Rabu, Oktober 17, 2012

Prime Ministerial Leadership and Policy Making

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Prime  Ministerial Leadership and Policy Making
“and when we think we lead we most are led”
Goerge Gordon Byron (1788-1824)
One of the safest and most enduring generalisations or observations about public policy making in Singapore concerns the extent to which the process is dominated by the political executive, especially in the person of the Prime Minister. Indeed, dominance of the executive branch over the legislative and judicial branches, and the predominant authority of the      Prime Minister within the executive, have a consistent history from the colonial period in the 1950s to the present in the city-state. It has also been noted that the individual leadership in the person of the Prime Minister to a large extent defines the collective leadership of the governing elite, and hence the general policy orientations and the specific policy outputs of the polity. Within the nascent, developing political system, the Prime Minister is indeed an important autonomous actor. He is relevant because he is the leader of the governing party, the manager of the bureaucracy, and the most visible leader of the people. He has the power and authority to make an impact in changing the policy agenda. The power of patronage, the support of the party organ, the bureaucracy and big business, the attention of the public, and the status accorded to him by the uncritical local mass media altogether elevate the Prime Minister to near super importance in policy formation and influence.

Prime Minister leadership and its roles in policy making in singapore, therefore, deserve serious study. Their intricate relationships, however, have to be examined in the broader context of political leadership in the city state. Indeed, the singapore political class in general believes firmly in the need and importance of leadership---- defined in officially sanctioned terms such as meritocracy, integrity and honesty ---------- in governance and nation building. To the people’s action party (PAP) politicians, the drive for power is not only a rational self seeking process, but is also based on the belief that their continuance in power would most benefit the nation because of the party’s organizational superiority, and their indispensability and personal sacrifice for the general good.

This  chapter deals with probably the most important subject in policy making in singapore; political and executive leadership. It focuses upon two singapore Prime Minister who differ somewhat in their approaches to leadership and governance, while operating within a largely comparable yet changing environment. The central questions that this chapter addresses are: what kinds of influence does the Prime Minister provide in policy making? While obviously Prime Minister leadership makes a difference, in what areas  does it exhibit the most significance? What are the difference and similarities of the executive and policy making style of lee kuan yew and Goh Chok Tong? What are the distinctive features of their policy outputs and what are their implications for political life in singapore?

The question “who governs?” has been a perennial and unresolved question in political science. But the Henry Ford, the founder of the giant automobile company in United States, that we need to ask the question itself is puzzling. He therefore offered a simple and straighforward answer, noting that the question “Who ought to be the boss?” is like asking “who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?” The answer is : “Obviously the man who can sing tenor.” The implication here is simple ___ that the ability of the “boss” in terms of leadership and authority is obvious and predetermined, as everyone who can see and hear would feel the leader’s presence. In reality, things are of course much more complicated. In any society, as Plato had noted, the need for the collective to organize and for a particular figure to emerge from the multitude is persistent and necessary. Leaders and followers play different roles in the development of the state authority. While the procedures and substance of citizen involvement and participation are emphasized in democracies, leadership has been viewed as the key to nation building in the less democratic developmental states.
Leadership study is certainly one of the most nebulous areas in public policy studies. Defining leadership, however, is difficult, as there is no consensus in the literature on the subject. James MacGregor Burns, in his seminal work on leadership, defines leadership as “the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers.” Leadership clearly involves “a process of complex mediation between leader’s personality, the follower’s expectations, the circumstances and a set of goals.” In essence, leaders in society are those who possess considerable resources in the form of charisma, desire for power, influence, motivation, skill, and wealth. Leadership is also an institutional arrangement created by a collection of principles, in order to obtain some objective more efficiently, more effectively, or with higher probability, than they could without the coordination and enhanced productivity provided by the leadership institutions. The political leader is thus seen as a representative of the majority, acting according to the needs and wants of the majority, acting as the coordinator of the people to attain the objectives of the majority.

Political leadership in general serves three major functions.
1.      Authority. This is the basic function --------- “to hold the society together, to use the powers of the state for the maintenance of law and order and to defend against external threat.”
2.      Inspiration. It is “the influence which leaders can and do exercise on the behavior of their followers.”
3.      Management. This is the executive function, decision making of all kinds. “expcept in periods of great crisis, it is management, rather than authority or inspiration, that provides the test of good, though not necessarily strong, political leadership.”

A distinction can be made between political management and functional management. Political management refers to the politician’s sense of political judgment of people and issues. “it requires good judgment of people, of individuals and groups, an almost intuitive feel for their strengths and weaknesses. It involves a flair for conflict resolution, balancing of interests, formation of coalitions, knowing when to stand firm and when to compromise.” Functional management, in contrast, is more administrative and procedural in nature. It covers  “all the decision making involved in the making and carrying of government policy.“  it requires “intellectual capacity to grasp the problems to be solved and the ability to choose good advisers, to exercise good judgment and to make up one’s mind.” It is also noted that in most cases a successful functional management is a prerequisite of political success.

Political leadership ultimately is a relational phenomenon. “leaders cannot exist in the absence of followers, and the demand for leadership varies with the situation.” The need for leadership on the part of the passive and reflexive masses makes them dependent on leaders and grateful for their efforts. Leaders later are perceived, and perceive themselves, as indispensable to the nation-state. The leadership develops power and authority independent of the often self-interested citizens and is constituted as an exclusive group of elites. This is clearly evident in the material rewards -------- salaries, expense accounts, and fringe benefits ------- the political elites vote for themselves. This they justify by their essential contribution, unusual talents, enormous efforts and indispensability to the nation.

In the – past decade, the theoretical and empirical literature on the relationships between leadership and policy making has begun to emerge. Much of it is focused on the political executive in the united states policy making context. While leadership study is beginning to mature, the study of the policy making context is still in its infancy. Political leadership roles in policy making in developing states received some attention in recent decades, and it has become increasingly clear that political leaders are important policy initiators, especially at the stage of problem definition and agenda setting. Biographical accounts of leaders are abundant in the literature, but an analysis of how personalities and styles influence policy making still remains a relatively unexplored area of inquiry.

Within singapore’s power structure, the political and bureaucratic elite occupies the central position in government, especially the former. Understandably, the study of political leadership in Singapore centres on the PAP governing elite, their behaviours, belief systems and regime interest. This analytical concentration is due to the predominance of these groups in the political, economic, and social life in the city-state. The examination of prime ministerial leadership therefore most begin with the political context of state elite selection and recruitment. An understanding of the PAP organizational structure and its process of political self renewal are in order.

Elite Recruitment and Party Sructure
The first observation that one can make about the Singapore political system is that power is highly centralized in the hands of a coherent elite, mainly in the ruling party, the PAP. Other groups include the elite within the judiciary, paramilitary, big business organizations, bureaucracy, and academic institutions. The centralization of power within a small group is attributed to two broad factors. First, Singapore has a unitary government and a one party dominant system since in 1959. The extent and power of state socialization has effectively moulded a generation of leaders with a relatively similar, though not entirely identical, political outlook. Second, singapore’s ruling class are somewhat homogenous in their social and educational background. School ties and organizational networking, in addition to class identification and ideological inclinations, in essence foster the cohesion. The top 100 or so most influential and powerful office holders in Singapore are mainly English educated and maintain a close network. Although not all of them belong to the political party, the cohesiveness and interconnections of these elite are strengthened and reinforced by their common allegiance to the patronizing state. Since each of these elements is dependent on, and connected to, the others, and forms an unbreakable network and circuitry, the deliberation and centralization of political power is almost unchallengeable.

Arguably, a major strength of the PAP is its strict criteria for membership recruitment, although the self renewal of the PAP has not been an entirely smooth process. While public knowledge of the party structure is at best hazy, several reports have revealed some information. The PAP has a cadre structure of a Leninist party and party leaders choose their members with great care. It is considered a privilege to be recruited into the party, and a severe punishment to be expelled from it. The PAP cadre system of membership is kept fairly small in number, approximately 10.000. it is a group of picked political leaders. Candidates for elections, whose names come from the civil service, government scholarship and administrative service lists, and leading members of professions, go through a rigorous process of tea sessions, discussions and interviews with senior party members before the final endorsement of the party’s central executive committee (CEC). The CEC is the pinnacle of party leaders elected at party ordinary conferences by the cadres. In the PAP constitution. The CEC possesses considerable power of appointment and selection of party officials. In turn the members mobilize grassroots and citizenry support for the party and share their general attitude to the political questions of the day.

The PAP governing class in general believes in the utilities and the results of this strict process of cadre recruitment. Using its own criteria to attract the “good and able men” into the government has been its central philosophy of recruitment. In their view, good men will bring about good government, and hence a greater probability of success of public policies. In 1996, for example, Goh took pride in his remark that singapore’s biggest success has been its ability to evolve a system where the best people become political leaders. While other democracies do not necessarily recruit the best and brightest into politics and public services, Singapore has succeeded in that regard. “ in our case, we systematically set out to identify what we call the best people who can govern the country in terms of competence, character, commitments and compassion. “the government, he said, was like a “headhunter”, with the prime minister as the “chief headhunter.” This typical remark indicates confidence that the PAP elite have in themselves, despite the constant self-rationalised complaint that there were not enough talents in politics. Critics believe this is one way to reinforce the myth of elitism in the system.

One negative effect of this self renewal process has been intellectual and ideological inbreeding and a lack of breadth of experience among the elite, a problem which did not escape the analysis of the top leadership. It is felt that the PAP elite by and large recruits candidates who are too much like themselves, rejecting those who might not fit with their style and attitude. While ideological commitment is necessary and needed for party loyalty and organizational continuity, a lack of intellectual range and rigour in policy making from the selected group may not meet emerging challenges. The short-term consequences of group think may sustain political stability and policy continuity which the regime needs and desires, but in the long run they may not benefit the country on the whole. Limited challenges of policy ideas and constraints in the breadth of intellectual discourse within a selected group of like minded elites can ultimately stifle the initiatives and creativity much needed to bring the country forward.

Another feature that stood out in the product of this self renewal process is a tendency for the PAP to recruit technocrats. Most candidates are recruited from the government sectors. The rationale is that a technocrat turned politician possesses certain skills that are essential for good public policy making. Goh remarked: “it is better that technocrats become politicians than to have politicians who can never become technocrats.” One criticism, which surfaced repeatedly, directed at this self renewal process is that there might be an absence of political passion and idealism in joining politics for these candidates. Indeed the weberian ideal of politics as a “calling”, where an ethic of intentions and an ethic of responsibility are needed, had never entered into the discourse of political recruitment. In addition, detached technocrat politicians often lack the common sense or “touch” so necessary in democratic politics to feel the conditions and demands on the ground.

The organizational structure of the PAP is a microcosm of the Singapore public bureaucracy, where the emphasis has been on hierarchical control, meritorious recruitment, retention and promotion. Meritocracy has been lauded as the cornerstone of singapore’s struggle for success. The presupposition (that the best and brightest should be in politics and are in politics) has managed to penetrate into the hearts and minds of the citizenry with the help of media resources, albeit cynicisms from various quarters of the population. There exist continual challenges and criticisms from well meaning critics that the PAP government has sometimes deviated from this principle.

Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet
In singapore’s centralized system of politics and administration, the Prime Minister stands out as being at the head of the pyramid of power and prestige. His position is of supreme political significance, and the various networks of political, economic and social deliberations usually reach his desk or close to it. The Prime Minister is the head of the executive branch and the cabinet, and as such, head of the party that rules the parliament and that governs the country. As chief organizer of the party (the secretary general of the PAP), he also wields great political and patronizing power, which enhances his powers as Prime Minister.

As Singapore practices the Westminster system of government that adheres to the principle of collective responsibility, the cabinet plays an extremely important role in policy making. It is the power house of government. Cabinet ministers are designated by the Prime Minister, appointed by the elected president, and a large amount of decision works essentially as a committee, and is a forum for discussion and a mechanism for making decisions. The various ministries work closely to formulate and coordinate major policy initiatives. They deliberate policy recommendations, develop administration positions, and help coordinate the implementation of key executive decisions.

Such a system gives great power to the Prime Minister, who is the first among equals. Indeed, power within the system concentrates on the Prime Minister, though he may share part of it with one or two senior colleagues and with his cabinet. With his cabinet behind him, and a solid parliamentary majority, the Prime Minister can implement almost any kind of policy he likes. For example, the Prime Minister can promise financial support for a particular programmer; if he puts it in the budget, parliament will vote for it. He controls the business agenda at cabinet meetings, as he is the chairman. If there is a disagreement, cabinet ministers can put up their case, but in the end, the Prime Minister’s decision carries the day.

As the leader of the country the Prime Minister must have a sense of confidence and a unified  sense of purpose, to take unpopular decisions when necessary, and to convince his party and countrymen that they are sound. He not only exercises authority leadership, but also inspirational leadership. All said, the Prime Minister is the embodiment of the government , and in the eyes of the public, he is in charge of the government. The execution and exertion of his authority is made all the more possible by the sizeable staff in the Prime Minister’s office that assists him in his day to day administration.

In short, the Prime Minister performs the greatest single role in policy adoption in the Singapore system; his leadership of party and of cabinet secures this. The extent to which political leadership of the Prime Minister as accepted, the expectation of strong government on the part of the parliament and citizens alike, and the high degree of political discipline and cohesion among the government’s political supporters, make it possible for major or controversial policy changes to be implemented.

To summarize, Goh Chok Tong’s Prime Ministerial leadership is not an insignificant departure from lee kuan yew’s, but neither is it a radical deviation from it. There are at least two apparent reasons for this seemingly contradictory trend; goh had been handpicked by lee and had been a cabinet member in his administration for a long time, although it is well known that goh was not lee’s first choice for the job of Prime Minister. Second, the fact that lee still remains in the cabinet as senior minister may explain that in is quite impossible to embark on radically different reform measures. Lee as senior minister in the cabinet has made it known that he does not take part in routine decision making, but only gives advice on major policy issues. The widespread public perception, however, is that he is still very much in command as far as major decisions and the strategic direction of the country are concerned.

Equally important are the significant impacts that environmental and contextual factors have on leadership style, performance and policy concerns. While both have exhibited successful functional management, the social environment in which their leaderships were placed were somewhat different. Lee, as he called himself, was a “street fighter” in raw politics whereas goh is a “mandarin” from a bureaucratic mode. In the goh administration, the policy substance, contents and outputs exhibit a greater divergence in ways that are more reflective of the changing political and social variables than the seemingly consultative process. While consultation exists, it does not necessarily translate into substantive policy output. The divergence of output, on the other hand, may not be a function of consultation and feedback. For observers of the city state, this is not difficult to understand. Emphasising leadership style highlights the continuities and change in the administrations, but focusing on policy substance would distinguish real differences and highlight contradictions in policy orientations of the two administrations.

Singapore’s political leadership will always face the basic problems ------- the constraints of size, geography and demography. Fundamentally, there has been little change in the Singapore polity in terms of its corporatist ideology of emphasising social unity, political order and success, and placing community interests above the individual’s ------- the government endorsed shared values. Its view of political freedoms and rights being subordinate to economic growth and ethnic harmony, and that political pluralism is deemed divisive and destabilising has been a constant. However, for the goh administration, citizens unhappiness over the authoritarian and paternalistic tendencies of the previous administration, its trespassing in personal affairs and social interactions, has meant new limits to state action and government interventions. This has entailed the adoption of some degree of controlled devolution of power and greater popular consultation and participation in the policy formulation process.

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