ABC’s of democracy

Would electoral reform make the political system more democratic? The following is a discussion about the possible benefits and the inherent limitations of the following three approaches to improving governance: 1) professional training for government employees; 2) organizational and managerial reform of government agencies; and 3) electoral reform to make the political system more democratic. If the first two approaches are lagging the third element would be ineffective.

The essential question that should invade the mind of any citizen in a non-democratic society is the following: Would electoral reform make the political system more democratic? A more complex question is that what does it mean to govern? What does a government do when it governs? It makes decisions, and implements and enforces policies. They also produce services for the public and regulate actions. Are all governments successful in doing the same routine?

In order to mass produce these regulatory actions of government services, bureaucratic methods have been the most effective approach. It means professional training for government employees is not only essential but also crucial. Max Waber, founder of modern sociology, invented the term “bureaucracy,” meaning “rule by the bureaus” and by the professional governmental staff. This is the opposite of rule by monarchs, aristocrats or lords. The bureaucrats are civil service staffers with divisions of responsibility. This way, the public knows who is responsible for performing each type of job.

Governance is a consequence of societal structures and cultures of accountability. Anti-corruption and inherent dimensions of accountability that exist in social institutions are where increasing governance and management happens simultaneously. Bureaucratic accountability often contradicts feudal patronage. In bureaucratic organizations, people are accountable to their superiors, where people usually have fixed jobs that are clearly defined. Their responsibilities are known to all. This contrasts sharply with a feudal patronage system or oligarchy, in which the person hired at the top, has his loyal followers lower in the organization. Subservient employees demonstrate their worth through their loyalty, not effective performance.

Bureaucratic systems are defined by groups of professionals, divisions of responsibility, routinized case handling, case files and exceptions. The inherent benefit of such a system is described through its function. People are turned from unique individuals into routine cases, via mass produced applications. The individual usually is absent while his/her file is worked on and passed on to different departments. This routinized process is efficient and time saving. People will get on with their work and not have to wait in long lines. Biases and discriminations are minimized when there is no physical contact between the agent and the applicant. When governments are not mass producing these applications, applicants are looked at one by one, in a manner tailored to each individual. The inherent limitation of non-bureaucratic agency is that it is time-consuming and expensive, both for the applicant — who has to pay bribes — and for the governmental institution as a whole. This inefficiency paralyzes the entire system of development.

Adam Smith and his follower Milton Friedman believe in the minimum socioeconomic function of government. The government's role should be limited to rules regarding property and contracts, the establishment of police and military, dispute arbitration and currency system maintenance. Smith and Friedman object to the government's exercise of certain powers, such as market adjustment for positive and negative externalities that would provide for public goods, basic education, and physical infrastructure. They also object to interference with natural monopolies and to the public provision of aid to individuals who are helpless and dependent. I believe we should have more government, not less. Otherwise, you can not have a humane society. Indeed, you can have economic growth and non-active government simultaneously.

Effective governance as a system must follow certain criteria for efficiency. This includes professionalization — the ensuring of technical competency, such as certified public accountants, licensed physicians, etc. Efficiency also requires multidimensional accountability, civil liberties unions to keep people responsible for their actions, rules of law, and transparency. Transparent rules are those that can be understood readily by the public.
Accountable officials are divided into five categories, representing a governmental system. The agency managers improve bureaucratization and monitor the system. Elected authorities are the executive and legislative branch officials who appoint managers and their staffs, ensuring smooth turnover and transitions.

Then, there is the public, which functions in two capacities. The public acts as owners (elected leaders and the media, e.g.) and as clients (advisory and advocacy groups, such as NGOs). The fifth category is the strong professional associations, with their membership standards and codes of ethics. The bureaucracy represents government's accountability. The media is accountable for publicizing events, and the market is accountable to consumers. The civil society groups (NGO's), such as Amnesty International, carefully watch governmental agencies. People try to increase accountability through electoral democratic systems or via NGOs and professional groups, but these are only possible complementary sources.

There are world-wide constituencies demanding accountabilities, such as market competition. This accountability is focused on people who have traces. This means that if people are not satisfied with certain services they can get them elsewhere. People who are serving clients are more accountable. This is how choice is introduced, through market competition accountability. Such systems will end governments' monopolies, making education and other welfare programs available and forcing governments to compete with semi-private agencies, which receive funds to serve the population. Whenever there is reform introducing these elements into the system, accountability will be improved dramatically.

To ensure that these organizations function adequately and managerial reforms of government agencies are in proper operation, they should follow the five elements to the rule of law. This is where a set of rules should be known in advance. There should be institutions to enforce these rules and institutions to apply and interpret them. There should be existing institutions to resolve conflict. Finally, there must be procedures to amend these rules. Once an effective rule of law is in place, individuals and organizations can assess risks, make rational decisions, and make investments. Usually, an underground informal economy or black market will be the result in the absence of a rule of law.

Electoral reform makes the political system more democratic. A democratic political system is characterized as leadership selected on the basis of competition and popularity, as measured by public support. The process of decision-making should be known to the public and should be open to public criticism. The safety of members belonging to each party must be guaranteed. These activities are protected and rated under political rights and civil liberty laws. It is important to note that democracy is a learned experience. Children as they grow up learn how to reach consensus within the household and later on in the larger society. Democracy teaches people to produce peaceful resolutions to conflict.

The reason people in democratic societies defend this mode of behavior is that democracy gives us what we want. Democracy embodies ideals such as freedom of expression and global equality, while meeting deeply felt needs. It allows you to be part of the larger society and decision-making that can affect your life. It satisfies your need to be heard. Classical conditioning and habituation accustom people to democratic roles. These patterns must be learned and must remain in practice for at least three decades before a nation can present its citizens with the fruits of democracy.

The law fails when it can not create harmony. It may prove incapable of responding in time to changes taking place. The failure of the lawmakers to anticipate fundamental changes, and to incorporate those changes within the nature of the legal tradition, complicates the law's purpose, which is to preserve order and do justice. The tension between the need for change and the need for stability is a phenomenon which Third World societies, especially Iran's Islamic theocratic regime, is struggling with in a New World Order.

Fatima Farideh Nejat holds a Bachelors degree in Interdisciplinary Studies of Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology and Women's Studies; and a Masters of Arts degree in International Training and Education from the American University in Washington, DC. She served in diplomatic corps of Iran working at the Iranian Embassy in Washington, DC, from 1970-80. She is currently Assistant Professor at the Department of the Army, Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

— Kusterer, Kenneth; Rock, Mike; Weaver, Jim. Achieving Broad-Based Sustainable Development. Kumarian Press, Washington, DC. 1996.
— The World Bank: Workers in an Integrating World. World Development Report 1995. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 1995.
— United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Human Development Report 1995. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 1995.
— Wright, Robin. “Testing the Limits of Cultural Freedom” Civilization. March/April. 1995.
— Mansbtidge, Jane. “What is a Democracy? Plenary Session I” Commission on Behavioral and Social Science and Education. National Research Council. National Academy Press. Washington, DC. 1991.
— Carroll, Thomas. Intermediary NGOs: The Supporting Link in Grassroots Development. Kumarian Press. West Hartford, Connecticut. 1992.

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