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  • The Role of Public Bureaucracy in Policy Implementation in Five ASEAN Countries ed. by Jon S.T. Quah
  • Tham Siew Yean
The Role of Public Bureaucracy in Policy Implementation in Five ASEAN Countries. Edited by Jon S.T. Quah. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. 487.

In the last decades, the development discourse has been increasingly dominated by the “good-governance” approach as a good government is deemed vital for development (Fukuyama 2013). Despite the burgeoning literature, there is little consensus on the definition of “good governance” and the even more problematic issue of measuring it especially in multi-country regression studies that pool together countries that are fundamentally different in economic and governance structures. Within this literature, public bureaucracy in the procedural sense is sometimes used as a measure of the quality of government, based on the Weberian argument that “public administrative organizations characterized by meritocratic recruitment and predictable long-term career rewards will be more effective at facilitating capitalist growth than other forms of state organizations” (Evans and Rauch 1999, p. 749). Apart from these economics perspectives, public bureaucracy is also researched in other fields such as political science where it is viewed more in terms of structures such as agencies instead of its functions as in the case of research in public administration (Bendor 1994). In another strand of the literature, the role of public bureaucracy has emerged as a research theme in policy implementation studies that seek to understand the difficulties encountered in policy implementation, especially in developing countries. This is where the book edited by Jon S.T. Quah fits into the expanding literature on public bureaucracy. It is part of a series of monographs that have been published based on a research project at the National University of Singapore, entitled, “Integration Through Law: The Role of Law and the Rule of Law in ASEAN Integration”.

The book fills an important lacuna in the literature as it seeks to compare the role of bureaucracy in policy implementation in five ASEAN countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, since there are relatively few studies on ASEAN countries. The invaluable comparative cross-country perspective in this book is facilitated by the use of a common conceptual model for framing the analysis in each country. Two case studies in policy implementation — the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD) and the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime/Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC/SOMTC) — are used to illustrate the salient public bureaucracy issues involved in the implementation of ASEAN commitments in each of these countries. After the country studies, a comparison between policy implementation in ASEAN and the European Union is made in the penultimate chapter while an executive summary by the editor is provided in the last chapter.

The country studies confirm significant differences in the role played by public bureaucracy in policy implementation, with each country author presenting country-specific conditions for explaining their respective country’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Thus, according to Agus Pramusinto in Chapter 2, it is the democratization of its political system that has worsened the effectiveness of public bureaucracy in policy implementation in Indonesia. Malaysia’s twin weaknesses that have affected the effectiveness of public bureaucracy, as identified by Nik Rosmah Wan Abdullah in Chapter 3, are its ethnic preferential policies and entrenched corruption in public service. Vicente Chua Reyes, Jr. contends in Chapter 4 that it is systemic corruption and the weak rule of law that have made public bureaucracy dysfunctional and ineffective in the Philippines. Jairo Acuña-Alfaro and Anh Tran in Chapter 6 point towards the control of Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) over both policy formulation and implementation as the key contributory factor to the ineffectiveness of its public bureaucracy. On the other hand, Singapore’s exceptional effectiveness is attributed by David Seth Jones in Chapter 5 to its use of meritocracy, control over corruption, availability of resources and funding, decentralization of service delivery, and inter-agency [End Page 423] cooperation in its public bureaucracy. In the analysis of the implementation of the ACD and the AMMTC/SOMTC, the case studies verify that implementation is less likely to have problems when it involves a...


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