Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Flattening bureaucracy

In the USA, business reformers often recommend that large companies flatten their bureaucracies, i.e. eliminate layers of managers. What if you eliminate the top layer? (Come to think of it, this sounds very much like the organization of military governments in Nigeria's past, including Buhari's).

Does Nigeria run better without a cabinet?
Buhari
It is now three months since Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president of Nigeria…

His victory generated huge celebrations and expectations of a new beginning, with many anticipating dramatic changes to follow, and analysts urging him to "hit the ground running".

Most Nigerians expected President Buhari to shake up the security services and make other key appointments in his first few days - as former President Olusegun Obasanjo did within hours of his inauguration in 1999.

But it took nearly two months for him to replace his security chiefs and so far he has only made appointments in about a dozen government offices.

When commentators began to get agitated about the lack of a cabinet, a former newspaper editor and unofficial aide to the president wrote an article entitled What is all the fuss about?

He urged the press, social media and others to focus on the "real enemies of Nigeria: poverty, ignorance, disease and squalor" and not stand in the way of "the most popular president in our history".

[A]n opinion article by President Buhari published in the Washington Post to coincide with his visit to the US last month, [made] further justifications about why the task "should not be rushed".

"It is worth noting that [US President Barack] Obama himself did not have his full cabinet in place for several months after first taking office; the United States did not cease to function in the interim," he said.

"In Nigeria's case, it would neither be prudent nor serve the interests of sound government to have made these appointments immediately on my elevation to the presidency; instead, Nigeria must first put new rules of conduct and good governance in place."

The commentators are now learning to live with President Buhari's pace of governance.

He has been dealing directly with the top civil servants, who run the ministries.

Meanwhile, it is the politicians who are suffering most from the lack of a cabinet.

On a visit to a newspaper a few days ago, a spokesman for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, admitted that no-one in the party knew when the appointments would be.

"The president I know has kept this thing very close to his chest."

Many sectors of the economy await policy direction. Following Mr Buhari's pledges to make tackling corruption a priority, they want clarity on how to proceed.

This is also making foreign investors wary.

So while it is clear that President Buhari has shown that Nigeria can run without a cabinet, there may be an unacknowledged cost.

On the bright side, with the briefings he is getting from civil servants, the ministers, when they are eventually appointed, will find that their boss knows more about their departments than they do - and that should keep them on their toes.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Voting without franchise

A bit of common sense wisdom asserts that democracy and capitalism are practically conjoined twins. Could it be that the Communist Party in China has given up too much power in their economic reforms?

Consumer Anxiety in China Undermines Government’s Economic Plans
Many young middle-class Chinese who grew up during the nation’s glittering boom years, when double-digit growth was the norm, are suddenly confronting the shadow of an economic slowdown, and even hints of austerity.

They are canceling vacations and delaying weddings and even selling recently purchased apartments to have cash on hand. Those who have lost money in the ongoing stock market crash are especially anxious.

Their angst poses dual problems for China’s leadership. The ruling party bases its legitimacy on delivering high rates of growth and employment. It also hopes to encourage consumer spending as a new engine of growth as the manufacturing sector slows and to nudge the economy away from an investment-driven model. Eroding confidence threatens both goals.

These days, Chinese are using the social media app WeChat to look for news and advice on the economy rather than the state news media, which, at the orders of the Communist Party’s propaganda department, have only had bare-bones reporting on the stock market crisis and the broader concerns over slowing economic growth…

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Maybe a sign of things to come

Nigerian President Buhari has promised to crack down on corruption. So far, lots of talk, but here's a concrete step. No way to know if Dasuki is guilty or worse than others, but there are shady things in his past.

Nigeria's ex-national security adviser Dasuki charged
Nigeria's sacked national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has been charged in court with illegally possessing weapons, an official statement has said.

Firearms were seized during a raid on his properties last month, it added.

Dasuki
Mr Dasuki denied any wrongdoing at the time and said the weapons belonged to his security guards. He is the first senior official of the former government to be charged under President Muhammadu Buhari's rule…

Mr Dasuki played a prominent role in the fight against terrorism during Goodluck Jonathan's rule…

Mr Dasuki was at the centre of a row over Nigeria's unorthodox arms procurement in 2014, when South Africa seized suitcases packed with millions of dollars of cash at an airport in Johannesburg.

The Nigerian government said the money was intended to purchase weapons for the fight against Boko Haram, and denied allegations of corruption…

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Friday, August 28, 2015

It's not just the economy…

The American stock market is taking a bath while the economy is growing. What if the economy wasn't growing and the boss was in jail?

Fading Economy and Graft Crackdown Rattle China’s Leaders
[U]ncertainty… permeates the Communist elite as they contend with two unnerving developments beyond their control: an economic slowdown that appears to be worse than officials had anticipated… and a campaign against official corruption that has continued longer and reached higher than most had expected.

Driving decisions on both issues is Mr. Xi, who took the party’s helm nearly three years ago and has pursued an ambitious agenda fraught with political risk. Now, weeks before a summit meeting in Washington with President Obama, those risks appear to be growing, and there are signs that Mr. Xi and his strong-willed leadership style face increasingly bold resistance inside the party that could limit his ability to pursue his goals.

Xi
Mr. Xi has positioned himself as the chief architect of economic policy… [and] is making enemies with an anticorruption drive that has taken down some of the most powerful men in the country and sidelined more than a hundred thousand lower-ranking officials…

Mr. Xi has pledged sweeping market-oriented reforms to overhaul the Chinese economy for long-term growth, including plans to weaken monopolies enjoyed by state enterprises, to wean the economy from its dependence on inefficient state-directed investment, and to liberalize the nation’s financial markets, with the aim of making the country’s currency, the renminbi, a strong competitor to the dollar on world markets…

“Everyone understands that the economy is the biggest pillar of the Chinese government’s legitimacy to govern and win over popular sentiment,” said Chen Jieren, a well-known Beijing-based commentator on politics. “If the economy falters, the political power of the Chinese Communist Party will be confronted with more real challenges, social stability in China will be endangered tremendously, and Xi Jinping’s administration will suffer even more criticism.”

Some have asked whether the party leadership and its technocrat advisers are up to the task of managing a slowing economy after decades of experience with one that has only soared…

The policy adviser to senior party and government leaders said fears that the slowing economy could lead to social unrest prompted the Politburo in a July 30 meeting to approve a raft of measures to bolster growth, including the decision to devalue the currency. Other steps will follow, the person said.

Mr. Xi’s campaign against corruption enjoys broad support in a nation where the widening gap between rich and poor is attributed to the ability of a small minority to prosper by abusing government positions or using political connections. As the economy falters, though, the risks for Mr. Xi multiply, said one retired party think tank official.

“The main thing is the economy. As long as the economy continues to decline, people will have more and more objections, and there will be more and more pressure on the leadership,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal party politics. “And right now, the fact is that the economy is in decline.”

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

What to say, what to say?

In spite of the general poverty in China, the country has one of the highest savings rates in the world. Forbes magazine says that savings in China make up over half of its GDP.

The Party and the government want to get those savings actively involved in the investment that underpins China's growth. So Party and government media have encouraged buying stocks.

Now, we have the collapse (er… corection). What do the official media say now? In the USA nearly every news report repeats the official line that no one should panic and make changes. (Unless you borrowed 0.5% money to speculate. Then you're in trouble.) Here's the Chinese version as reported by The New York Times.

China’s Party-Run Media Is Silent on Market Mayhem
After China’s stock markets crumpled, prompting a global sell-off, People’s Daily, the premier newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, had other things on its mind.

There was no mention of the market mayhem on the newspaper’s front page on Tuesday, when it featured a report about economic development in Tibet. Indeed, there was not a single reference to the stock markets throughout the entire 24 pages of the paper, which [dwelt] instead on the forthcoming 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

The silence continued on Wednesday, when the paper again did not report on the stock market upheavals, although it did have articles about Chinese central bank decisions and Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s restatement of confidence in the broader economy, despite the effects of what he called global “market volatility.”…

“My hunch would be that they’re really not about to stomach another wave of more open reporting by the Chinese media,” said David Bandurski, the website editor for the China Media Project, based at the University of Hong Kong, who has written extensively on China’s controls on news.

“This is an explosive economic story for China,” he said…

On Monday, the 7 p.m. news broadcast on China Central Television, the country’s main television network, also skipped mention of the plummet in stock prices.

China Digital Times, which collates leaked, confidential propaganda and censorship directives to Chinese journalists, reported that in June they were told to keep coverage of the stock markets strictly in line with official rules intended to deter pessimism or panic…

Other newspapers and websites in China reported on the market turmoil, though often presenting China as an unlikely bystander in a wider global downturn…

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

No constitution, no problem. No elections, problem?

An appointed upper house in the legislature? At least in Russia, the appointees are expected to represent the interests of a geographic area.

A British House Overflowing With Lords Draws Scorn
Britain’s unelected and overcrowded House of Lords… seems poised to resume the long expansion of its ranks…

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to nominate several dozen new members…

Though adding new peers to the Lords is standard in British politics, there is growing disenchantment with political institutions across Europe…

The House of Lords is an easy target. Swollen numbers mean its ornate, gilded chamber is too small to seat all attendees on busy days, let alone the entire membership, while its age profile can make it look like a retirement home…

More than half of its members are 70 or older, and just two are younger than 39, according to the society. Of the 781 peers, 589 are men…

These days, members are less likely to be scions of the landed aristocracy than politicians, advisers or party supporters, ennobled as a reward for loyal service or other (sometimes financial) contributions…

Last year, they resisted a cost-cutting measure to share catering services with the House of Commons, because the quality of their champagne might suffer.

More recently, The Daily Mail highlighted written complaints by unnamed lords and ladies about the food they were served, including one peer who moaned that a cheese crème brûlée consumed in February “wasn’t very cheesy,” and that a supreme of hake was “completely unadorned, with a hard crust on top.” Another member fumed that “cabbage, broccoli, sprouts and spinach have almost vanished completely in favor of root vegetables!”

Despite such privations, a seat in the Lords remains prized. With it comes a title and the right to claim up to 300 pounds, or about $470, as a daily allowance for attending sessions (without having to give up any other job). Benefits include a desk in the historic Parliament buildings and access to facilities like a parking lot, restaurants and watering holes, including the wood-paneled Bishops’ Bar.

For those who have spent their lives in politics, the House of Lords is also seductive because it gives them a public platform, and an opportunity to shape laws, without the inconvenience of standing for election.

Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party has the most members, 226, or 14 more than the opposition Labour Party…

[T]he centrist Liberal Democrats, who won just eight seats in the House of Commons and 7.9 percent of the vote in May, have 101 seats in the upper chamber.

Despite such anomalies, the assembly survives partly because it knows its place. As an unelected body, the Lords will ultimately yield on legislation if the elected House of Commons so demands…

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Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What's this civil society thing?

Kevin James and I picked the same article to feature on our comparative politics blogs. He often features things I miss. Check out his Albany High School blog to see what I've neglected.

China, like Russia, is trying to limit the influence of foreign ideas and organizations. Here's a main tool they're using.

BTW: Here's a new Chinese word to add to you vocabulary: faxhi. According to the quoted expert, it refers to "law-based governance," meaning that it refers to laws the Communist Party can use to stay in control, not rule of law, which is how the ruling elite likes to translate the term. (What is rule of law in Western terms?)

Non-governmental organizations: Uncivil society
RECENTLY the Communist Party has put forward a raft of proposals aimed at preventing perceived challenges to its monopoly of power. On July 1st a national-security law was passed that authorised “all measures necessary” to protect the country from hostile elements. Now a draft of China’s first law for regulating foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is expected to pass in the coming weeks. The law is deemed necessary because of the threats NGOs are presumed to pose.

The draft law represents a mixture of limited progress and major party retrenchment in a sensitive area. Under Mao Zedong, China had no space for NGOs. But they have multiplied in the past decade to fill the gaps left by the party’s retreat from people’s daily lives. Officials say the law will help NGOs by giving them legal status, a valid claim. But it will also force strict constraints on foreign or foreign-supported groups. No funding from abroad will be allowed. And all NGOs will have to find an official sponsoring organisation. They will then have to register with China’s feared public security apparatus, which will now oversee the entire foreign-backed sector…

About 1,000 foreign NGOs operate in China, with thousands more providing financial and other support. Some larger ones, such as Save the Children, have been there for decades and are welcomed. Groups overtly supporting labour or human rights are not.

Foreign money has been crucial, though it is impossible to measure exactly how much flows in. For anything sensitive, such as promoting the rule of law or policies against discrimination, the only source of funding is abroad. This is the money the party wants to shut off…

By letting some NGOs register formally, the law would allow them to open bank accounts for the first time and take part in official activities. But it would also bring closer monitoring, and requires groups to hire employees only through official channels. Any group dealing with sensitive issues would be unlikely to find a sponsor and would be forced to close…

Any foreign non-profit organization… that does not have an office in China would need a temporary permit and an official sponsor to engage in any kind of programme there. Anything from a university exchange to a visiting orchestra could be denied entry based on something said or done that is perceived to be against China. The aim may be to silence criticism of the regime abroad… The party may try to allay such fears [of business groups] because it cares about foreign business. But it seems unafraid to show that it wants non-governmental organisations to bow to the government. “They are saying: ‘We don’t want any of your values, we’ll do things our way,’” says a former diplomat in Beijing. Many Chinese officials believe foreign-funded NGOs to be Trojan horses for Western ideas…

The new draft law follows a meeting of the Communist Party last year that trumpeted how China must be ruled by fazhi, a phrase translated as the “rule of law”. But [Jia Xijin of Tsinghua University’s NGO Research Centre] points out that fazhi is not the rule of law as understood in the West. It should, rather, be translated “law-based governance”, meaning that the law is a tool the party can use to maintain order.

The new law will not necessarily be implemented to the letter. As with the internet, the party is eager to see the NGO sector flourish, but only on its own terms. It will use the language of civil society to persuade the world that such a concept exists in China. Yet anyone pushing genuine civil liberties will not be tolerated. Gradual reform is possible, but control remains everything.

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Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


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