Bureaucracy as an autonomous tool for growth and development.
Bureaucracy is a term that is not clearly known to many people. At the mention of it, people relate it to the negative. I strongly hope that at the end of this article, we could clearly understand what it is, how it can be used for our good and definitely screen the other face of it. The dictionary defines the word bureaucracy as a structure and regulations in place to control activity. Usually in large organizations and government operations. To this far, you realize that without bureaucracy, large organizations and governments could not run.
Sociologically, the term bureaucracy gets defined on the basis of human interaction within a large-scale organization and within governments. In the book Sociology: The Study of Human Interaction by David Dressler, bureaucracy is defined as an hierarchical arrangement within an organization based upon a line of authority and a division of work predicated upon this arrangement. In most cases, taking the definition into consideration, we realize we are subject to bureaucracy and consume products of bureaucracies not forgetting we are subject to rules they impose on us.
What does bureaucracy do?
First it helps with division of labor. It helps in establishing a clear cut division of labor that calls for specialists to hold offices and ensure effective performance of the assigned tasks. Ideally, we expect a holder of office to effectively deliver given their suitability for the task. Bad bureaucracy puts unfit people in office and when they fail to deliver, bureaucracy is labelled bad. It at this stage it becomes synonymous to bad governance and bad leadership. The people are to blame and not the system.
Secondly bureaucracy helps establish a chain of command. In this case an official becomes responsible to their seniors until the top is reached. The scope and limits at each stage of command is clearly outlined within that level. In the Kenyan government for instance, the chain of command follows that the president issues an order to the cabinet secretary, the cabinet secretary instructs the principal secretary who in turn orders the secretaries below them until a decree gets to the lowest level possible, the citizens. It could be a disaster like if we had two presidents, imagine that for a moment.
Thirdly, bureaucracy works in setting up rules that govern behaviors of incumbents. In relation to this statement, it doesn’t matter who holds the office at that specific moment in time. As long as they are holders, they are expected to act according to the regulation put in place. This helps the continuity of a process and helps predict behavior of individuals if for example incumbent Mr. X shall be expected to report late comers to the authorities. For manufacturing entities, it helps maintain product quality.
For the bureaucrat, he/she is expected to act impartially. In an organization for example, an executive is expected to treat customers, clients or subordinates impersonally. It means that he/she is not allowed to let personal connections and emotions sway their decision making. For effective bureaucracies in developed worlds, hiring is done on a competitive basis. Even If you are my relative and fail to meet the threshold requirements, you don’t get consideration. In third world economies, as long as you are in authority, you can hire a relative who is absolutely incompetent. Impersonality in organizations gives bureaucracy a negative connotation.
The sociologist S. N Eisenstadt remarked that almost all classical works dealing with bureaucracy had raised the same question, “…whether bureaucracy is a master or servant, an independent body or a tool, and, if a tool, whose interest it can be made to serve.” From the needs served by bureaucracy discussed above, we realize that the system works to further the objectives of the organization.
In a government like ours, Kenya, the citizens expect the bureaucratic system to work and further their welfare. In this, the bureaucratic system becomes a servant and not a master. Thus the system is expected to contribute to the survival and efficient operations of social units which is desired upon to bring social change. This change, however, is usually not welcome. If for example, all matters pertaining processing of all government licenses are supposed to be processed online, the guy who had been taking bribes to get the licenses processed will oppose the idea. He/she feels threatened. This is why development stagnates – failing to embrace ICT as a tool of change.
Bureaucracy is however supposed to be a product of change and a tool for furthering the change. Now it seldom does this, it is taken to be a bad thing that works against the good of masses. Referring to what Robert K Merton noted, the given set of rules that is supposed to govern organizations, supposed to be conceived as relative and act as a means to an end, ends in themselves. If we could understand this statement, then we could understand that bureaucracy calls for continued improvement. Unfortunately, it has been taken to mean no improvement at all.
We need to take bureaucracy for the good it stands for, definitely, we will reap big. There are times it could stagnate but as long as it improves efficiency of operations it ought to be our servant and not the master. Bureaucracy has to be there as long as man and governance exist. Is there a replacement?
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