Decentralization in Organization Theory
Decentralization is the policy of delegating decision-making authority down to the lower levels in an organization, relatively away from and lower in a central authority. A decentralized organization shows fewer tiers in the organizational structure, wider span of control, and a bottom-to-top flow of decision-making and flow of ideas.
In a centralized organization, the decisions are made by top executives or on the basis of pre-set policies. These decisions or policies are then enforced through several tiers of the organization after gradually broadening the span of control until it reaches the bottom tier.
How does this relate to the government administrative structure? The government even in a unitary state has to have field offices and regional offices. We have the Kachcheris and the divisional offices and village headmen.
During the colonial regime the public services at the village or field level were provided through the kachcheris. There were also the Divisional Revenue officers and the Village Headmen who had their offices to deal with the public. The registration of births, deaths marriages as well as land was done in the kachcheri. The Government Agent was the head of the civil administration in the district. He even had some police power and was expected to read out the Riot Act before the Police used could shoot to suppress a civil commotion. The British were primarily but not solely interested in maintaining law and order and collecting tax revenue to fund the government expenditure without being a burden to the home country. Only the technical departments like Irrigation and Survey had their own field offices under the control of their head offices. The system of governance based on administrative devolution or decentralization worked reasonably well to provide the limited services undertaken by the State.
Present state of Decentralization
But today we also have Provincial Councils and Pradesiya Sabhas. How do they relate to each other? What is the role of the Governor? We have not considered these issues. The removal of the concurrent list will perhaps avoid over-lapping but it is not possible to operate in water-tight compartments. The Central Government Ministries may want to have their regional offices and field staff for implementing their functions. But a clear cut separation of functions is not possible. So there has to be consultation between the regional offices of the central government and the Provincial Councils. Some departments might wish to work through the Provincial Councils and the Pradesiya Sabhas and dispense their budget through them- as their agents. Others might want to have their own offices and operate independently of the Provincial Council and Pradesiaya Sabha. This could be left to evolve. One advantage of this structure, if the correct controls are in place, will be the bottom-to-top flow of information, allowing decisions by officials of the organization to be well informed about lower tier operations. There could be a bottom up flow of information which reflects the mind of the people
The Advent of the MP
After Independence and particularly after 1956, governance has been completely transformed although the structures may remain under different names. After the mobilization of the masses in 1956 the elected Member of Parliament began to play a dominant role in the district administration. They began to exert pressure on the Government Agent and the district and divisional level officers. The MPs interfered even in the internal administration of the Kachcheri and other field offices. They were a law unto themselves and nobody in the State machinery, not even in the police could hold them to account. They now act with sole disregard to the law and are doing so with impunity. They failed to appreciate that public administration in a democratic state had to be carried out in a transparent manner and in conformity to the law and the Financial Regulations which bound all government officials. They became petty kings of the district and still do.
The British had introduced a totally bureaucratic system of governance with no place for accountability to politicians at the local level. But after 1956 this system could not function and the role of the Member of Parliament in district administration had no legal basis. In law he was a Member of Parliament and his duties were in relation to law making. But the new MPs preferred to exercise power at the district level where their political interest lay. But their interference undermined the efficiency of the services provided by the Kachcheris. Apart from any arguments for devolution to ensure the participation of the people, the district administration has to be made more efficient. This requires accountability of the bureaucracy to the people. But the Member of Parliament cannot be equated to the people. The MP is only a creature of Parliament although attempts were made by SLFP governments to confer legal authority on them through the appointment of a District Political Authority. But this was not a structure compatible with democracy. It was the giving power without responsibility -the privilege of the harlot. If we want active participation of the people then a considerable measure of devolution of power to the locally elected politicians is necessary as pointed out by De Tocqueville who also pointed out that the woes of local democracy requires more not less democracy. But the power must be accompanied by responsibility and the people must pay for their follies through local taxation. The gap in actual performance and the performance expected by the people cannot be bridged unless the people understand the processes of administration in a democratic framework where accountability is to be enforced not by tying up errant officials to trees but through due process of law and internal administrative procedures in organizations. But they certainly need to be held accountable and the present structure of centralized governance is wanting in this respect. The present administration in the districts seems t be in disarray with politicians ruling the roost.. The public have to learn how to control the bureaucracy and this requires them to be empowered not individually but as a Council. The local councils should as far as possible be free from party politics in their decision-making.
The self interest of politicians
Politicians who get into power want to use their power for their self interest although they may pretend to serve the public interest. They serve the public interest only when such interest coincides with their own interest in pursuit of perpetuation of power, privilege and influence. So while the bureaucrats have to be held accountable so should the politicians. This requires a politically neutral police and an independent judiciary. The colonial regime is often accused of practicing divide and rule. But after 1956 our politicians have done the same. They appealed to differences in caste, ethnicity and religion to win votes and come to power. In the process they alienated the minorities. Once in power they catered exclusively to those who had voted for them and sometimes took revenge on those who voted for other parties. All this is accepted as democracy when it flouts the very foundations of democracy.
Misunderstanding the State
The State is different from society and stands apart from it. Our politicians educated in Swabasha do not understand what constitutes the State. The State refers to the aggregate of relatively permanent institutions of governance. The police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy are structures of the state. Like Louis xiv of France our Presidents after 1978 think they are the State. They think what is in their interest is the same as the public interest. So the Attorney General withdraws criminal cases of murder and rape against Members of the ruling party. So there is no longer any Rule of Law. In this set up the minorities don’t count and can be dispensed with and that has happened since 1958 riots.
Our ruling politicians also see the state as an autonomous institution, autonomous from the society as well as from the UN. To them the State is autonomous and sovereign. Since they are the state it means they are autonomous and sovereign too. The ruling politicians believe in a centralized state which gives them unlimited power. But the centralized state has not filled the aspirations of the people- be they Tamils or Sinhalese. Ask any Sinhalese in the villages whether he is satisfied with the state offices he comes into contact with and you will invariably be told that the police, the grama sevaka or the District Secretary’s office are unsatisfactory. Just imagine how they would treat the Tamils or Muslims when the Sinhalese themselves get shoddy treatment.
Need for Devolution to ensure rights
It is in this set up that the minorities need an entry point into this politicized state which will ensure them some consideration. They need such an entry point below the level of the centralized national government. They have been asking for Provincial Councils as provided for in the 13th Amendment. They need to have such a Council to ensure that business can be carried out in the Tamil language and through Tamil speaking officers. They need to control the bureaucracy not in the way that the Sinhalese politicians do but in a democratic way through lawful methods of accountability. There is no place for Para- military autocrats in their midst. They need elected bodies and such bodies should function in the usual ways that democracies function. These elected politicians can then articulate their policies to reflect their needs and priorities. A dual control of the bureaucracy both by the central government and the provincial council will not work. No man can serve two masters. Dual control will lead also to divide and rule management. This doesn’t mean that the local politicians can ride rough shod over the local bureaucracy as is among the Sinhalese. The bureaucracy needs protection through independent Commissions for their appointment, discipline and promotions. While the colonial rulers manipulated the diverse ethnic groups into a functional state, the post Independence custodians of power have merely intensified the hatred and widened the divide between the communities. Outwardly there is no sign of ethnic disunity because the north and east are under tight control through the military. There is no freedom from fear since the buck stops at the military and the civil administration is playing second fiddle to the military.
Instead of putting proper controls in place the government seems to prefer to undermine the local councils by having Jana Sabhas consisting of unelected officials who will be appointed by the ruling party and who are expected to serve them. It is true that the existing local authorities don’t command respect of the people. But as De Tocqueville pointed out the remedy for the failings in democracy is more democracy not less. The people must suffer the consequences of their own lapses in electing wrong type of politicians.
The present State structures draw their strength from a highly polarized ethnically hegemonic society.. The government is so bent on monopolizing power that it has extended its tentacles to the private business sector too. The State is seeking to influence if not dominate this sector as well.
The State is made to propagate the desires of those in power as the May Day celebrations were diverted to disparage the U N Panel. Successive governments have so far failed to build a nation embracing the different ethnic and religious groups. The State is looked upon as a Sinhala Buddhist state where minorities have to live on sufferance.
Devolution in China
Constitutionally, organizations in both the functional and territorial systems of governance are assigned to a system of ranks. Central ministries are at the same rank as provincial governments. Writes Lieberthal, "One key rule of the Chinese system is that units of the same rank cannot issue binding orders to each other. Operationally, this means that no ministry can issue a binding order to a province." This means a province may challenge, overrule, or ignore decisions made by a ministry.
Under the Deng Xiaoping reforms, provinces were given substantial economic and political authority. This posed a problem for the central government in that the central government had no independent means of enforcing its authority to prevent local protectionism or enforce standards. Hence in the 1990s, the PRC government began creating parallel central organizations. Most of these organizations deal with economic regulations.
An analogous situation can be seen in federal systems such as the United States where a federal and state agency operate in parallel, but neither has the authority to command the other. Although the power relationships are similar the actual powers exercised can be quite different. For example, there are parallel institutions for police and financial securities regulation in the United States, but not in the PRC. So the removal of the concurrent list is not enough. The Provincial Councils and the central government Ministries should be of the same rank and neither should be able to give orders to the other.