All of us have some knowledge of what politics is because of either our observation of it and/or our participation in it. Some of us have knowledge of the bureaucracy and invariably, a negative view of it as something that impedes and/or delays accomplishment of policy objectives. In brief, most persons have a concept of bureaucracy as being “red tape” that hinders progress and is an unnecessary restraint for both politicians and their constituents.
Let us look at some definitions. Among the definitions offered by the Oxford Dictionary for politics are, “the science and art of governing a country” and “manoeuvring for political power within a group”. Another definition could be simply “a struggle between groups in a society to attain, retain, maintain and sustain power and authority in a country such that the victorious group has the dominant control over the affairs of the state for a period of time”. The Oxford Dictionary also defines “bureaucracy” as “a central administrative group, especially one not accountable to the public”. It is also characterized as “excessive official routine”.
Thus we can see politics as the way to achieving policy outcomes by way of the successful implementation of programmes and projects through which the lives of the vast majority of the people are improved in economic, political, social and cultural dimensions. On the other hand, we may regard bureaucracy that seemingly acts as a brake on the accomplishments of these worthy goals. However, let us look a little deeper into this issue.
We have observed that given its nature as the administrative arm of organizations, the purpose of any bureaucracy is to provide the structural and orderly context as well as the operating mechanisms and processes through which these entities function, be they private or public. Therefore, a feature of all bureaucracies is the promulgation of rules and regulations for the disciplined conduct of the organization’s business in accordance with differing situations and circumstances. As such, bureaucracies may be viewed as offering positive support that mitigates against confusion and chaos within organizations and/or by organizations in their interface with the external world.
In terms of the management of political parties, each one of them, like any other organization develops a bureaucracy of some type through which to operate. Consequently, each party, whether it be a seasoned seventy-nine year old party like the Peoples National Party, or a young party like the fourteen month old party En Marche!, the party of the new French President, Emmanuel Marcon, has developed a bureaucracy to facilitate the orderly conduct of its business. Additionally, these parties have developed clearly defined rules, usually embodied in a Constitution, that specify how various processes such as the nomination and selection of candidates to compete in elections at all levels take place. These rules also have clearly established procedures for the admission of new members and the termination of membership of persons deemed to have breached the conditions of membership in any shape or form.
Thus, there is an administrative bureaucratic structure which defines and protects the policies and procedures by which party business is conducted by and through operatives at all levels of the party. There is also a political bureaucracy within political parties that determines and implements policies and practices regarding the selection and removal of party leaders at all levels, the rules for the establishment and functioning of the base organizations called branches or groups, and the norms governing the relationship of the party with its political opponents, its financial backers and its detractors. The political bureaucracy is also charged with the prevention of schisms within the party by ensuring that differences within the party do not become widespread and deep enough that they may lead to significant alienation by large sections of the party and eventually to the separation of some persons from the party. In brief, the political bureaucracy is meant to preserve the cohesion of the party and its continued readiness to either remain the government of the day or to enhance its readiness as the “government in waiting”.
However, there is a way that bureaucracies can feed upon themselves when focus by those who lead them becomes more centred on the adherence to rules and regulations than on the outcomes that these entities have been established to produce. Thus they come to be labelled as agents of “red tape”, meaning the location or “residence” of obstruction, resistance to change and in general, inaction.
In terms of political parties, there is no political party that is monolithic in terms of its ideology and general political and social orientation. Therefore, the party is not usually a group of persons marching in the same direction to the same drum beat at all times. To be sure, members of a political party have some general agreement regarding the direction in which they would like the country to be led but quite often do not agree with some of the policy prescriptions that are articulated by the party leadership nor of their implementation.
Consequently, there tends to be some measure of politicking within the party, whether it is in or out of office, as competing groups strive to get their views about the party’s ideology and its articulation of the related policies, programmes and projects become the dominant party outlook, and most importantly, the core of the party platform and programme. In that scenario, the aim of the competing groups more often than not seek to get control of, or at least, exert the greatest influence over the party bureaucracy as represented by the party leadership organisms and the senior operatives of the party secretariat.
Against this background, politicians who become key actors in the state as Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, and Parliamentary Secretaries come to these positions with some degree of experience with working in and with bureaucracies. Indeed, the Parliamentary Group consisting of all elected members of Parliament of political parties may be regarded as a form of bureaucracy that governs the behaviour of members of Parliament while in Parliament especially in terms of voting and general adherence to Parliamentary norms and practices.
It should also be noted that the Cabinet is another form of political bureaucracy that serves as the mechanism through which Government policies are articulated and their implementation monitored on a weekly basis. It too has its norms, rules and modus operandi for achieving its goal of the timely and efficient delivery of services to the population whom they serve.
Therefore it is somewhat interesting that politicians who have had experience of working in and with bureaucracies are consistently vocal regarding the extent to which the implementation of their programmes and projects is delayed by the workings of the bureaucracy. There is no doubt that bureaucratic obstacles play a significant part in these delays but one could also point out that the blame can be cast on both sides. On the one hand, many politicians who are uninformed about the processes and procedures of the public bureaucracy quite often in trying to bypass established procedures contribute to the delays as many times submissions have to be withdrawn and re-worked. On the other hand, many senior bureaucrats appear to drag their feet regarding policy implementation because either they do not agree with what is being proposed or in furtherance of their perceived notion of their indispensability and/or irreplaceability.
To address this on-going conflict and end the “blame game”, the following is proposed:
- The provision of opportunities for incoming new politicians, whether Cabinet Minister, Minister of State or Parliamentary Secretary to meet socially with the senior bureaucrats in the ministries to which they have been assigned at the start of their political assignment
- Politicians who are assuming positions in the state for the first time be offered workshops in which senior bureaucrats also participate, on the relative roles and responsibilities of politicians and senior bureaucrats
Under our present Constitution, the Prime Minister currently assigns Permanent Secretaries and history shows that within the first year of a new administration, most if not all Permanent Secretaries of the previous administration are removed by retirement, diplomatic assignment or reassignment to special projects. Therefore it seems that the time has come to regularize this arrangement by amending the rules to require holders of the top two layers of the bureaucracy to voluntarily leave their positions each time there is a change in administration to give the incoming administration the freedom to make their own choices of personnel at these levels of the bureaucracy including having the option of retaining incumbents of these positions. Malcolm Smith Authentic Jersey