During the first decade of this century, governments and organizations alike were occupied by several analysis processes to reevaluate their achievements and shortcomings, cope with the mainstream trends of people, and most importantly, create strategies for the future.
Developed countries and advanced organizations have skillfully utilized most of those novel technological advancements to promote their organizational structures, administrative regulations and bureaucracies to keep up with the modern impulse of their citizens. Besides upgrading and simplifying their standard procedures, governments equipped their bureaus and administration offices with the latest high-tech mobile capabilities, efficient networking devices, and other computerized equipment to free their bureaucratic systems from sluggishness, procrastination and corruption to improve the efficiency and functionality of their public services.
In the Middle East region, as in most developing countries, people, by and large, see bureaucracy as a mode of tiring procedures and defective conduct. For them, it points to an underhanded corrupted performance, which is based on lazy and inflexible applications of outdated administrative procedures.
In the Arab world, the core structures and procedures of Arab’s administrative and bureaucratic systems have been designed and patterned by the prolonged Ottoman rule, and were reshaped after the two world wars by the victorious French or British colonial power. In most cases, they are rigid structures that contain lots of ambiguity and impracticality, which opened the way for bias, favoritism, and corruption. Although most Arab governments have made several attempts to reform their bureaucracies; yet most of them failed to deliver the required change and development.
This actuality, however, has led the Arab public to wonder why most governments could not reform and modernize their bureaucratic system. While most people blame their political and governing system for such frustrating setback; other critics accuse their public servants of incompetence and corruption. So, why none succeeded to modernize Arab bureaucracies?
Actually, there are several diverse causes and reasons for that failure. Though there are some reasons, which are related to one particular Arab country or another, they still share many of these reasons that led to this shortcoming.
The first and foremost shared reason is that only a few analysts and strategists reviewed the bureaucratic case from a societal and organizational culture perspective. Seeing that most public administrators and experts have underrated the effects of behavioral and social culture on the performance of public service employees.
The second reason is related to the adoption of “as is” theories and application of clichéd management systems disregarding the local wants and traditional track of each Arab society.
In the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne, a French humanist, and philosopher wrote:
“Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au delà”, which means, “there are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehood on the other”.
In other words, what is good and right to some, could be bad and wrong to the others.
It is a proven fact that packaged management theories are not the correct solutions to reform government systems, bureaucracies or organizations. Hypothetically, applying the British bureaucratic system in France or USA, for example, would lead to catastrophic results though all are highly developed countries. Imposing electronic procedures and online-based applications on a country that has high computer illiteracy levels, would counteract the intended reform plan and creates chaos instead, for instance.
This actuality, however, is not to imply that old-fashioned ideas and concepts should be upheld unrevised. But, to rather say that the only way to achieve good results is to adapt and adjust the selected bureaucratic structure to fit the national culture. This, however, is because communities do not have the same social culture and equal levels of general knowledge, not to mention the levels of public awareness.
After World War II and the end of the decolonization process, the United Nations (UN) along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) jointly designed several development programs to combat poverty and create development, since four-fifths of world’s population then was living in poor countries. In essence, as most of these development programs were constructed on Western theories and organizational culture, the fact that there was no room for those impoverished countries to interject their national culture into these international development programs has changed the results. While, tens of billions of dollars were spent to facilitate the development of those poor countries; yet, the accomplished results are minimal.
National culture guides individuals and communities to adopt certain cultural principles, like honesty and conformity, to create a better society. Societal culture always influences the work practices of communities. It has a profound impact on the performance of people and productivity of organizations, public and private alike.
To that end, development strategists and experts have to take into consideration that the values, performance, and outcomes of any reform or development process of a particular bureaucracy would vary according to each national culture.
To all intents and purposes, the fact is that any government that seeks to ease up the life of its citizens has to develop a competent bureaucracy that can collectively deliver efficient public services.
To do that, it needs to have trouble-free procedures and good functional body of personnel that can operate in harmony with the national socioeconomic dynamics of the country, before taking any other step.
Mohammad S. Moussalli is a well-known Lebanese writer. He has a reputable journalistic experience, as commentary writer, with a renowned regional English daily newspaper and web-based gazette. He holds a long list of esteemed published articles, mostly centered on human rights, civil liberties, socioeconomic development and sociopolitical issues.
Mr. Moussalli is an independent management consultant with top executive management experience in general trading and contracting in the Middle East and Gulf region. He devises reorganization plans and provides advice on business planning, administration, operations, pay and benefit scales, and many other issues.
Mr. Moussalli blogs at http://middleeasttribune.wordpress.com