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Book Review

Governance and Administrative Reforms
A.P Saxena
Ane Books ,2013
Pages - 214
Price - Rs.595/-
Dr Roopinder Oberoi
Assistant Professor, Kirori Mal College, Delhi University


 Good governance and administrative reform concerns form a quintessential component of the development debate. It is now incontrovertible that administrative reforms have to be an uninterrupted process in government. Although governance and administrative reform originated from a different set of normative beliefs, ideas, objectives and theoretical backgrounds, in real life they reinforce each other with practitioners, politicians and administrators, frequently coalescing the fundamentals in policy documents and practice. The core focus of the book Governance and Administrative Reforms by A.P Saxena is to understand the ‘sharp quantitative and qualitative performance imbalance as the upper crust in the government structures does not probe at the co-axial nature of governance’. The author puts to prominence the need to focus on body of operating administration. These aspects are sharply articulated in the book as it also delves into the observations and visions of political leaders like J.L Nehru, administrative connoisseur like Paul Appleby and a variety of implementer concerns along with practitioners’ dilemma in administrative reform.

 In any administrative design, the eminence of public servants is primary in determining outcomes.  The systemic stiffness, unwanted complexity and centring propensity have made many public servants uncreative and ineffective. In effect, most agencies of government are functioning sub-optimally, and administrative programmes have not yielded the desired results. Subsequently, any endeavour to make the governance apparatus an instrument to achieve national objectives needs to take into description the two cardinal factors plaguing our system– the imbalance in the exercise of power, and asymmetry in the wielding of power.

Governance as a reform strategy has steered redefinition of structures, processes, and role of public sector in order to improve democratic quality of the public service. The reform wave found its rationalization mainly in  democratic principles. The usage of horizontal types of steering governance reform goals includes not only the enhancement of collaboration between government and other actors, but also the upgrading of horizontal synchronization among governmental organizations. Given the broad consensus on the ‘worth’ of governance for development, the chapters in the book position the argument by highlighting a mixed representation of the impact of reforms on India since independence, signifying that governance reforms have not constantly resulted in the anticipated improvements in development outcomes. This is frequently argued to be because the success of governance reforms is often counterfactual on larger politico- economic factors.

Unreservedly the endeavour in the book is to recognize State capacity in encountering various impediments of the administrative processes such as corruption, public resource management, de-facto decentralization, access to fair dealing for the poor in evolution to governmental reform measures in multilevel governance. Other unambiguous and lucid messages from the book are that bad governance impacts more negatively on the underprivileged and that institutions and processes are indeed decisive for sustained growth and development. Besides, the book draws our attention towards the instrumentality of reform agenda which necessitates additional attention to the demand-side of governance, rather than focusing exclusively on skewed top-down approaches to reform. The approach recommends identifying the minimal conditions of governance critical to allow political and economic development to occur at ground level. This approach to governance, therefore, also calls for more nuanced political and economic analysis.  This book succinctly synthesises academic and practitioners’ research of governance and administrative reform outcomes.

What the author has done is to devise a systemic way of analyzing design and governance of large and complex systems that have technical, economic and political implications. The book charts the emergence of the good governance agenda and the scheme behind administrative reforms since early 1950s to the present day, through normative and procedural understanding of governance reform and moves toward compelling model of ‘good enough governance’. The individual chapters give overview of research on the historical roots of restructuring from Nehruvian vision to Paul Appleby’s investigative and exploratory perspective in the early stages of Indian administration.  Nehru’s sculpt of development and quintessence of governance is well articulated in the first chapter of the book. Key point persistent in Nehru’s writings was that governance is ‘all about people’ and is neither ‘culture free’ nor ‘value free’; is perhaps as much relevant today. The emphasis and understanding of the enormousness of tasks on hand was the foremost underpinning of Indian developmental programmes.  The first few chapters present the architectural design of good governance through the vision of Nehru and set the tone for the rest of the book.

The second chapter, Governance and Civil Society, is critical in current context. Populism, such as “people’s power” movements and the like being witnessed frequently serve to draw attention to inequity and distortions in the power structure, and then merely empower an ancillary class of civil-society activists and their self-generated agendas acting in opposition to state structures and other traditional authority. The collective message of the chapter is that such mass participation in itself is not proof of mass empowerment or is neither an assurance for responsive administration. The author appropriately comments in the light of recent events and activism surrounding corruption, that civil society is only ambiguously the source of democratic activism.  The book underscores that this interface between government and civil society involves assiduous listening and hearing.  The book brings forth the working of civil society and concerns for good governance especially in the context of new, vibrant and vociferous young Indian middle class.

Administrative reforms are, on the whole, characterized by intrinsic constraints, dilemmas, limitations, trade-offs and paradoxes. The reforms can be perceived as a 'whole of government' initiative intended to increase the coordinative capacity of government to address the `wicked problems' cutting across existing policy areas and government levels in a multi-level governance system. Administrative reforms are, of course, an unending quest into the need for innovative thinking.  

The book draws our notice to a growing strive for coordination and coherence in public policy. There is requirement to develop the horizontal coordination of governmental organizations and also to enhance coordination between the government and other actors. The concept of working across jurisdictions has become ever more significant in public administration theory and practice, reflecting the increased convolution of administration. On the horizontal dimension, cross-sectoral bodies and coordination agencies are being applied to improve the ‘pillarization’ or “siloization” of the central public administration.

The author underlines the inescapability to converge and cooperate to deliver results. Undoubtedly, there is an essential distinction to be drawn between outputs and outcomes which the book indicates. As the author articulates, ‘in any conceptual bipolar matrix of productivity, the input –output factors have to be identified and appraised on the scale of productivity’. Conversely, there is always key predicament in the characterization and measurement of outputs /outcomes, which alternatively focus on operational activities, organization or direct outcomes, or program consequences. In many cases, it is tricky to establish accurately, qualitatively and quantitatively, what it is that a government production unit or establishment needs to construct and deliver. Productivity index relates to the associated direct/indirect inputs. Chapters 6 and 7 present a matrix of measurement with steps to be followed like pre-measurement framework; steps for measurement and continuing measurement. Each of these three types of instruments is significant in measuring productivity in government.

The reference to Appleby Reports, 1st in the year 1953 & 2nd Report in 1956, after his extensive research of 10 states offers us to detour through the archives of administrative reform as highlighted and written by Sir Paul Appleby during the inception stages of Indian administration. The two reports read as continuing response and constructive engagement of J.L Nehru with Paul Appleby’s recommendation contextualises the foremost concerns of administration in 1950’s. The analysis by Sir Appleby and insistence on professionalization of Indian administration is covered in profundity in the book. This elaborate historical background of administrative reforms in India from 1950 to date is readable and quite informative in chapter 8.

The book includes very useful concluding chapter titled ‘Governance – The Way Forward’. This chapter centre- stages the ongoing complexness of administration and aspires for a transfer from a static but not so good situation to a static good.  Addressing multiple issues in brevity, compresses a lot of complexity but provides perception on the ensuing argumentations on governance. The flavour of resentment and impending crisis of governance needs urgent consideration according to the author.

 The book attempts to ‘make sense of governance’ in times when the word itself has become a catchphrase or slogan.  The book offers a constructive modus operandi for understanding the value of the administrative reforms, the adaptations of the administration in the face of recent policy challenges, and the ways in which administration is attempting to augment its governing capacities as sketch out by the practices of governance. The book presents, in an incredibly lucid language, refreshing understanding of public administration reforms. The book is recommended for students, the teaching community and practitioners of governance as a vital guide for perception on the governance and administrative reforms in India.