What Challenges Does the Traditional Public Administration Encounter in a Changing Public Sector Environment

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WHAT CHALLENGES DOES THE TRADITIONAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION ENCOUNTER IN A CHANGING PUBLIC SECTOR ENVIRONMENT The traditional model of public administration (TPA) remains the longest standing and most successful theory of management in the public sector which pre-dominated for most of the 20th century. The TPA can be characterized as an administration under the formal control of the political leadership which was based on a strictly hierarchical model of bureaucracy, staffed by permanent, neutral and anonymous officials, motivated only by the public interest, serving any governing party equally, and not contributing to policy but merely administering those policies decided by the politicians. Its theoretical foundations were mainly derived from Woodrow Wilson and Frederick Taylor in the United States, Max Weber in Germany, and the Northcote–Trevelyan Report of 1854 in the United Kingdom. It is now being replaced by the New Public Management (NPM) due to the fact that the traditional model has been discredited theoretically and practically. The adoption of new forms of NPM means the emergence of a new paradigm in the public sector. This new paradigm poses a direct challenge to several of what had previously been regarded as fundamental principles of TPA. The aim of this presentation is to discuss the challenges that TPA encounters in a changing Public Sector environment. The discussion will focus on hierarchical structures, bureaucracy, political control, rigidity, one best way, meritocracy and technological change.

The term administration is narrower and has a more limited function than that of management and in consequence, changing from public administration to public management means a major change of theory and of function. According to Hughes (2003:6), “public administration is an activity serving the public, and public servants carry out policies derived from politicians.” The Oxford dictionary defines administration as, “an act or process of organising the way that something is done. According to Coulter (1996:8) “management refers to the process of getting activities completed efficiently and effectively with and through other people.” From these various definitions it is argued that, administration essentially involves following instructions and providing service, while management involves the achievement of results and personal responsibility by the manager for results being achieved. The terms administration and management are not synonymous, neither is their application to the public sector. These two elements were not necessarily present in the traditional administrative system. Public administration focuses on processes, procedures and rules of etiquette, while public management involves much more. Instead of merely following instructions, a public manager focuses on achieving results and taking responsibility for doing so. It is this paradigm shift from Traditional Public Administration to the New Public Management which has exposed the weaknesses of the Traditional Public Administration Model as discussed below.

The use of hierarchical structures which were not necessarily the best or efficient forms of organisations if comparing output and input was one of the problems or inadequacies of the Traditional Public Administration model. However, the hierarchical system meant that everyone knew his or her place and extent of authority. Someone is always technically accountable for all actions, from the lowest level to the highest. The system was reasonably efficient and effective in a narrow sense and meant instructions were carried out, especially when given clearly. It was also reasonably free from the temptations of diverting, eg, public funds for the personal use of the bureaucrat. When tasks were administrative and relatively simple, when the environment was stable, the system worked well. On the contrary, this system is not workable in big organisations. Many strata in a hierarchical structure...
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