The discipline of public administration emerged foregrounding two major Wilsonian fallacies. One, that ‘politics’ and ‘administration’ are distinct dichotomous governmental blobs which need to be dealt with separately, and the political and permanent executive must take note of it. Two, that ‘public’ and ‘private’ are fundamentally alike in all important respects. Wilson also claimed that ‘the field of administration is a field of business. It is removed from the hurry and strife of politics.’ The Weberian modern bureaucracy could not escape solecism for its dysfunctional executive behaviours including buck-passing, red tape, blame avoidance and unaccountable opaque systems.
There have been multiple paradigm shifts, both in locus and focus, in the study of the evolution of public administration. The discipline in its many new avatars, such as new public administration, new public management, new public service, and new public governance, has not been able to address its core concern of defending public interest. The governments, across the globe, are seen as inescapably acting as instruments of ruling class and behaving as a ‘committee for managing the common affairs of whole bourgeoisie’. How do we address these fallacies, opprobrium, trained incapacities and internal contradictions of the executive? Can we build on to a robust, what I coin as governprudence, i.e., prudence (meaning a body/system and philosophy) of governance? And, governprudence particularly in the changing context of the global South?
Rumki Basu’s Public Administration in the 21st Century: A Global South Perspective, contextualizes the contours of the discipline of public administration in the global perspective, addressing the challenges that the South faces in governance practice. It seeks to rethink, reassess, and redesign the fundamentals of knowability of ontological presuppositions the discipline grapples with, and lays down the broad parameters for its knowledge sustenance so as to make the discipline increasingly progressive and predictive, particularly for the South. The book tries to build up a coherent narrative of governance through six dense but succinct essays. Two underlying philosophical questions that recur throughout these essays are: (a) What does it mean to be effective public administrators in the 21st century? (b) How do we revisit public administration, both theory and practice, in the heterogeneous developing societies, given the context of globalization (its opening up or clawing back) and the rising South?
We witnessed what many have termed a ‘Global Recession’, originating in the North (2007-8), and soon this crisis got transmitted to the rest of the world by either foreign trade or financial markets. Its spill-over effects afflicted what Gramsci called the sphere of complex superstructure: political, legal and cultural. Samir Amin reminds us of three contemporary crises at the global level: (a) the crisis of accumulation in the real productive economy, (b) the energy crisis and the depletion of natural resources and (c) the crisis of peasant societies including the agro-alimentary crisis, and to add one more, the crisis of development public policy paradigm, for the South in particular. The author, in the first essay, contrasts the resurgent South with the crisis ridden North and also delineates pressing critical challenges of the South. She suggests the Mauritian model of increasing institutional capacity building and robust public delivery systems particularly in health and education to be studied for comparative purposes. For India to emulate Mauritius would be a bit onerous due to her size, complexity and diversity. The first chapter, nonetheless, is an overarching marquee for setting up the salience of the discipline of public administration and public policy in addressing the dilemmas and challenges of the 21st century. It sets the tone, as she argues, for ‘revisiting, rethinking, reinventing and eventually re-founding’ public administration for South-centric perspective, with emphasis on the politico-administrative values of ‘legality, rationality, citizen centricity, public accountability and responsiveness’. However, for better macro-public governance, it is essential to have its proper connect and congruity with the micro-public governance.