Street-Level Bureaucracy

Asif AbroAsif Abro
Since long, the debate over reforms in bureaucracy is being discussed on different forums of Pakistan. Regretfully, the debate could not have been concluded yet. The political, religious, academic, governance and public policy intelligentsia stress only on reform in top-level bureaucracy, because bureaucracy is back bone of state. It is the implementation apparatus of public policy. Nobody can deny its significance. But what about street level bureaucracy?
The concept of street level bureaucracy first time coined by Michael lipsky in 1980, this term was used for school administration, police, lower courts, welfare departments, legal offices, local government institution and all other agencies whose worker interact with and have wide discretion over dispensation of benefits or allocation of public sanctions. Lipsky argues that public policy is not best understood as made in legislature or top-floor suits of high ranking administrator because in important way it is actually made in crowded office and daily encounter of street level workers.
Lipsky further says, rather than laws and policy statutes, the decision of street level bureaucrats and their means and devices they invented to handle the uncertainties and work pressure effectively become public policy. As compared to top-level bureaucracy, street level bureaucrats interact more with general public. Few people have to go provincial capitals or seat of government to solve their problems. Otherwise majority of public have minor problems which can be solved at local level.
Regretfully, our street level bureaucrats are incompetent, inefficient, untrained and mostly corrupt. Predicament of street level bureaucracy is very deplorable. The state of services is in pathetic condition. Aforesaid elements are causes of poor performance of street level bureaucracy. The workers of these agencies are appointed on basis of political consideration, selling of vacancies, nepotism and favoritism.  This Violation of merit creates incompetence. These principles also applied in transfer-posting process. These evils create not only incompetence but also inefficiency in street level bureaucracy. Along with these two grave flaws, workers are untrained they have no any proper training in their respective fields. Lack of professionalism increase the ineffectiveness of street level bureaucracy. Corruption is most sway full variable of degenerating condition of system.  Every kind of corruption is rampant at this level. This compounds the miseries of public. These all factors are responsible of poor services of street level bureaucracy and public suffer from bad administration.
Cycle of democratic and despotic regimes did not pay any heed this problem. The street bureaucracy covers more administrative and governance sphere in country than top-level bureaucracy. There is dire need of reforms in system. There should be six point reform agenda in street level bureaucracy to make it effective, efficient and responsive.
  1. Merit; all appointments should be on the merit.
  2. Performance; the transfer-posting of employees should be on performance base.
  3. Professionalism; government must train the workers in their respective fields make them professional.
  4. Accountability; accountability laws and mechanism should be strict and it should be across the board.
  5. Discretionary power; government should curtail the discretionary power of employees.
  6. Salary package; government should provide a handsome salary package to workers that they could lead a prosperous life.
These reforms could bring a positive change in public administration. These measures could ensure good governance in all over the country.
Writer is student of Governance and Public Policy from NUML Islamabad. His areas of interest are politics, public administration and governance.
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