Role of bureaucracy and political executive in governance

The pedigree of the term bureaucracy is not quite clear. The term bureaucracy is derived from the French term ‘bureau’ meaning a writing table or desk. Vincent de Gournay first coined the word Bureaucracy in the eighteenth century to refer to “a fourth or fifth form of government” in which officers, clerks, secretaries, inspectors and attendants are appointed to benefit the public interest (Weber, 1952).

According to Laski (1937), bureaucracy refers to a system of government, the control of which is so completely in the hands of officials that their power jeopardises the liberties of ordinary citizens. The characteristics of such a regime are a passion for routine in administration, the sacrifice of flexibility to rule, delay in the making of decisions and a refusal to embark upon experiment.

Bureaucracy’ is also a form of organisation. In this sense, it indicates sophistication in both design and operating methods. It is trained to increase the efficiency of performance and this by the weighing of reason in order to resolve differences in policy making. Governed to a considerable degree by professional standards of behaviour and competence, the modern career service (under favourable conditions), functions as a significant support of rational consideration in public policies and their administration (Marx, 1967).

Though Weber was the first social scientist who made a systematic study of bureaucracy and its characteristics, yet he never defined bureaucracy. He only described its characteristics. According to him, bureaucracy is “an administrative body of appointed officials.” Thus in bureaucracy, he included explicitly appointed officials only leaving out the elected ones. In Weberian analysis, bureaucracy refers to the sociological concept of rationalisation of collective activities. It describes a form or design of organisation, which assures predictability of the behaviour of employees. According to Weber, bureaucracy is superior to any other form in decision, precision, stability, discipline and reliability (Mishra and Sweta, 1999). It makes possible a degree of calculability of results for the heads of the organisation and for those acting in relation to it.

Thus, bureaucracy in spite of its so many shortcomings plays a vital role in the governance of a country both at the policy making and implementation levels. It is like a cart, which carries the burden of the political executive and committed to the programmes and policies being implemented. Bureaucracy being a professional, and skilled body of officials, has a major role to play in governance process. It is responsible for identifying major policy areas, preparing of policy proposals, analysing alternative solutions, categorising major policies into sub policies and determining programmes of action, to attain the laid down objectives. In the process of governance, which involves several set of activities to deliver effective services to people, bureaucracy plays a pivotal role in providing shape to policies that reflect people’s needs and put their suggestive, analytical and informative roles to implement the policies.

In a presidential form of government, the President is the head of the political executive and other subordinates work under him who are responsible for policy formulation. But in a parliamentary form of government, it is the Cabinet that constitutes the executive i.e. Prime Minister (Chief Minister at the state level). The governmental activities are divided under various heads called ministries and there is a minister to head each of the ministries.

The ministers are elected directly by the people from well demarcated parliamentary or the legislative constituencies as the case may be. Wherever there is a bicameral legislature, the members of the upper house though represent a particular state yet are eligible to become a minister. The political executives are those who are either elected directly by the people or appointed by those who have been elected, and are presumed to hold a mandate to enact and implement the policies they advocated during their electoral campaigns (Peters, 2002). The political executive is guided by the principle of collective responsibility that means if the Prime Minister/Chief Minister, as the case may be, resigns from the post, the whole Cabinet stands dissolved. The Prime Minister may ask any of his/her particular minister to resign from the ministry if s/he finds that the minister’s functioning is not satisfactory and against the norms of ministerial morality.

The minister is a professional politician. As such s/he necessarily carries a combination of popular, political and parliamentary responsibilities, which s/he can afford to neglect only at the risk of eclipsing his/her political career. Since s/he decides on policies being the minister, s/he must be clear in his/her own mind about what s/he wants to achieve during the period at his/her disposal and what his/her scheme of priorities is.

The political executive, who represents the people, is to translate popular needs into public policies. In doing so, a minister must acquire a deep, if not a complete understanding and knowledge of the subject under his/her charge. S\he should be be foresighted without becoming a mere visionary, firm without seeming obstinate, temperate without being devoid of moral sensitivity. Even former Prime Minister, Morarji Desai (1970) was of the opinion that these qualities should be adopted by a minister whose job would be ‘to warn, to comfort and to command.’ Obviously, the warning has to be against the consequences of failure of duty. The comfort has to be in terms of the hard lot of administrative existence, namely lack of appreciation on the part of those for whose welfare, administration exists. The word of command has to be as befits the head of a vast organisation through words and policies, which will carry instinctive or instant or deliberate obedience, as the case may be.