Bureaucratic ballad

Bureaucratic ballad

Dosym Satpayev, political scientist

If a bureaucrat participated in the creation of the world, there would not have been a Word, but instead a directive with a stamp reading: “for official use.” Adam would have been created from official letterhead, and Eve would only have come about following a staff expansion. Naturally, the first briber would, of course, have been the insidious serpent. In addition, a bureaucrat would regularly conduct a judgment day called “optimization of the state apparatus as a part of administrative reform,” which is to say, the maintenance of form and natural selection of the strongest bureaucratic representatives in the world. But these are all fantasies derived from the subject at hand. The reality is more prosaic, in which, according to the words of Ursula Noak, a German actress, “Officials represent a miracle in the reproduction process by asexual means.”

«Administrative reform” usually starts when the work of one official is successfully fulfilled by ten individuals, or upon a coincidence of lucky circumstances by 20 persons. In this case, taking up the language of biologists, a violation of the ecological balance occurs in which a number of organisms on a certain territory exceed the available food supply. Simply speaking, the number of officials begins to exceed the quantity of working people, requiring an analogous reduction in the excess when the level of food starts to drop. Often, in order to escape a managerial crisis, a mechanism for defending the integrity of the state is activated, which should cause a subsequent reduction in weight, permitting adaptation to the altered conditions. In fact, this was declared by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev in early September 2006 during the opening of an extraordinary session of the Parliament. Changes have again begun occurring within the system of the national government, which according to the head of state are not up to the challenges that have been set. As usually happens in such situations, the world of officialdom turns into a tense buzzing hive, where the main points of debate become who is to be “fired”, when, where and for what – so that the rest might work effectively. Unfavorable feelings were a natural reaction at the time the statement was given by the President on the reduction in size of the official apparatus by 30%, but then a pathological confidence in the nomenclatural system prevailed, in anticipation that sooner or later everything would return to its proper place. Although, from the point of view of increasing efficiency in the state management, full-fledged administrative reform should have occurred several years ago. The core issue is that the existing state mechanism has quickly been falling behind the economic and political changes that have occurred in Kazakhstan over recent years. The situation not only involves an efficient distribution of authority among ministries and departments, since over all this time the essence of our bureaucracy has yet to change absolutely, as internally the real apparatchiks basically amount to 9 grams of gold for every ton of sulfide ore. Basically, the decision in Kazakhstan to reduce the number of state employees by 30% is aimed at increasing the managerial competency of these very apparatchiks. Moreover, the new administrative reforms should do what any experienced bureaucrat is afraid of – determine the purview of his or her work. In particular, according to the President, the ministries should function in the development of the political environment and control its form. They should be responsible for executing political decisions, handling regulatory functions, and coordinating committee work. In their turn, the committees operating under the ministries should themselves be independently engaged in carrying out government resolutions, as well as controlling and supervising the regular functioning of the state. Moreover, for the proper operation of the ministries, departments and akimats (regional executive bodies in Kazakhstan), their authority and independence in taking managerial decisions should be supported. The words of the President sounded like a warning shot, heralding strengthened responsibilities for senior officials, as well as the establishment of an efficient system of budgetary control. The position of secretary of state (editor’s note: in effect, this will be a new position alongside that of the oblast akims, or regional administrators, not a singular office as in the West, and may be more easily understood as “secretary of oblast”) is to be introduced to help with the difficult work of the central state organs, and will manage all interior affairs of the government. Ideally, this should be the highest administrative position in the regions, which can only be received after being approved by a commission under the Agency for State Service Affairs, while the position can be taken away by the direct authority of the presidential administration. Judging by the official announcement, the main goal of introducing homo bureaucraticus is related to the wish of avoiding frequent changing of administrative officials, instead appointing state managers. Therefore, the question on political preemption will be resolved, as well as the all too routine replacement of personnel, which incidentally is a long-existing problem among all state bodies. From this, an assumption can be made that the position of secretary of state can further be introduced with the akims acting as the face of these regional managers. To be objective, the introduction of the new position, it is worth noting, can hardly be considered as Kazakhstani know-how. Several years previously while in Kiev, I happened upon an active discussion on the necessity of dividing political and administrative functions. At that time, the then Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, introduced the position of secretary of state, who, unlike ministers, had the status of an administrative state functionary, and was not dependent on political dealings. Additionally, Ukrainian experts called on officials to clearly classify state functionaries, instead dividing them into administrative, political and patronage categories. If everything works out as expected in Kazakhstan, then the secretary of state will be a rather unusual figure within the state nomenclatural system, considering the old Kazakhstani tradition of systematic reshuffling, both vertically and laterally, of bureaucratic officials. The difference between the Kazakhstani model and the Ukrainian one is that both in [central] government and on the regional level, an additional “state eye” is created, which will be managed specifically by the presidential administration. This, in its turn, will increase the influence of the current executive body within the overall bureaucratic system of the country. Furthermore, if the secretaries of state are included into the akimats, this will be reminiscent of the system of authorized representatives of the Russian president, subordinated only to the administration itself, in the regions of that country. In the case at hand, with the inclusion of the secretary of state position in Kazakhstan, the era of “regional fiefdoms”, which turned akims into masters of their entrusted territories, might be over. Having a “roof” (a local idiom for “protection”) in the form of the presidential administration, means that believing the new representatives will fulfill only administrative functions would be naive. Quite possibly, many akims and ministers will be expecting the new position to be that of the eyes and ears of Astana. Inclusion of secretaries of state [into the system] follows those recent trends related not only to strengthening executive control over the government and akims, but also to toughening supervision over major economic players in the form of national companies. That is to say, a battle is being waged on many fronts, or, in economic terms, a war is occurring over “non-specialized assets”. Another question is: Can a bureaucratic apparatus effectively fight against itself? It seems hardly possible. Not a single case in political history exists to show that the efficiency of the state apparatus has been increased by having the functionaries oversee administrative reform themselves. On this account, there is even a Parkinson law, according to which any bureaucratic structure will sooner or later begin operating for itself, turning into a self-serving organism. Therefore, any administrative reform should be done in parallel with an increase of public control over the activities of the apparatchiks. Simply stated, a quantitative reduction in the latter is nothing more than tilting with windmills. A valiant effort may be in the works, but no results may come of it, as the administration will then again swell. As for the bonus system and salary increase for government employees, as one of the measures in the fight against corruption, the idea has not only a social nature, but a psychological one as well. The functionary who is used to taking bribes will not disregard this income, even if he is receiving a high salary. One of the reasons for this is the so-called “minion syndrome”, in which many officials consider the work of the state apparatus as a good opportunity to gain access to the feeding trough. Frequent staff reorganization makes them constantly focus on the possibility of squeezing the maximum material benefits from their armchair. Objectively speaking, no ideal bureaucratic apparatus exists anywhere in this world. The U.S. and Europe complain about the inefficiency of the system. However, everything is perceived by comparative means. For example, the state apparatus of Singapore, to which our functionaries like to refer, is really demonstrative of good work, as many of the governmental structures of this city-state operate in the interest of large companies, which demand much from the state workers. Additionally, extremely harsh punishments for corruption are on the books, and in being applied to absolutely all functionaries, are just as effective as high salaries, which are actually at the same level is those working in business. Nonetheless, this unique model will hardly be applied in Kazakhstan, considering the mentality of our “public servants”. Namely, the country needs a new generation of young, professional managers. Kazakhstan requires efficient mechanisms for circulation of the administrative and political elite. One such channel is the political parties; which, in many countries of the world, represent a cache of available talent. This is especially obvious in those examples of parties playing a substantial role in the formation of government, a process that will sooner or later happen in Kazakhstan. The emergence of a new generation of Kazakhstani functionaries, who will consider themselves as managers hired by the public to render state services will, understandably, take a much greater time than is desired. However, the current needs for political and economic development do not permit such a wait. The efficient realization of state programs needs to occur now. In such a case, numerous non-governmental bodies, such as NGOs and political parties, may render significant assistance to the state apparatus. Fruitful cooperation between NGOs, the parties and governmental organs, in combination with e-government, would help to resolve a great number of existing problems associated with the functioning of the government. The self-serving system of Kazakhstani bureaucracy would, in this case, be destroyed. Kazakhstan has no need for survival skills, but instead requires efficiency in the work of state employees. These, in application of the words of Josef Schumpeter, a well-known Australian-American political scientist, may not actually be a hindrance to democracy, but its unavoidable addition. The whole of the political system needs to be reformed, which requires the bureaucratic apparatus to be merely a component. Transparency, public disclosure, and numerous ladders for career advancement, based on professional skills, will help in administrative reform. Aside from this, another issue must be noted. The matter relates to the creation of e-government, which many consider as a panacea for corruption and a reliable mechanism for the increase of efficiency in the government. On the whole, this idea is not a bad one, though, embarrassingly enough, e-government is being introduced by those very bureaucrats in question. This seems analogous to having a condemned man load the gun that is to be used in his own execution. Quite possibly, the gun will simply be loaded with blanks.

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