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25 November, 2015 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 24 November, 2015 11:08:17 PM

Public administration and good governance : Challenges of the 21st century

Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelley
Public administration and good governance : Challenges of the 21st century

A new world did not automatically emerge with the beginning of the 21st century and the 3rd millennium. As happens in life, the new times bear the unmistakable impress of all that have gone before. Old trends continue and earlier problems persist.  To-day is different from yesterday but cannot obliterate the ordeals that marked yesterday and the days before. Many of the problems confronting public administration during the 1990s are still there. These constitute the many and varied challenges for public administration in the dawn of the 21st century. Further these have global as well as national dimensions.

The global perspective
The sea-changes that occurred during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s of the last century transformed the shape and substance of the political and economic life of our world. The collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar world virtually resulted in the triumph of pluralist democracy and economy of free enterprise on a global scale. Socialist political systems still continue in some countries such as China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba. However, even in these societies, open market economy has made considerable inroad. Thus democracy and open–market economy have become globally dominant forces in shaping the tone and tenor of national societies in the new century. Administrative and development strategies will, therefore, need to be tuned to the demands of these systems. Both systems are built on the concept of development stressing the centrality of human beings in the processes of public administration and developments. “We are talking, of course, about basic needs: food, safe water, the elimination of widespread poverty and human misery. But we are also talking about human dignity, security, a feeling of belonging. The feeling of isolation and vulnerability is one that can be understood in countries of the North as well as the South. But in the South, the challenges are often more immediate, and, without adequate resources, the solutions are more elusive”.
The bipolar world that existed until the nineteen nineties has been replaced by a largely unipolar world where the possibility of other poles emerging in the twenty first century cannot be ruled out e.g. European Union, China and Japan. The collapse of the command and control structure of the bipolar world coincided with the disturbing trend of weakening of the state and civil society in many countries because of increased and intense ethnic, linguistic and religious conflicts within these societies. Political leaders and administrators in the twenty–first century need to find out ways to minimize or resolve conflicts based on primordial differences.
In recent times several countries of the South and some even in the North have witnessed virtual disintegration of their societies and are lacking good governance that builds lively linkages between the society and the state. These societies have virtually broken up. Illustrations of this phenomenon are manifest in present–day Somalia, Angola, Haiti and Southern Sudan. Bosnia, Kosovo, in the heart of Europe, now represents a patchwork of fragile peace, put in place by forceful international interventions and mediation.
The gap between state and society, widened by the absence of sound public administration and good governance, pose grave threat to many more societies struggling for peace, harmony and development. “For the individual, the state is like a house, It provides shelter, a structure. But society is the home that provides the satisfaction of human needs”.  “The state can hold great power, but the threat results from the disintegration of the social fabric. The challenge we now face is, how can we maintain pluralistic societies without a descent into social disintegration? It is certainly possible”.3
That challenge has been further compounded and complicated by the tragic events of the 11th September 2001 in the USA. On that day the terrorist attacks, using hijacked American commercial aircrafts piloted by suicide-squads, in New York and Washington resulting in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and in great damage to the Pentagon and the consequent grievous loss of some 5000 lives, changed the entire world for the worse. A USA which feels like someone “Who has been mugged in broad daylight in a safe street” rallied round and gathered strength to fight an all–out struggle against deadly terrorism. It built up a broad coalition including important Muslim countries to mount a war against the terrorist Al-Quaida network led by the Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden who are thought to have caused the devastating tragedy of the 11th September. The war against the fundamentalist Taliban rulers of Afghanistan who sheltered Bin Laden, ended successfully by December 2001.
The net result of all this is an intensification of challenges before the polities and economies of the states in the post 11th September world.
The new emerging world order is marked by uncertainty. The ‘command and control structure’ characteristic of the bipolar world is no more in existence. In an uncertain ‘unipolar world’ actors other than the nation-states have emerged with gradually increasing strength and expanding roles. Multinational Corporations (MNCs) have been joined by international groups and coalitions, which are not under the control of any particular state or group of states. The terrorist group led by Osama Bin Laden which the USA and its allies against terrorist find responsible for the attack on America, evidently appears to be such a group. Its membership cuts across national frontiers and its location spans many countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Such groups often claim to be founded on ideological considerations, however misguided. For achieving their avowed ideological aims, they may resort to virtual wars against states. Obviously this is a new kind of struggle, which reflects an unprecedented change in relationship between states and individuals. It results in fashioning a fresh set of challenges before the administrators. Governance becomes far more complex and demanding in the face of a terrorism that knows no frontiers.

Economic challenges
Economically it is still a binocular world divided between the rich (North) and the poor (South) countries although there are gradations of riches and poverty. The rich nations of the North have made tremendous progress in industry, science and technology. They have achieved great prosperity. Amazing developments have taken place in communication, information and transport technologies. These have transformed the world into a virtual “global village”. Yet ours is also a world where poverty and backwardness loom large : - One billion people live under the poverty line; - 550 million people go to bed hungry every night; - 1.5 billion people have no access to safe water and sanitation; - 550 million children are denied access to primary education; - More than one billion adults are illiterate.
Most of the poor are inhabitants of developing and less developed countries of the world. On an average poor countries have one hundredth of the resources of the rich countries per person. GDP of Bangladesh is US dollar 35.00 billion a year – roughly one sixth of the annual revenue of the multinational oil company Exxon – Mobil and roughly one day’s worth of average national production of the US. Hence governors and administrators in the poor countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and India will be required to face the challenges of solving problems of poverty, illiteracy and malnourishment of their populations in the new century.

Demands of Market Economy on Administration
Market economy is also known as open-market economy or economy of free enterprise. It displays characteristics, which demand appropriate response from administrators.
These are:
- reduction and change of the role of government in business and industry;
- expansion of the role of the private sector in the economy;
- increasing privatization;
- and development of steady partnership between the government and the private sector.
On the international plane, market economy leads to increasing liberalization and globalization. Problems of liberalization and globalization are many. While capital and technology move freely across borders, labour does not have that freedom and mobility. This adversely affect the poor and the populous countries. Other problems like protectionism and trade wars in richer economies also negatively affect developing countries. In the short run the developing economies suffer as their products cannot compete with those of more massive and advanced economies of industrially and technologically developed richer nations. Liberalization and globalization are also apprehended as partly responsible for the currency, stock market and banking crises in “Newly Industrialized and Industrializing countries” of East and South-East Asia from 1997.

The Role of Administration in Making the Market Work for
Common Good

Experience shows that the market by itself cannot ensure common good. Positive policies alongwith development of human resources through improvement of education and health of the people within the economic framework of open-market pay rich dividends. Thus the Asian NIC’s and four ASEAN countries achieved simultaneous social development and economic growth through market economy.

In many of these countries, on account of sound state policies, 100 per cent of the population have access to safe water and sanitation. Most have access to health facilities and literacy and education. Thus over the 1995-97 period, while the growth rates for the G-7 Industrialized economies were expected to consolidate between 1.9 to 2.6 per cent, the economies of the Asian developing countries continued to hover at 7.7 to 8.4 percent level. These figures almost doubled the figures for the world as a whole ranging at 3.5 to 4.3 percent growth.

Tasks before the Administrators in
the 21st Century

Stark poverty and social disharmony and conflict are not going to disappear just because a new century or a new millennium has begun. Humankind is aware of this truth. This awareness is manifest in the declaration of the Social Development Summit (Copenhagen 1995) which set three goals to be achieved by the nations of the world to improve the quality of life. These are: (i) alleviation of poverty; (ii) generation of productive employment and (iii) achievement of social integration particularly of disadvantaged segments such as women, indigenous people and the extremely poor. The administrators of the 21st century will have to work in close cooperation with the political managers to achieve those goals. Administrators in the developing countries especially need to work harder and more systematically to attain these goals.
Present and emerging times in Bangladesh, as in other developing countries, demand that the political and administrative levels of the governments in these societies work in tandem. This is necessary not only to ensure meaningful socio-economic development but also to build a secure and harmonious society free from violence and terror – a society that can be created and sustained only by good governance. If the Rule of Law, justice and fair play have to be secured in the society there must be understanding and cooperation between the political leaders and the public administrators.
This will need a community of efforts to evolve and shape a human-centric vision of governance and public administration. Orderly and stable society and systematic, gradual but reasonably rapid development depend on the appreciation of the centrality of the human element by the political and administrative leaders. In the world as it has emerged in course of the last evenful decade, the significance of the human component has come to sharp focus in the processes of politics and administration.
Tradition – bound politics and governance seem to pay only lip-service to the vast majority of men and women who constitute the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginal segments of the population. These include women, the rural poor, the urban slum dwellers and the tribals etc. Much too long have political leaders and top administrators looked upon such people as those whose welfare and development can be secured by unilateral political and administrative actions. In this approach, there is little room for active and meaningful participation of the concerned people themselves in formulating and implementing schemes for their well-being and development. Thus the old ways in political and administrative governance tend to be mechanistic and of routine nature.
The neglect and the indifference that the masses suffer in this matrix result in grave discontent. Under efficient and thorough-going autocratic or totalitarian systems such discontent is driven deep underground. However, when these systems degenerate, weaken or collapse the mute masses become eloquent in violent anger and protest. The economic and social deprivation they suffer under unjust and non-participatory politico-economic systems drive them to violence and conflict on the basis of religious, communal, ethnic and cultural differences. This was what happened and is still happening since the 1990s in various states of Africa, Central Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.
In order to resolve such violent conflict, governors and administrators need to acquire new skills to deal with the situation effectively by new methods of management of human relations in a destabilised society. What is even more important is to develop and apply necessary skills to arrest the spread of violence and conflict based on religious, ethnic or cultural differences in heterogeneous societies. These skills must include something more than mere regulatory force and mechanism. In this situation the prime responsibility is on the political leaders who must understand and patiently work on the psychology of the dissatisfied people. They need to lead the people away from violence and conflict that are bred by differences of ethnicity, religion and culture. Political leaders of various ethnic, religious and cultural background require to minimise their own difference and act in concert to unite the people in their diversity.
The political managers, however, cannot perform this task all by themselves. They need the able help of skilled, competent and dedicated administrators committed to the achievement of peace and harmony in a divided society where order tends to be in short supply. In essence what is needed is a corps of efficient and well-trained administrators and civil servants informed by a humane mission to forge unity by tackling the core reasons of disunity and to establish order in a society riven by discord.
Strengthening or rebuilding an elite corps of administrators is an imperative for the states in the 21st century. It is all the more necessary for those states which are threatened by disunity and discord among its various different and divergent ethnic, religious and cultural groups of citizens. In the past the more stable and mature societies had such elite administrators taking care of law and order in a heterogeneous environment. Examples of such corps are found in the “mandarins” in imperial China and the Indian Civil Service (ICS) during the days of British imperial rule in the South Asian subcontinent. Members of these corps were recruited through open competitive examinations participated by qualified candidates. The process of their appointment was unstainted by fear or favour. Only the best available talents were recruited. Neither kinship nor political partisanship played any role in the process of recruitment.
Once recruited through the process of stiff and transparent competition, the new recruits were subjected to rigorous theoretical and practical training in administration. Part of the training was on the job. Elitism in such a framework did not relate only to administrative competence and skills, it also involved an elitism of spirit. A sense of mission was instilled in the minds of the members of these corps. In imperial China and British India the mission was to defend and sustain the concerned empires. In postcolonial times, in the successor states concerned, the mission was to maintain law and order and social harmony to create and preserve the contexts in which steady, meaningful and sustained socio-economic development could take place. While in post-empirical China the nature of the state was fundamentally transformed by the socialist revolution led by Chairman Mao Ze Dong in 1949, parliamentary democracy continued in the successor states in the South Asian sub-continent, India and Pakistan.  India, by and large, retained both the political and the administrative structures of the period before 1947. The only modifications made were those required by the independence and sovereignty of India.
Pakistan experienced disruption and discontinuity of the political framework on account of repeated intrusion of the military into politics from 1958 to 1971 and thereafter. During the period up-to 1971 Pakistan did not temper with the administrative structure and system inheritated from the British Raj.
After the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 and the emergence of Bangladesh through an armed struggle for liberation, the administrative system came under challenge in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Unlike India these states found their political leaders experimenting not only with the political framework but also with the traditional administrative arrangements. In both these countries, the political managers including those emerging from the military contributed to the disruption of the public administration system. These systems were often partially dismantled and disjointedly modified. There was no holistic vision guiding the haphazard changes effected. The old arrangements were tempered with in the name of recasting or reshaping colonial type of administration. In its place, however, no new effective structure or system could be built up. The same thing has happened in other postcolonial states of Asia and Africa with disastrous results. The elite corps of civil and administrative services suffered on account of interference and excessive politicization. Recruitment and training represented a bewildering and ineffective patchwork.  Elitism started to disappear gradually. A sense of mission and commitment to the ethos of public service was denuded beyond recognition. The ragtag and ramshackle remnants of once well-ordered and competently managed public services continued helplessly to fight a losing battle against deteriorating law and order, weakening social harmony and a down – sliding economy. Obviously with such ineffective instruments, the less developed and developing countries of the 21st century cannot hope to ensure meaningful survival and progress. To serve the purpose of civilized and progressive societies the administrative system must go through a process of regeneration and renewal. This can be achieved only by a political leadership that has statesmanlike vision, farsight and commitment to the cause of a orderly and harmonious society which alone can bring the desired technological and industrial development and all round economic prosperity.
The writer, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB), and Editor Quarterly “Asian Affairs” was a former teacher of Dhaka University and former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and former non-partisan technocrat Cabinet Minister



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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