Modern Public Administration-Issues and Challenges

A modern public administrator in any country has to grapple with multifarious issues and face multiple challenges which are in addition to the traditional challenges of delivering quality service in given time and with limited resources. I have identified seven such issues which you can remember in the form of an acronym-BAD STEP. This acronym is composed of the first letter of the following respective seven issues or challenges of a public administrator namely Behaviour, Attitudes, Demographics, Society, Technology, Economy and Politics. Let me explain it but not in that order
Technology: Technology has been with us for centuries but its rapid speed, widening coverage and deepening impact poses threats as well as offer tremendous opportunities for the modern public servants. On the demand side public is forcing them to quicken the pace of decision making and adopt it as a tool of service delivery and grievance redress. They demand comprehensive E-governance facilities such as online payment of tax, availability of information on public service recruitment, public procurement of goods and services etc as their right. Thanks to the technological developments, society is monitored not only by the media but also by the citizen journalists- the public, equipped with cameras in mobile phones! Promulgation of Access to Information Act is in response to this persistent demand of the citizenry for an ‘Open Government’.
If the above-mentioned developments are the demand side pressures, the technology also provides supply side support to the public servants and offers limitless opportunities to improve their service delivery. It enables them to reach to the millions in far less time than traditional methods for launching public awareness campaigns, keeping them informed of the good work being done and seek their support as well as demanding compliance for state regulations
Attitudes: There are perceptible attitudinal changes in the citizens who are becoming an increasingly complex and diverse population, with shifting and contradicting expectations. They genuinely expect that government agencies will provide a level of service comparable to that of the private sector. Modernization, which always accompanies industrialization, has brought fundamental changes in the attitudes and behaviour of the citizens all over the world. Once set in motion, modernization becomes a self-reinforcing process, penetrating all aspects of life and brings multidimensional changes in any society.
Consequently, people are now demanding greater say in public affairs, an open government, transparency in public dealing, and an accountable and responsible executive. There is a sort of dysfunctionality in the traditional state-society relations; every successive generation of citizens expect far more than their parents expected from the political leaders and government servants in terms of service delivery.
Under these circumstances, a civil servant needs to be very effective in-service delivery, efficient in its execution and honest in public dealing for the faithful discharge of his official duties. This in turn requires a public servant to be a very skilful executive, knowledgeable, a strategic planner and an emotionally stable person.
Behaviour: Four types of behavioural changes in different stakeholders are putting pressures,directly as well as indirectly,on a civil servant in every country

  1. an aggressive media is demanding transparency and openness in the government dealings in the name of right to access to information. After the WikiLeaks saga, our top-most secrets are now open secrets.
  2. a vibrant civil society is clamoring for effective service delivery and do not accept our traditional excuses of resource constrains or procedural delays as valid reasons for our failure to come up to their ever-increasing expectations
  3. an increasingly assertive judiciary is mainly interested in accountability; judges are more interested to know whether the you observed the laid down procedure in delivering the services and less concerned about the service delivery itself.
  4. a highly charged political elite which is under pressure from their respective constituencies to perform, is demanding more role in policy implementation and is not content with just their traditional role of policy formulation. They are now demanding more than their share in policy implementation and are not much bothered about the fact that ultimately it is the bureaucracy which must answer to the courts for any infringement of procedure.

In an age of greater openness and external intrusions in their traditional areas, civil servants are expected to bring fundamental changes in their attitudes and behaviour bringing more responsiveness to complaints, speed in redressing grievances, acceptance of public participation in decision making, better communication with all the stakeholders, rapid feedback and midterm correction mechanism, allowing access to information, framing of consumers rights etc
Politics: There is a paradigm shift in the role of the government and the governance style all over the world. From the traditional roles and structures of inflexible control and procedure orientation, governments are redefining themselves towards result orientation, flexibility, facilitation and a citizen-centric approach. However, success or failure of this new approach and orientation in state role will ultimately depend upon the way and the degree to which the civil service of the country adapts itself to these new realities.
A civil servant is now expected to have greater insight about the way policies can be hijacked by the dominant elite and how to reconcile their interests with the rising expectations of the population. Similarly, they should be well versed with the art of resisting the demands of the global actors to have greater say in the decision-making process to safeguard the national interest without losing the support of the global sources of power and resources
Society: Thanks to globalization, societies are transforming in multiple ways and at rapid speed. These developments now demand modern style of governance which is open, participatory and responsive, executed through a highly decentralized governance structures with maximum autonomy. Quick response to complaints and their timely redress, people friendly processes, ethical behaviour, analytical prowess, change management, use of technology, emotional stability etc., are now the name of the game.
Most importantly it is the participation of citizens in service delivery which is the hallmark of new governance style. It not only brings in more accountability and transparency in governmental affairs but also helps in creating greater awareness of the citizens and reduces repression and exploitation. Citizens involved will increase the knowledge, and be empowered, and the participating organizations will become more vibrant.
Demographic Transition: Almost all the developing countries are passing through the most crucial phase of their demographic transition. While the rate of child births is gradually falling in almost all the countries due to long term changes in social values and growing prosperity, the death rates are falling even more rapidly because of better health facilities. Consequently, global population is growing at unsustainable rate, creating an aging bulge in the developed countries; however, in the developing countries, there is not only a youth bulge but also an aging bulge. Thus, we need more schools and greater job opportunities to educate and accommodate the young as well as more health institutions and other related facilities to cater for our elderly citizens.
Add the rapid urbanization being witnessed and you could see a state which is over-stretched and hence under stress. These changes in turn transform social life and political institutions, bringing rising mass participation in politics in the long run.
Economy: Age-old pursuit of growth for the sake of growth ultimately resulted in certain unintended but inevitable consequences, particularly the rising poverty gap within every country and dismal record of their social and human development in the developing countries. Consequently, the concept of equating economic growth with GDP growth has been replaced by the concept of all inclusive, socially just and environmentally sustainable development with the aim of improving the quality of life of the people. This needs attitudinal and behavioral changes in our public servants to cope with the new paradigm shift. Studies after studies have underlined the crucial role a competent civil service plays in accelerating the rate of growth of a country. The UN’s Report (2005) concluded that
“no matter how organised and constitutional a government is, it would not get very far in the absence of public administration system capable of translating its broad political intentions, enforcing its laws and delivering services needed by the people. Without a professionally competent public administration, the state cannot count on making those things happen which it wants to see happen or on pre-empting undesirable developments”
Extract from author’s Ebook “10 Essential Skills for Public Servants: A Handbook” available at Amazon at
10 Essential Skills for Public Servants: A Handbook – Kindle edition by Shahid Hussain Raja. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

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