Thursday, 14 June 2012

Public Administration, Ethnic Conflict and Economic Development

extracts from:
Esman, Milton J., 1997, "Public Administration, Ethnic Conflict and Economic Development", Public Administration Review, Vol 57, No.6.

[Although the article does not contain any Indian examples, I think it will improve understanding of competing politics of various communities in India with special reference to 'reservation politics'.  Further the article can be useful for the topic on 'Development Dynamics'. Spurthi].

Public Administration (PA)  literature normally assumes a society of individuals who may be divided by age, gender, region, occupation, or class, but nor by ethnicity— collective racial, cultural, or religious identities. This is equally true of the subfield of development administration. The literature on ethnic politics pays little attention to PA. The purpose of this essay is to emphasize the importance of ethnic realities in public administration.

In most of the less-developed countries, ethnic minorities have been mobilized to defend their collective interests and promote their demand in competition (civil or violent) with other ethnic communities, and in opposition to government policies and practices. Under these circumstances ethnic politics constitutes an important dimension of public affairs, as it becomes a critical intermediary between public administration and economic development.

There are two principal expressions of this relationship:

First, the internal structures of public administration, its formal bureaucracies, contain important rewards for ethnically identified individuals and their communities. These rewards include employment in the civil, military and para-statal agencies of the state. In addition to steady incomes, government jobs provide relative security, prestige, and power. Thus, the criteria and the practices governing recruitment to these much valued positions reflect quite accurately which ethnic community is effectively in charge. Ethnic groups dominating government award positions/office in public administration exclusively or preferentially, formally or informally, to their own constituents. This reinforces their control over state apparatus but also produces resentment among the deprived community.
eg: In 1956 Sinhalese nationalists formed the government in Sri Lanka. They deliberately skewed the admission criteria to the civil service and imposed language tests that favored Sinhalese over Tamil applicants. The virtual exclusion of Tamils from government positions, previously a major source of employment for educated members of that community, became one of the principal grievances that precipitated the civil war and the demand for an independent Tamil state (Tambiah 1986). 
Secondly, public administration at all levels of government is the principal channel through which policies and programs are designed. Government policies and programs normally distribute benefits and costs unequally generating gainers and losers. In ethnically divided polities these gainers and losers may be identified, in reality or by perception, as ethnic communities. Although neo-classical economists propound that marketization of economic transactions accompanied by a shrinking government can eliminate the impact of public administration on development and contribute to more equitable use and distribution of resources, this is a naive expectation. The government continues to have some irreducible functions (eg.public contracts, tax collection, national defense, municipal affairs and regulation etc), and deliberately or inadvertently the implementation of programmes/policies by bureaucratic agencies dominated by an ethnic community, benefits one community over others.
eg: In Israel there are two principal ethnic groups of Jews, the Ashkenazim (of European descent) and Sephardim (of Arab descent). The Ashkenazim were the founding generation of the state of Israel and dominated the state apparatus. They were also proud of their European lineage and culture. When the Sephardim Jews arrived in large numbers they were assigned to rural settlements and development towns, with a view that a generation might have to pass before the new Sephardic arrivals could become 'genuine' Israelis. The initial cultural differences led to misunderstandings and friction. The Ashkenazic officials on the other hand believed that they were treating  the new arrivals with compassion. Even now, the Sephardim believe that recent arrivals from Russia (Ashkenazim) receive better housing than Sephardim who arrived 50 years ago.

Three methods of distribution of resources and its impact on public administration has been noted by Esman:
1.  Systematic preferences—This involves preferring members of their own ethnic community for recruitment to positions. While members of the other communities suffer discrimination, they are not necessarily excluded. Some of the co-opted job holders from other ethnic minorities are expected to tone down the collective grievances in their communities by their symbolic presence in positions of dignity and authority, and also by channeling some resources to their co-ethnics. Nonetheless, the lion's share of resources continue to be channeled by public administration to members of the dominant community.

2. Individual market/merit processes—These processes occur when the dominant elites are confident that all their ethnic constituents are fully competitive. This has the presumptive advantage of universal fairness  especially true of societies such as the United States and France that proclaim equality and individual merit. Nevertheless, because of superior advantages and opportunities, members of the dominant community are likely to gain more. Members of disadvantaged communities are advised that because of the level playing field, they need only educate themselves and work harder to enjoy the rewards of a competitive system that is open to all regardless of ethnic background. This approach is advocated by those who hope that an universalistic emphasis on individual achievement may reduce the salience of ethnic loyalties and thereby diminish the threat of ethnic activism to the stability of the state {e.g,, Horowitz, 1985).

3. Power-sharing—Power-sharing or similar formal efforts at balanced participation and intergroup equity occur when ethnic communities are promised fair shares, normally proportional to their numbers, in the decision-making organs of the state. The ethos of power-sharing encourages officials to regard the concerns of all ethnic communities as deserving of governmental attention and to attempt to accommodate members of communities other than their own.

Esman concludes that, competent, responsible, impartial administration of public affairs can contribute to the goals of economic and political development. Yet public administration must function in a politically competitive environment. In ethnically divided systems, the competitive pursuit of collective dignity, security, power, and resources provides the context for the practice of public administration and for the implementation of development plans and programs.

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