01 Nov 2015
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Policymakers must be sensitive to the political and socioeconomic contexts of their respective countries: in other words, the traditions and histories in which their bureaucracies develop. Furthermore, any reform-minded policymaker must carry his or her decisions with a deliberate, strategic, and planned manner. In Dr. Naomi Aoki's paper, Let's Get Public Administration Right, But in What Sequence? Lessons from Japan and Singapore (published in Public Administration and Development, (2015)) she charts the evolution of bureaucratic tradition and public administration reform. Using the examples of Singapore and Japan, she presents five major thematic views concerning sequential bureaucratic reforms.


1. The Good Governance Model (GGM).

A concept born out of the 1980s, the GGM serves as the epitome of perfect governance of public services. Not only following the rule of law, this elusive GGM is intended to be participatory, consensus orientated, accountable, transparent, effective, and efficient. Closely related is another concept: the Good Public Administration (GPA) which considers the role of mostly non-elected officials in reaching a state of GGM and is therefore perfect itself.
Accountability is arguably the most essential and multifaceted component of the Good Governance Model. There are different kinds of accountability: hierarchical, political, legal and professional.
Both are abstract goals and organisational tools. To pursue GGM, one must build GPA. Reforms leading to GPA however must be structured according to a sequential logic. Professor Aoki's study of Japan's culture of comparatively weak politicians, strong bureaucrats and the opposing Singaporean experience of strong politicians, weak bureaucrats serves to explain how this sequencing might be created.


2. Responsive and efficient delivery of public services.

While difficult for developing nations to learn, it is a necessary step towards reducing poverty. The process towards such a standard is also a concern for developed countries such as the US. Different nations will tend to focus on different aspects or approaches to inch towards GGM. None will however pursue multiple strands of reform at the same time. In the US, for example, there is a particular but contradictory emphasis on executive leadership, governmental representation and the professionalism and neutrality of the civil service. A specific bureaucratic modification will undoubtedly take the character of one element. Reforms have therefore been put forward sequentially, addressing the consequences of earlier ones. Each sort or wave of reform has priorities that will ultimately be remedied by a later push.


3. The language of administrative themes.

Five terms are of major significance to the discussion. Firstly, representation is defined. It stands for the degree to which administrators actually represent different groups in society or society as a whole. This is obviously important when considering how detached the bureaucracy can become from the needs of its constituents. Secondly, professionalism essentially stands for neutral competence and a lack of cronyism in recruitment. Thirdly, managerialism describes a system of rewards for good performance, while having an enhanced customer orientation and drive for efficiency. Fourthly, executive dominance quite openly describes how tightly the executive branch of a country influences its civil service. Finally, we come to accountability, including those that are hierarchical, political, legal and professional. This is arguably the most essential and multifaceted component of GGM.
While Japan historically began by focusing on the professionalisation of the bureaucracy, Singapore's first step of public administration reform was representation to counterbalance the over-dominance of the British in its colonial civil service. This was followed closely by a wave towards professionalism. Singapore later introduced reform to spur managerial thinking and training. Japan, on the other hand, further promoted new institutions and legal structures that cemented power in bureaucracy.


4. Administrative traditions between politicians and bureaucrats.

Tradition furthermore describes the history, laws, boundaries and ideas that truly define a civil service. If one considers the colonial experience in Singapore and the postwar occupation in Japan, it is clear how certain historical moments can lead to massive waves of reform. The resulting political landscapes, in particular the two strong developmental states that emerged with these two nations' respective dominant political parties (the People's Action Party in Singapore and the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan), is also a worthy consideration when talking about tradition. Professor Aoki illustrates that while Japan historically began by focusing on the professionalisation of the bureaucracy, Singapore's first step of public administration reform was representation to counterbalance the over-dominance of the British in its colonial civil service. This was followed closely by a wave towards professionalism. Singapore later introduced reform to spur managerial thinking and training. Japan, on the other hand, further promoted new institutions and legal structures that cemented power in bureaucracy. Professor Aoki noted: In contrast, Japan's path can be characterised as one of bureaucratic centrality. Bureaucrats were professonalised during Meiji Period, but unlike in Singapore, this happened in the absence of executive dominance. Thus, bureaucrats had the chance to cultivate de facto authority In Japan's public administration, the themes of professionalism and legal accountability complemented one another, and they were paramount, at the expense of the theme of hierarchical accountability to the Cabinet.


5. Differences in administrative traditions in Singapore and Japan.

In the case of Singapore, the civil service remains a vital instrument through and with which the executive can achieve a detailed development agenda. In the case of Japan, bureaucrats have been transformed from so-called servants to the Emperor's cause to bureaucrats who conform to a sort of unanimous consensus in the policy-making arena. Subsequent reforms have led Singapore to become an executive-focused system with increasing emphasis on executive power and hierarchical accountability while Japan has progressed into a bureaucratically centralised organism with an underlying theme of professional and legal accountability. Professor Aoki underscores this major divergence of contesting lines of bureaucratic centrality and executive centrality. In both countries, the civil service has played a key role in producing an economically successful national community. Both countries' national bureaucrats are strongly praised abroad. In this sense, they are two successful examples of the approach towards GGM. Furthermore, traditions such as that of Japan, which we might characterise as strong bureaucrats, weak politicians, can be difficult to reverse. In recent decades, Japanese bureaucrats have been attacked by the political class and blamed for its economic woes. Singapore too, has faced new challenges. A growing bureaucracy has led to counter-measures against ministerial fragmentation and emerging initiatives to encourage cross-ministerial collaboration have become the norm. Ultimately, we are challenged to not only study administrative reform in greater detail but also to become students of history: these traditions and abstract goals have their own sort of path dependency. Policymakers must actively question the form and timeline of GPA pursuit. The language of this process must be spelled out. Crucial stakeholders must be identified. More empirical studies on sequential reform should be undertaken. Perhaps then, the lessons of active comparison will bear serious benefits. ______________________________________________________________________________ Anastasia Rogacheva is a PhD student at the LKY School. She is interested in international relations, political economy and development issues in Asia. Her email is decb64_YS5yb2dhY2hldmFAdS5udXMuZWR1_decb64
Read in Issue 22 of Global-is-Asian Magazine.
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