Saturday, March 7, 2009

“Pag gusto may paraan, pag ayaw may dahilan”

The word ‘bureaucratic’ has a negative connotation. I bet Weber did not intend it to be that way. When something with a positive connotation is described as bureaucratic, it becomes an oxymoron. So we have oxymora like “bureaucratic wisdom”, “bureaucratic efficiency”, and “bureaucratic intelligence”.

Just like in basic math, the negative connotation of bureaucracy gives a neutral word a negative connotation when described as such. So “bureaucratic procedure” and “bureaucratic layer” have negative connotations.

But unlike in math, when something with a negative connotation is described as bureaucratic, the double negative does not resolve to a positive connotation. On the contrary, the double negative resolves to a negative. It affirms even more the negative connotation. So we have “bureaucratic mess”, “bureaucratic idiocy”, and “bureaucratic snafu”, which brings to mind a terrible mess, tremendous stupidity, and monumental foul-up .

Bureaucracy is characterized by the system of control based on rational rules--that is, as Weber nobly thought, rules meant to design and regulate the whole organization on the basis of technical knowledge and with the aim of achieving maximum efficiency.

But why has the bureaucracy come to this negative connotation? First let us understand how bureaucracy works. Bureaucracy works like this – if you are given a job/task, get an assistant to delegate that task to. If there is no assistant or deputy at the moment, create one or better yet a task force to study how to give you one. The bureaucracy grew leaps and bounds because of this.

With the increasing complexity and bureaucratization due to insatiable appetite for expansion of the workforce, all power is concentrated at the top, in the hands of an organizational elite. The organizational elite always has as its primary aim the consolidation of its own power position. Whenever this aim clashes with other goals of the workforce, the elite will sacrifice the others rather than jeopardize its own privileges. Kaya uso ang laglagan, at kaya hindi nagkakamali ang boss.Organizational elites have a common interest – maintain the status quo, thus they form a strong power group determined to oppose any demand for change.

Sociologists observe that while Weber thought that rules and control of all actions would mean reliability and predictability, the rules and control also lead to lack of flexibility and the tendency to turn means into ends. The emphasis on conformity and strict observance of the rules induces the one to internalize them. Instead of simply means, procedural rules become ends in themselves. The goal becomes the adherence to rules. The instrumental and formalistic aspect of the bureaucratic role becomes more important than the substantive one, the achievement of the main organizational goals. The predictability and precision envisioned by Weber becomes dysfunction.

A government corporation I am very familiar with is led by an Administrator. The Administrator has two deputies. They also have four assistant administrators; the first three administrators handle the three main functions of the agency: licensing, technical services, and marketing. The fourth assistant administrator handles corporate administration. This means the bureaucracy grew so large that it now needs a full time assistant administrator to handle it alongside the core business functions. Another example is the government financial institution tasked with policy creation and supervision of institutions. It has two deputies to the top boss; one deputy for policy and another for supervision. But wait, there’s more. It has another deputy, again for corporate resources.

Organizational elites are primarily interested in the pursuit of their narrow interests and the consolidation and improvement of their own power position, even at the expense of wider organizational interests. There is a saying: “Pag gusto may paraan, pag ayaw may dahilan”. Organizational elites can manipulate the rules in order to enhance its own prerogatives. Because rules obviously can never cover everything, "areas of uncertainty" always emerge that constitute the focal points around which collective conflicts become acute and instances of direct dominance and subordination develop. The group that, by its position in the occupational structure, can control the "unregulated" area, has a great strategic advantage that it naturally uses in order to improve its power position and to ensure a greater share of organizational rewards. (some material from the Encyclopedia Brittanica).

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