ROLE OF CIVIL SERVICE IN A DEMOCRACY
Civil Services constitute the backbone of the Politics – Administrative set up in a sovereign state. Regardless of the nature of the political system ‘Civil Service Bureaucracy’ is the key instrumentality used by the state to fulfill its prerogatives and priorities. This is all the more true in a Democratic set up where the state is keenly involved in delivering upon felt needs of the electorate which form a part of the popular mandate. A democratic state essentially and actively promotes welfare of its citizens. As the scope of welfare activities of the govt. expands so does the role. size and authority & responsibility of state bureaucracy. Civil Services come to acquire disproportionate power and come to play a decisive role in public welfare. Tax payers money which is the most significant component of public finance is largely managed and spent by the bureaucracy. This, coupled with the discretionary powers at its disposal, make bureaucracy the key instrumentality not only of the state but of the community, the dependence of which on the former increases exponentially. This then raises the question of ‘role expectation’ of the bureaucracy and the need for concrete articulation on specifics of roles that a civil servant need essay in order to effectively address aspirations of both citizens and their leaders who form part of the political executive and under whose broad guidance the civil service performs its tasks.
Broadly, therefore, the role of civil services in a democracy can be understood in terms of the followings:-
< >Neutrality Role: Civil servants need to scrupulously adhere to the time honoured principle of neutrality’ in their conduct. The principle, though, needs elaboration. Thus an administrator must subscribe to three levels of neutrality :-Neutrality towards classes:- That is to say, civil servants must not practice any discrimination on the basis of economic and social status (unless expressly provided under any policy or programme). The very notion of rule of law is premised on the dictum “be you ever so high, the law is above you”.Neutrality towards cultural groupings:- An administrator ought not to harbour bias or prejudice towards specific caste groupings, linguistic groups or religious communities. In fact, the absence of this aspect of neutrality can undermine the unity of the nation and create explosive centrifugal tendencies.Neutrality towards political parties:- Civil service constitutes the permanent element of the executive, just as the ruling party forms the non-permanent element. Democracy operates through a periodic exercise of evaluating the performance of political incumbents through a nationwide process of elections. Depending on their outcome different political parties and formations are likely to come to power at different points of time. Each of these formations serves popular mandate for a temporary period and, it goes without saying, requires loyal and dedicated service from the permanent executive. Thus it is ethically incumbent on civil servants to practice absolute neutrality in political matters and scrupulously steer clear of any party affiliations. Though a civil servant is entitled to present his views on the policies pursued by the ruling party, including contrarian and critical analysis of the same, yet he is expected not to develop any antipathy towards political formations that pursue a policy agenda different from the one he or she advocates/advises. More specifically civil servants must never curry favour with senior leaders in order to land desirable postings or other illegitimate favours.
Anonymity Role:- Anonymity is a time honoured principle of Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. It goes hand-in-hand with the dictum of ‘Ministerial Responsibility’ which implies that for all departmental achievements the credit goes to its leader, the minister, much as for all lapses he takes the blame. Thus if the minister is entitled to bouquets, he must be prepared to face brick-bats in the event of policy or programmatic failures. The job of the civil servant is to assist and advise and therefore, operates behind the scenes. But this does not imply that for all bureaucratic lapses, the minister should be held accountable. Thus it would be grossly improper for the home minister to be questioned over a constable accepting a bribe on the street. The cloak of ministerial responsibility protects the civil service only with respect to its bonafide actions carried out in accordance with the policies sanctioned by the minister. Anonymity mandates that the minister defend legitimate actions of his bureaucracy and guard it against unwarranted criticism or allegations.
A further dimension of anonymity is that a civil servant must have restricted interaction with the media and must never use it to air his/her grievances and not engage in adverse criticism of government. It is indeed a tragedy and a sad reflection on our times that honest civil servants, harassed and victimized by a corrupt politico-bureaucratic set up and left with no alternatives have chosen to use the media to expose the rot within and become outright whistleblowers. Though their ends are genuine the means employed have the tendency to set up dangerous precedents with consequences that are as grave as they are uncertain. The situation, thus, calls for a grand & systemic overhaul of the whole politico-bureaucratic system incorporating aspects of electoral reforms, legal reforms, procedural changes, directed towards creating an environment that protects the honest and hounds the corrupt and not vice-versa.
Instrumentality Role:- Democracy demands that civil servants view themselves as instruments for delivering upon popular mandate. Thus respect for traditions of parliamentary democracy and acknowledging the primacy of political leadership and control become the sine-qua-non of bureaucratic value system. That a civil servant must be provided full latitude to express himself with respect to public issues, in a free and frank manner i.e. while advising his political masters should not detract from the fact that he must implement policy decisions diligently regardless of whether the his advice was incorporated or not. Sadly, in most ex-colonial countries this is a virtue that has not been adequately cultivated into the DNA of civil service. One hears, with disturbing frequency, laments of ministers as to civil servants lack of enthusiasm in executing decisions contrary to their advice. In some cases, it is held, civil servants have actively sabotaged such policies.
Professionality Role :- Maintenance of a high standard of administrative output requires that a civil servant must endeavor to mould himself as a thorough professional, and strive for the highest possible level of excellence in his area of activity. Thus, apart from making full use of the mid-career training opportunities provided by the govt., he must make suo moto efforts to enhance his knowledge base and intellectual skills. He must strive for constant improvement in his abilities and not compromise with standards for the sake of convenience. Professionalism aspect of a civil servants role is all the more important in the Indian Context wherein recruits to most of the senior administrative services have a generalist background and are selected through a common entrance examination that does not establish suitability of candidates for various services. Ultimately the service that a civil service aspirant lands in is an outcome of his rank in the aforementioned examination and his service preferences. Ergo, the need for formal and specialized training can hardly be over emphasized. Yet, inspite of the Govt. of India announcing a National training policy in 1996, followed up by another one in 2012, training in general has not received the attention it deserves from either the government or the trainees. Content of training is rarely relevant, pedagogy techniques are archaic, training modules are not systematically planned to cover different stages of a civil servants career, with the result that training is often seen as a paid holiday by bureaucrats.
Impersonality Role:- This aspect of a civil servants role is more complicated than others. That a civil servant must harbor no bias or prejudice is without doubt. That he must act objectively on the basis of merits of each situation and not allow his personal feelings to affect his judgement is sacrosanct. Thus he must approach his role with certain level of detachment. Yet, in doing so he must not become overly mechanical in outlook, as is likely to rid him of ‘Compassion’ which is a key attribute of civil service ethics. Detachment and attachment are not mutually exclusive and every administrator must seek to rationally blend the two urges.
Commitment:- This is the most natural expectation from any functionary, whether private or public. But it is all the more important for public servants, working as they are to fulfill the ideals of a welfare state. A welfare state is premised on the ideals of citizen centricity, transparency, probity, pecuniary integrity and popular participation in governance. It has, as its broad goal, the establishment of a new social and economic order that has attributes of Justice, fairness & equity. The aforementioned goals are sought to be fulfilled through appropriately designed 4Ps (Plans, Programmes, Policies and Projects). Yet the best laid plans would come a cropper if they are not implemented by committed civil servants who perform their roles with involvement, interest, passion and dexterity. Citizen satisfaction is the highest ideal, an ideal that will remain elusive without a civil service bureaucracy committed to rule of law, ethical values, constitutional norms and programmatic goals.
In this era of globalization and privatization it is only natural to assume that the role of the state is likely to diminish. Yet such an understanding smacks of naivety as the role of state is likely to transform and morph into a more complicated matrix as opposed to getting reduced. And if the state is to live up to expectations its principal instrumentally, the Bureaucracy, would have to radically overhaul itself. An inept, non responsive, non-representative civil service is likely to find its authority eroded and its relevance increasingly questioned. As democratic gusts blow across the world, powered by information revolution, the age old adage, “evolve or perish” never carried more meaning for bureaucracy as it does today.