The Limitations of Bureaucracy

The Limitations of Bureaucracy

What is a Bureaucracy?

Functionally, a bureaucracy is an organisation charged with providing certain services or other responsibilities that:

  • relies on rules, regulations, methods, procedures, etc,
  • to ensure that decisions made by the bureaucracy
  • will always be relevant, consistent and impartial

Limitations of Bureaucracy

To achieve constancy, bureaucracies are structured to severely curtail discretionary decision making by bureaucrats in order to achieve the same outcome, no matter who within the bureaucracy processes the information. Bureaucracies are, as much as possible, designed to act in a completely logical, rational, sequential and deductive way, often achieved through massive amounts of time-consuming paperwork to record activity, after it has taken place. This can involve minute detail, to ensure stability, predictability, consistency and fairness. Bureaucracies are rigid, left-brain-only organisations, and find it very difficult to be flexible, adaptable, cooperative, proactive, innovative or enterprising, all of which are vitally necessary for Aboriginal communities to succeed.

Bureaucracies are Not Enterprising and Cannot innovate

Bureaucracies differ from business organisations, which seek to get profit-making outcomes in a constantly changing, tough competitive milieu. Bureaucracies cannot run enterprises efficiently, and this has been championed as the reason for selling off Govt-owned enterprises. They do not have the freedom to think outside the box for new, innovative, creative ideas, and over time become further distanced from the changing contemporary reality.

Bureaucracies are Not Community- Orientated nor Community-Spirited

Bureaucracies differ even more from genuine community organisations, which seek to get positive, proactive, benevolent outcomes from each person’s capacity for creative contributions that are consistent with overall community objectives. Bureaucracies are extremely stifling to creativity.

Bureaucratic Settlements

Remote Aboriginal settlement administrations are bureaucracies that must successfully interface with other Govt or NGO bureaucracies to ensure continued funding. They have governing council responsibility of a far greater order than of a conventional mainstream town, where the local council would set parameters and then, as far as possible, keep out of the way for town citizens to get on with earning an income and improving their lives.

In contrast to this, Aboriginal governing councils are directly responsible for all funded activity, which makes up almost all paid work activity on the community, including CDEP work schemes. They have a CEO and administrative/clerical staff to look after day-to-day running. Aboriginal “communities” so-called, are not so much genuine communities, or centres of commerce, as they are bureaucratically controlled settlements.

Bureaucratic Reporting Requirements

Some of the greatest difficulties that Aboriginal settlements have had to contend with are reporting requirements, which need to be sufficiently rigorous to pick up all errors and misappropriations, but which have become increasingly band-aided, cumbersome, inflexible and burdensome, at a time when Aboriginal organisations need to become more enterprising, requiring them to become more innovative, adaptable and flexible. Much of the reporting does not assist the organisation to manage itself, which would be the primary objective in any other organisation or business, but are for Govt Depts and NGOs own internal reporting requirements.

The Aboriginal settlement bureaucratic information system has not enabled an understanding of efficient settlement administration, nor effective settlement functioning. What is required in this situation is quality reporting, not quantity reporting. The amount of reporting needed to run a private business well would be about a ¼ of what is required by govt, and much of it would be recording different things. Recording systems need to be lean and well designed, and able to reflect back to the community the actual functioning and the real unmet needs of the community, to enable admin staff to become proactive influencers, rather than passive recorders.

Bureaucratic Control

A major factor impeding good settlement or community management is that a bureaucratic structure will re-orientate administration office functioning towards being more bureaucratic in practice. This may be fine for the internal office functioning, but can constrain the administration’s ability to effect proper settlement functioning at the participant/resident level.

Aboriginal councils can be inclined to use completion of performance indicators as their own guide to, and measure of progress. Performance indicators rarely indicate settlement progress, as they are designed for Dept acquittal needs. The exercise of merely completing reporting and acquittal tasks does not in itself indicate real progress either. It may however give remote Aboriginal administration staff the illusion of progress even as they may be becoming disconnected from the real needs of the settlement in ways that do not show up on performance indicators.

  • To the extent that the Admin staff can fulfil reporting obligations, Govt and NGO bureaucracies that are reported to will interpret bureaucratic functionality positively, as indicating that the settlement itself is doing well.
  • For the remote settlement admin office, the reporting requirements are the de facto way that the administration view and comprehend the settlement, and their own measure of doing a good job, whilst losing sight of actual settlement functioning.
  • To the degree that a settlement administration becomes bureaucratised, it tends to become cut off from actual settlement functioning, outside of the office. They may be able to report retrospectively on matters, but become unable to anticipate problems, or to perceive problems until they have become overwhelming, or to have a positive and pro-active effect on community functioning and development.

Record keeping that is designed for the requirements of Dept, may have little direct value to a settlement’s own need for good functioning as a whole, integrated unit. A settlement could degenerate and become a difficult place to live, with increasing substance abuse and domestic violence, without any of this showing up on reports. Successful bureaucratic control does not guarantee effective community management and proper community development.

Need for Community Structures

Remote Aboriginal settlements do not have a community structure, do not have a sustainable structure, and do not promote a sustainable community lifestyle. They have instead, an imposed, bureaucratically controlled, misplaced mainstream lifestyle that is wholly unsuitable in remote settings. It provides few viable jobs, and leaves those people without a job bored, empty and unfulfilled. It makes living expensive, unaffordable living, without future prospects. It does not provide any semblance of a fulfilling lifestyle, and provides nothing for people’s lives outside of what little paid work there is. In such circumstances, boredom, powerlessness poverty and malnourishment all act together to have a compounding degenerating effect.

Remote Settlement Community Spirit

Remote, Aboriginal bureaucratic settlements are communities only to the extent that the local people are able to retain their community spirit and consciousness, and are able continue to act upon it, despite all of the pressures to do otherwise. In too many remote Aboriginal settlements, community activity is not facilitated, and what community spirit is there, persists in spite of, and not because of, the bureaucratic settlement structure. There is a hiatus between bureaucracy and community which needs to be breached, if settlements are to become communities and excel.

Bureaucratic Legacy

The remote bureaucratic settlement model deprived Aboriginal people of their functional community structures, and replaced them with bureaucratic structures that have in general not worked and have not improved their lot.

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