Cambridge University Press
Why are some countries less corrupt and better governed than others? Challenging conventional explanations on the remarkable differences in quality of government worldwide, this book argues that the organization of bureaucracy is an often overlooked but critical factor. Countries where merit-recruited employees occupy public bureaucracies perform better than those where public employees owe their post to political connections. The book provides a coherent theory of why, and ample evidence showing that meritocratic bureaucracies are conducive to lower levels of corruption, higher government effectiveness, and more flexibility to adopt modernizing reforms. Data comes from both a novel dataset on the bureaucratic structures of over 100 countries as well as from narratives of particular countries, with a special focus on the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats in Spain and Sweden. A notable contribution to the literature in comparative politics and public policy on good governance, and to corruption studies more widely.
“…take Sub-Saharan Africa, where the outcome of more than three decades of donor-funded public management reforms has been that the quality of public service institutions “…remains poor, seriously undermining governments’ capacity to provide public goods and services to the majority of the poor” … the major reason why reforms have failed seems to be that they have not seriously taken into account “the incentives that drive politicians and civil servants”…” p. 201
This book does not only offer a framework for analyzing bureaucratic structure but it also provides means through which the bureaucracy can be organized to ensure effectiveness and quality government.
Partly borrowing from Thomas Hobbes, the book’s title “ Organizing the Leviathan” underscores the recognition that the government is a complex monster with several multi dimensional factors in its operations. That partly indicates why democracy or the Weberian closed bureaucratic systems have not been able to ensure universal quality government.
The book’s argument is simple: that the separation of career incentive between politicians and bureaucrats ensure quality government. The authors argue that the incentive is determined by how the bureaucrats are recruited.
“if politicians and bureaucrats have different career incentives, they are more likely to mutually monitor each other, and more likely to have the courage to say no to corruption and wasteful spending. A separation of careers also contributes positively to effectiveness and reform initiatives, because it gears incentives away from short-sighted gains, toward professional and service-oriented goals” p. 183.
Through thorough empirical analyses of various countries as well as qualitative explanations, the authors have put forward their theoretical argument in an appealing manner. The book does comparisons with critical and real examples to substantiate this argument. It presents a tested comparative study to understand what determines the quality of government and how such can be structured to ensure effectiveness and successful reforms.
The impact of having separated careers of politicians and bureaucrats are:
- Less corruption
- Higher government effectiveness
- An administration where efficiency-enhancing reforms are more successfully implemented
With regards to corruption, the authors argue that when the borders between bureaucracy and politics are blurred (e.g. when bureaucratic career, recruitment appointment, or promotion depends on the affiliation with a politician or political party)- the consequence is having both a highly politicized bureaucracy and highly bureaucratic politics leading to a lack of incentives for bureaucrats and politicians to act as watchdogs for each other.
It is therefore crucial that careers of bureaucrats do not depend on politicians.
“having public employees whose professional careers are fundamentally independent from their political superiors careers leads to the establishment of a credible system of mutual monitoring of (potentially) corrupt activities” p. 97
Regarding effectiveness, the authors’ argument is that
“the separated careers allow bureaucrats to speak truth to power and thereby act as counterweights to policies that are not illegal but may be inefficient or even wasteful” –p.135
Furthermore, the authors contend
“recruitment and career paths affect incentives for both politicians and bureaucrats. When the careers of politicians and bureaucrats are integrated and their incentives thus coincide, the risk increases not only for corruption but also for legal wasteful spending, indicated by examples of white elephants” – p. 141
In relations to Reform, the authors looked at the celebrated New Public Management (NPM), which is meant to move the public sector away from the dominant traditional rules and processes in the administration towards a focus on results. NPM is supposed to introduce managerial changes in public administrations to increase productivity by learning from the private sector- p.158. NPM is closely related to pay (performance related pay).
The authors maintain that NPM do not work if there is no trust. Thus, if the incentives between bureaucrats and politicians are integrated there will be no trust. Politicized bureaucracy is not based on trust but rather on favour and fear. Other conditions for NPM to work include transparency and clear promotion mechanisms.
Thinking through our context, a friend, Udadisi, reminded me of the Open Performance Review and Appraisal System (OPRAS) in Tanzania. Upon reflection, I think OPRAS has not and cannot promise much change or efficiency in our public administration. This is simply because the career incentives of the politicians and bureaucrats are not clearly separated in Tanzania. There is still a number of political appointments in key public sector positions. The politicians, for example Ministers, have mandate in appointing, transferring, and promote bureaucrats in key positions. The careers are thus integrated. Thus, if the very same bureaucrats who are subject to OPRAS are appointed by and know that their career depends on their good terms with a politicians – there is no way that he/she can focus on professional goals neither can he/she trust the reward system more than the politician who has the power to determine where he will be posted soon. The bureaucrat , thus, cares more to please the politicians than his/her professional performance.
If we would like to our public administration to be efficient leading to quality government, we will have to change the recruitment process and some of the legal structures to ensure separation of careers between politicians and bureaucrats. We can learn from Sweden, whereby the constitution do not allow Ministers (policy makers) to give directives to policy implementers. There is clear separation. This will require a gradual process- but if we are truly willing to fight corruption, ensure efficiency, and true reforms in the public sector- we have to remove politicians in the recruitment/appointment and promotion of bureaucrats. Let’s separate the two.