Features of Pakistan’s Administrative Culture

Shahid H. Raja
8 min readMar 5, 2024

What is Administrative Culture?

Popularised in 1963 by Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba in their seminal work Civic Culture, the term Administrative Culture can be described as shared standards, values, attitudes, perceptions, dispositions, and conduct of public administrators or government authorities. There are five dimensions of an administrative culture.

  1. Inter-personal Relations: how the employees in an organisation treat each other
  2. Obedience to Authority; level and extent of obedience to authority

3. Respect for the Citizens; how they treat the common man

4. Ethics and Morality; how much respect they have for the ethical standards of service

5. Change Management: how they adapt to the change

Administrative culture influences the connection among civil servants and other individuals of society to other tangible and intangible things that exert influence upon a group and link it to its environment.

Features of Administrative Culture

Being a sub-set of a society’s culture, the administrative culture exhibits the same features as can be seen in any culture These are as follows

  1. Culture is learned. It is not biological; we do not inherit it. Much of learning culture is unconscious. We learn about culture from families, peers, institutions, and media. The process of learning culture is known as enculturation. While all humans have basic biological needs such as food, sleep, and sex, the way we fulfil those needs varies cross-culturally.
  2. Culture is shared. Because we share culture with other members of our group, we can act in socially appropriate ways as well as predict how others will act. Despite the shared nature of culture, that doesn’t mean that culture is homogenous (the same). The multiple cultural worlds that exist in any society are discussed in detail below.
  3. Culture is based on symbols. A symbol is something that stands for something else. Symbols vary cross-culturally and are arbitrary. They only have meaning when people in a culture agree on their use. Language, money and art are all symbols. Language is the most important symbolic component of culture.
  4. Culture is integrated. This is known as holism, or the various parts of a culture being interconnected. All aspects of a culture are related to one another and to truly understand a culture, one must learn about all of its parts, not only a few.
  5. Culture is dynamic. This simply means that cultures interact and change. Because most cultures are in contact with other cultures, they exchange ideas and symbols. All cultures change, otherwise, they would have problems adapting to changing environments. And because cultures are integrated, if one component in the system changes, the entire system must likely adjust.

Drivers of Administrative Culture

It is affected by two distinct sets of forces which drive it to evolve in a certain way over some time. These drivers are

  1. Impacts of the External Environment: Administrative culture cannot exist in a vacuum, it is formed by the setting or condition in which it works. The administrative culture of an organisation is a microcosm of the society around it, reflecting the overall values of society. It is the PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental) factors that make up the environment within which the administrative culture evolves.
  2. Impacts of the Internal Environment: The administrative culture of an organization is formed by the interaction of its organisational structure on the one hand, and the sets of processes and procedures applied to conduct its work. In a hierarchical organisational structure, the administrative culture is anchored around the senior-junior relationship. However, in a flat organisation, it will be formed by professional socialization. Similarly, the flexibility or the rigidity of the procedures will have an indelible impact on its administrative culture.

Main Features of the Administrative Culture of Pakistan

One of the best frameworks to analyse Pakistan’s administrative culture is the cultural dimensions theory devised by Geert Hofstede and refined by others. It shows the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members, and how these values are reflected in the attitudes and behaviour of our civil servants.

To apply Hofstede’s Model to Pakistan’s administrative culture, we first need to understand the above-mentioned main dimensions of national culture as proposed by Hofstede: Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation. These dimensions provide a framework for analyzing and understanding cultural differences.

1. Power Distance

The power distance is defined as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. In other words, to what extent do people accept the given authority without questioning its legitimacy, equity, or performance? Or we can say the extent to which less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.

In Pakistan’s administrative culture, there is a high degree of power distance, indicating a strong hierarchy and centralized decision-making. Superiors are expected to have more power and authority, and subordinates are less likely to challenge or question their decisions. This can be seen in the strict adherence to hierarchy and the tendency to defer to authority figures.

2. Individualism vs. Collectivism

This index explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups”. Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relate an individual to his/her immediate family. They emphasize the “I” versus the “we”. Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups. These in-groups are laced with undoubted loyalty and support each other when a conflict arises with another in-group.

Pakistan exhibits a collectivist orientation, where individuals prioritize the goals of the group over personal goals. This is reflected in administrative practices such as client-patron relations, where personal relationships and social status play a significant role in decision-making. Nepotism and favouritism are common, as individuals prioritize the interests of their social groups or networks.

3. Masculinity vs. Femininity

Nothing to do with gender segregation, it simply means to what extent society prefers “masculine” such as achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success”. Its counterpart represents a preference for “feminine” qualities like cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.

Although Pakistan is a male-dominated traditional society, it is considered a feminine country in terms of the Hofstede model. Pakistanis show a marked preference for “feminine” qualities like cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. In fact, one of the reasons quoted for Pakistan’s high score in the UNO’s Happiness Index is these feminine qualities of cooperation and caring/sharing.

4. Uncertainty Avoidance

The uncertainty avoidance index is defined as “a society’s tolerance for ambiguity; the extent to which a society tolerates ambiguity and uncertainty.” In other words to what extent people are willing to accept differing thoughts or ideas instead of relying on the status quo? Status quo-oriented societies opt for stiff codes of behaviour, guidelines, and laws, and generally rely on absolute truth.

Pakistan has a high uncertainty avoidance, indicating a preference for rules, regulations, and structured environments. This can be seen in the selective rule application within the administrative culture, where individuals adhere strictly to rules when their personal interests are not involved but may bend or break rules when it benefits them or their social networks.

5. Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation

While a short-term orientation indicates that traditions are honoured and kept, and steadfastness is valued, societies with a high degree of long-term orientation view adaptation and circumstantial, pragmatic problem-solving as a necessity. A poor country that is short-term oriented usually has little to no economic development, while long-term oriented countries continue to develop to a level of prosperity

Pakistan tends to have a short-term orientation, where individuals focus on immediate results rather than long-term planning or sustainability. This is reflected in the emphasis on ends justifying means in administrative practices, where individuals are praised for achieving results regardless of the methods used, and there is resistance to change or innovation.

6. Indulgence vs. Restraint:

This dimension refers to the degree of freedom that societal norms give to citizens in fulfilling their human desires. Indulgence is defined as “a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun”. Its counterpart is defined as “a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it using strict social norms”.

Applying the dimension of Indulgence vs. Restraint to Pakistan’s administrative culture highlights the influence of societal norms, traditions, and values on administrative practices and behaviour. Features such as emphasis on social norms, controlled expression of emotions, limited freedom of expression, value of tradition and stability, and controlled work-life balance shape administrative culture and decision-making processes within bureaucratic structures.

Conclusion

In summary, applying Hofstede’s Model to Pakistan’s administrative culture helps to understand the underlying cultural values and norms that shape administrative practices. The high collectivism, power distance, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and short-term orientation contribute to practices such as client-patron relations, selective rule application, deference to authority, discouragement of whistleblowing, gender discrimination, and resistance to change. Recognizing these cultural dimensions is essential for implementing effective administrative reforms and improving governance in Pakistan.

Tailpiece

While the above model of Hofsted is an excellent framework to describe Pakistan’s administrative culture, I would add the following as also its significant features

  1. Primacy of Personal Motives Over Public Service: In the realm of government service, the allure of income, job security, and associated perks tends to eclipse the ethos of public service. Individuals are primarily drawn to governmental roles for personal gain rather than viewing them as avenues for serving the public interest. Moreover, there exists a societal inclination towards ascending the social hierarchy, prioritizing the prestige and authority linked with government positions over their function as instruments of public welfare.
  2. Client-Patron Relations: Entrenched within the fabric of Pakistani society is the concept of client-patron relationships, reflecting a feudalistic ethos. This manifests in administrative interactions with local elites and the general public. While deference and respect are extended to those wielding authority and influence, a distinct contrast emerges in dealings with the wider populace. In some instances, government officials perceive citizens merely as clientele, expecting remuneration or favours in exchange for public services — a practice that undermines good governance efforts.
  3. Selective Rule Application: A subtle delineation exists between upholding moral values and pursuing personal or familial interests. Civil servants exhibit meticulous adherence to rules and procedures when their personal or familial stakes are absent. However, this adherence falters when individuals with personal connections or proximity are involved, leading to a selective application of rules.
  4. Deference to Authority for Power, Not Talent: Administrative culture tends to prioritize deference to superiors based on their capacity for patronage and punitive measures, rather than their intellectual prowess or experiential acumen.
  5. Discouragement of Whistleblowing: A pervasive culture of discouraging whistleblowing prevails within administrative circles. Rather than incentivizing individuals to report malfeasance or misconduct among colleagues or superiors, there exists a propensity to conceal such transgressions.
  6. Gender Discrimination: Despite advancements in gender inclusivity, a lingering bias persists against the contributions of women to socioeconomic development. This discrimination is evident in their limited representation in senior positions and middle management tiers.
  7. Ends Justify Means Mentality: Administrative accolades are often bestowed upon individuals for achievements, irrespective of the means employed. Conversely, individuals are censured for perceived shortcomings in outcomes, without due consideration for mitigating factors or constraints.
  8. Status Quo Orientation: Administrative cadres predominantly exhibit a disposition towards maintaining the status quo rather than espousing change or innovation. This tendency impedes progressive reforms and hinders the evolution of administrative practices conducive to societal advancement.

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