Guest editorial


International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 5 July 2013


Jones, D.S. and Cheung, A.B.L. (2013), "Guest editorial", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 26 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Public Sector Management, Volume 26, Issue 5

The five papers included in this special issue examine public sector governance and management in East Asia and Southeast Asia focusing on systems of governance and the nature and impact of administrative reform. The original versions of the papers were presented at a conference of the Asian Association of Public Administration titled “Enhancing Public Trust in Changing Asian Societies”, held in Jakarta, Indonesia on 7-9 February 2011.

The papers in this special issue are relevant to our understanding of the reforms of public sector management that have been implemented in many states of the two regions in recent times. These include measures introduced under the umbrella of New Public Management (NPM) to create more efficient and effective systems of administration, such as performance measurement, increased agency autonomy, competitive procurement, outsourcing and privatisation. In addition, states have adopted reforms to fight corruption and strengthen watchdog bodies, although with variable success. Decentralisation of administration through provincial and district authorities has also been promoted in certain countries, while civil society has become more prominent in lobbying and partnering government agencies. The backdrop to these changes has been the rapid economic development in the two regions, and such accompanying social challenges as rising expectations in the affluent and emerging countries, and the need for poverty alleviation in the poorer countries.

Four papers are country or jurisdiction specific – covering separately Hong Kong SAR, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan, while one paper is a comparative study of various countries in the two regions. A range of topics is covered: three papers focus on a specific aspect of public sector management (performance management in government agencies, public procurement and policy innovation), while two papers examine governance and public sector management in general in relation to Singapore and Hong Kong SAR.

Osamu Koike’s paper, “Institutionalising performance management in Asia: looking East or West?”, is a comparative study of performance management systems which have been introduced into the public services of several states in the two regions. The performance management reforms drew on to varying degrees the new approaches to public administration under New Public Management (NPM), which gained wide credence in Western countries in the 1980 and 1990s. The reforms have focused on measuring and assessing performance both at the individual level and the overall agency level, using indicators, targets, benchmarks, and ratings. At the agency level, this has involved measuring efficiency in resource usage, the standard and extent of service delivery, and the ultimate benefits of those services for the public or clients of public agencies (outcomes). The purpose is to make public agencies more accountable for their performance to their political masters, to various watchdog bodies of the state, and to the public and civil society in general.

After carefully explaining the performance management systems introduced in different countries, Koike concludes that the impact of performance management may be limited on two key aspects of governance, viz. government effectiveness and progress in combating corruption, as measured by ratings of the World Bank and Transparency International. He cites the example of the Philippines, where a performance management system has been established in government agencies for more than 10 years but where little progress has been made in improving government effectiveness and in reducing corruption. In the Republic of Korea, a performance management system has existed for about the same period of time but progress in combating corruption has been modest. On the other hand in Japan, the first step to create a performance management system has only been recently taken, but, notwithstanding, it is more highly rated for government effectiveness and for controlling corruption.

Koike gives various reasons for the limited impact of performance management on standards of governance within the East and Southeast Asian countries. One is the “patrimonial” culture in public sector organisations in certain countries in the two regions, based on patron-client relationships and family and crony-based patronage networks. Such a culture undermines the effectiveness of performance management systems in improving accountability and performance, since it “weakens the merit principle and scientific management” at the heart of performance management. Linked to this, according to Koike, is the introduction of performance management reforms in the developing countries by donor agencies that drew from reforms in Western countries, without regard to the Asian context, especially the patrimonial culture mentioned previously. Another reason for the limited effect of performance management on governance is its failure to promote, even to the point of undermining “horizontal co-operation among public sector organisations in networked governance”. Such networked governance is especially important in dealing with complex multi-sector issues. Koike further argues that in the process of making government accountable, “an active civil society is necessary for checking the performance of public sector organisations”. In addition, insufficient attention has been given to employee motivation by respecting the human aspect of the organisation such as allowing participation in decisions and encouraging a “commitment” to corporate goals and an “esprit de corps”. These all suggest that performance management in itself cannot lead to higher performance and more rigorous accountability.

The paper written by Milan Tung-Wen Sun, Mei-Chiang Shih, Keng-Ming Hsu, and Jen-Hei Chen, “Service innovation and policy diffusion: an exploratory study of the Bookstart program in Taiwan”, examines the adoption of an innovative policy measure, the Bookstart Programme, by a public library in Taiwan, and its subsequent diffusion in the rest of the country. The Programme was adopted from the UK (UK) where it was originally conceived and implemented. This was an example of policy transfer and diffusion.

The Bookstart Programme is designed to encourage parents and child-carers to read to pre-school children, including infants, under their care. Its objectives are to develop parent/carer-child communication, foster literacy and early learning, and cultivate life-long love of reading. The Programme was first adopted by a library in Shalu Township in Taichung County in 2003. In subsequent years, other libraries in Taichug County and in other local government areas followed suit. It is estimated that more than 150 public libraries are now involved in the Programme. According to the paper, the impetus to adopt the Bookstart Programme was strengthened by the official commitment made to it by the Ministry of Education as a national policy in 2008. Consequently, it provided support on a limited basis to other libraries to adopt Bookstart and extended it to the first grade of the elementary schools. This was an example of horizontal diffusion (voluntary adoption by agencies at the same level) leading eventually to vertical diffusion (adoption through a hierarchical process of instruction and inducements).

Sun et al. compare and contrast the Bookstart Programmes in the UK and Taiwan. A common feature of both programmes is the role of the public-private partnership. However, according to them, in Taiwan, unlike the UK, the role of the private organisations in the partnership is much less important than the public agencies (mainly public libraries and local authorities). Further differences are the smaller range of individuals and agencies involved in implementing the programme in Taiwan than in the UK, and the more prominent role in Taiwan of local politicians in Programme implementation compared to their counterparts in the UK.

Finally, the authors provide an analytical framework to guide their further research on the Bookstart Programme, which focuses on the determinants of the diffusion of the Programme to explain why some libraries have adopted and others have not. The framework identifies various determinants of diffusion: the impact of the Programme in the early years; organisational resources of libraries (including the professional competence of library staff and funding availability); attitudes of the key players in the process (librarians and local politicians and administrators); the socio-economic, demographic and geographical context in which the libraries operated; and the support from outside organisations through public-private partnerships.

David Jones’ paper, “Procurement reform in the philippines: the impact of elite capture and informal bureaucracy”, examines recent reforms of the public procurement system in the Philippines, which had been marked over the years by significant deficiencies such as the lack of competition and transparency, fragmentation, waste, weak accountability, and widespread corruption. The paper focuses on the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs) of 2004, amended in 2009, and the Procurement Manuals drafted in 2009. Key aspects of the reforms are described in the paper. Amongst them are measures to promote more open and fairer competition in the procurement market, and to enhance transparency in the procurement process, including establishing a comprehensive e-procurement system. In addition, procuring entities are required to give priority to higher quality and reliability especially in infrastructure tenders, while new watchdog bodies were established and the powers of existing ones strengthened, in order to increase the accountability of the procuring entities. Linked to these are provisions to tackle widespread corruption in the procurement process, including bribery, fraud, collusion, nepotism and cronyism. Corruption offences are specifically identified in the reforms and penalties are prescribed.

However, the impact of the procurement reforms, according to Jones, has been blunted by the limitations of certain provisions (such as continuing barriers to foreign participation in tenders), the lack of effective implementation, and on-going weaknesses in the system of accountability. A particularly serious shortcoming is the continuing prevalence of corruption in the procurement process. Thus, while progress has been made, many dysfunctional elements in the procurement system remain.

Jones attributes the limitations of the procurement reforms to elite capture and informal bureaucracy. Elite capture entails the domination of public policy and administration by wealthy business and landed elites, while informal bureaucracy refers to the ability of the bureaucrats to adopt their own criteria in making decisions and to follow unwritten practices, even deviating from official policy statements, laws and regulations.

Within the context of public procurement in the Philippines elite capture is reflected in the way the network of business leaders from well-established landowning families in the Philippines have been able to influence both procurement policy, and at the operational level individual procurements, to suit their own interests. This has been made possible “by their close association with the political establishment of congressmen, ministers and other Presidential appointees, top bureaucrats, governors, and mayors”. Such business leaders have also been able “to exploit the informal character of the bureaucracy to ensure that ambiguous rules are interpreted, and legal impediments and official procedures are circumvented, with the intention of obtaining decisions in their favour”. Procurement officials do not resist elite capture, partly through deference that exists in an ascriptive culture, fear of the consequences of resistance, and the desire for personal gain from bribes and kickbacks.

Jones concludes that effective procurement reforms in the Philippines depends on the following conditions: weakening the hold of elite business networks, fostering a mindset within the bureaucracy of compliance to official rules at the expense of informal influences, creating genuinely independent watchdog bodies, and giving more scope to civil society groups to check policy decisions and bureaucratic behaviour.

Jon Quah’s paper, “Ensuring good governance in Singapore: is this experience transferable to other Asian countries?” examines various aspects of the governance of Singapore that have enabled it to be transformed from a poor third world country at the attainment of self-government in June 1959 to the prosperous and stable state of today. He highlights the reorganisation of the Singapore Civil Service (SCS) shortly after self-government was achieved and the instilling of a mindset among civil servants in support of national development goals. At the same time, a commitment was made to fighting corruption by rectifying shortcomings in the anti-corruption measures employed during the British colonial period. The key agency in this endeavour has been the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which was established in October 1952. The paper traces how the powers, capacity and resources of CPIB have been enhanced over the years. This has had a major impact in minimising corruption and maintaining a high level of integrity in the public sector. Equally important is the commitment to meritocracy, which is reflected in the merit-based system of recruitment, and promotion, comprehensive performance appraisal, scholarship schemes and training programmes to ensure a high calibre of personnel in the public service, with the top positions occupied by the “brightest and best”.

In later years, according to the paper, important reforms were implemented to decentralise the personnel responsibilities in the SCS. Up to then, the bulk of personnel functions were undertaken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), which had played a vital role in upholding a merit-based and apolitical Civil Service since its establishment in January 1951. However, in 1995 the main task of recruitment and promotion was delegated to newly created personnel boards in different ministries and agencies to alleviate the growing workload of the PSC. The PSC did retain its role in appointing officers to the Administrative Service, and in appointing and promoting personnel to the senior management ranks (at Superscale D and above), as well in handling disciplinary cases and granting PSC scholarships awards.

The paper also examines the issue of remuneration for public officials in Singapore. A major challenge facing the Singapore government over the years has been the recruitment and retention of the “brightest and best” in face of the attractive salaries and bonuses offered by the private sector. Although salaries had been revised on several occasions to bridge the gap, these measures were ineffective in stemming the “brain drain” of civil servants to the private sector. In 1995, an important step was taken to deal with the problem, which involved benchmarking senior public sector salaries against the salaries of senior executives in the private sector. Subsequently, salaries and bonuses have been adjusted upwards when necessary under the benchmarking arrangement to keep step with the private sector. Conversely, during years of economic downturn, salaries have been adjusted downwards. According to the paper, the arrangement has been effective in curbing the attrition rate at the senior levels of SCS.

The paper then considers the standards of governance in Singapore, as assessed through numerical scores and rankings given by international organisations (Transparency International, World Bank, World Economic Forum, and Political and Economic Risk Consultancy [PERC]). As shown in the figures cited in the paper, Singapore has been given over a number of years highly favourable scores and rankings on such measures as government effectiveness, combatting corruption, streamlining business regulation, and cutting red-tape. In some cases, Singapore has achieved a top global ranking in government effectiveness and ease of doing business. Of particular interest are the scores and rankings given to Singapore for public trust in the ethical standards of politicians, based on the surveys of World Economic Forum and cited in its Global Competitiveness Report. Since 1999, it has been given the highest global ranking on this measure with a score that varies from 6.36 to 6.5 in a range of 1-7.

In the final part of the paper, Quah addresses the question of how far Singapore’s experience of good governance is transferable to other Asian states and here he sounds a note of caution. The political will essential to ensuring good governance that has existed in Singapore is often lacking in other states. In addition, the context of policy-making and administration, viz. a small land area and population, high GDP per capita, and a high calibre public service, does not exist in many other Asian states. This means that the Singapore experience is only transferable to a limited degree.

Anthony Cheung’s paper, “Public governance reform in Hong Kong: rebuilding trust and governability”, examines the challenges of building public trust in and strengthening the legitimacy of Hong Kong’s system of government and administration, as it has evolved and continues to evolve, following the resumption of sovereignty by China in 1997. The starting point for the analysis is the development of the modern but apolitical administrative state during the latter years of the colonial period. Power was exercised by the bureaucratic elite of policy managers and a number of public sector reforms were implemented to improve efficiency (doing more with less) and to create market-based service delivery under the umbrella of NPM. In addition, the policy elite pursued an agenda of only limited intervention in relation to economic regulation and social provision.

Following the handover, political institutions were created, including an elected Chief Executive (elected by an electoral college of limited franchise based on “functional” or interest groupings), an executive comprising political appointees, and a partially representative Legislative Council. According to Cheung, the progress towards the creation of a fully politicised state is as yet incomplete, and many of the features of the pre-1997 administrative state remain, reflected in the continued exercise of bureaucratic power and the pursuit of policies of limited intervention. Although the Hong Kong government scores favourably across the World Bank governance indicators, the paper contends that “an executive-led bureaucratic polity” pursuing limited intervention, is no longer adequate to meet the needs of Hong Kong. This has led, according to various surveys cited in the paper, to only low or modest levels of support for and trust in key institutions of the state with the exception of the Judiciary.

Instead of the non-interventionist administrative state, Cheung advocates “a proactive government that is better grounded in party politics and an effective division of role and responsibilities between the political and the administrative”. Such a system would be based on “executive-legislative co-responsibility and checks and balances”. It would be proactive and interventionist, and implement “values-driven policy change”, reflecting core values of the society. Such an interventionist role would include a greater emphasis on social policy to deal with such problems as low incomes, child poverty, reduced social mobility, and widening disparities of income and wealth. In the development of a more politicised and democratic state, civil servants would be more clearly distinguished from and subordinate to the political leadership in policy matters, but would fulfill the task of offering impartial and independent policy advice.

In conclusion, the paper considers the impact of a democratic and politicised state on the level of public trust. Previously trust in the institutions of the administrative state was limited by being only related to performance (what may be termed instrumental trust). In the new context, the extent of trust may be widened to include what Cheung refers to as “integrative trust” which is rooted in the democratic credentials of the state and the ability of political leaders to identify with the values and interests of the population. This in turn creates better conditions for governability and thus reinforces instrumental trust.

Various overlapping themes can be identified among the papers. One is public trust in politicians, government officials and institutions of the state, referred to in the papers written by Quah and Cheung. In Quah’s paper, evidence is given of a high level of public trust in the integrity of Singapore’s politicians. By contrast, Cheung cites evidence of surveys which reveal only modest levels of trust in government and administration in Hong Kong SAR. Perhaps the explanation for the difference in levels of trust is that most Singaporeans have benefited from the policies of the PAP government and its reliance on a strong meritocratic administration which has developed within the framework of representative and accountable government. In contrast, in Hong Kong, although its administration is also merit-based, such a framework is not yet fully developed, resulting in the shortfall of “integrative” trust, especially during the administration of Tung Chee Hwa.

A further theme linking the paper by Quah and Jones is the impact of the extent of corruption on government effectiveness and policy outcomes. Quah emphasises the success of the Singapore government’s policy to minimise corruption, leading to a high level of government effectiveness and enabling development goals to be achieved. This is related to the point made in Jones’ paper that the limitations of the procurement reforms in the Philippines in achieving significant improvements in the standards of procurement, can in part be attributed to the continuing prevalence of corruption in the procurement process.

Another theme linking the papers by Jones and Koike is patrimonialism in the government bureaucracy. Koike indicates that a patrimonial bureaucracy involving patron-client networks still exist in certain Asian states, and can undermine efforts to create a more rational and reform oriented system of administration. This closely relates to elite capture and informal bureaucracy discussed in the paper by Jones, which have undermined procurement reforms in the Philippines. Elite capture and informal bureaucracy are important aspects of a patrimonial culture involving patron-client networks.

Lastly, the question of transferability of approaches to governance and policy measures from one country to another is addressed in the papers by Quah, Koike and Sun et al. Quah indicates that Singapore’s experience of good governance may not be transferable to other Asian states as a result of lack of political will and differences of policy context. Koike shows that in mainly developing Asian states, NPM reforms, which were adopted from Western countries at the urging of donor agencies, have not had the impact expected, partly because of the influence of the patrimonial culture in the bureaucracy, as mentioned previously. Sun et al. examine the way a particular policy measure, the Bookstart Programme, introduced in the UK, was subsequently adopted in Taiwan and gained support, though it was adapted to the context of Taiwan’s local government and educational services. This suggests that while a system of governance and administration may not be readily transferable, individual policy measures may be, though subject to appropriate modifications.

David S. Jones, Anthony B.L. Cheung