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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