What value do unelected but appointed officials – through a patronage (spoils) system – create?

During a cordial conversation with an acquaintance, who is a government minister, I asked her what value she either brought with her – upon her appointment and assuming her role as minister – and/or has thus so far, since she got into her role as a minister, created and/or creates on a working day at the ministry to justify her high salary and generous perks funded, of course, by the taxpayer?

She had, if anything, very little to say about it. Simply put, she could not, in any way, justify why; a) on the basis of value creation: she was appointed to her position, and; b) her high salary and all the generous perks that come with a ministerial job and position.

I further pressed on and asked her whether she thinks and feels, in any way possible, she is more valuable than others, say, those in her ministry and effectively under her management purview and authority – those she supposedly leads or ministers at her ministry and who are, in the scheme of things, the real value creators?

She was unexpectedly and unusually – for a person in her position or in comparison to her many peers and their attitude and behaviour towards those unfortunate to fall under their so-called “leadership” – an oxymoron in that regard – too upfront on this and flatly asked, with a look of surprise and indignation at the suggestion in [by] the question, and roared, quite forcefully: No! Absolutely not!

Obviously feeling that her sensibilities had been terribly offended by the question; she added, assertively: I am not and do not in any way feel more important, valuable or whatever you think or might think, than anyone.

What kind of arrogant and insensitive person would I possibly have to be to take myself so important, valuable, you name it, as to raise myself above everyone else around me? She further asked. To which, somewhat feeling cowed, I humbly, almost meekly, asked: Honourable Minister, is it unusual or are you simply the exception in this case  – what, some if not many would indeed argue, is rather the norm?

The Honourable Minister, said she’s possibly aware of cases where some individuals in high positions [offices] get completely disillusioned and corrupted by their borrowed positions of [borrowed] power in society. Individuals who let their borrowed power get in their heads and obviously in their way and thus forget where they came from, how and why and what got them to wherever they may be – whatever the position – in the first place. But that she is not going to speculate on their behaviour or indeed, what leads them into such frame of mind and that she can only [choose to] speak for herself.

She further stated that she’s and feels only unusually lucky and privileged to be in her position but equally cognizant of the fact that there are many people – some she knows personally – who are far more capable and better qualified in every aspect to be in her position and who would likely perform far better than she does. An uncommon admission indeed from many people in high positions but and particularly in her case, more uncommon in a patronage system in and through which she was exalted to her high ministerial position and thus operates.

At that moment, I took her point and eased off on her but it instantly set me off on, a sort of thinking spree, so to speak. It got me thinking and asking myself the question: what value does a minister create to justify their high pay – many times if not multiples more of the pay of those in the same ministry who are ultimately, collectively, the value creators – plus all the generous perks that come with a ministerial job?

It also equally got me thinking about and of the dilemma and perils of a patronage [spoils] system in which people ingratiate – as a tactical method perhaps – with those who run and control the patronage system and as such, are brought in[to] and/or raised in high positions of power and/or authority in society or organisations – public and/or private.

They are brought in and/or exalted to high positions of power and authority, not on the basis of the value they bring or will create or promise to create – and this is usually more of a norm than an exception – but rather more on and for completely different reasons than they have anything to do with their position or relationship in society and/or organisation.

It usually is, almost exclusively, to serve and look after and protect and advance the vested interests of those who bring them in or have the power and influence to exalt them to such high positions of power and authority, often far beyond their abilities.

By this, they are instantly and literally and effectively handed with responsibility over the lives of other people in such organisations who will undoubtedly be affected by the attitude of such individuals and most importantly by their decisions – often taken on whims, without proper due process and procedures primarily because they are not beholden to organisational performance.

The patronage system is everywhere in the world. In some fairly democratically inclined and accountable places with rigorous systems of internal organisational checks and balances on the power structure, it is practised with caution and/or covertly. The process is rather subtle to ensure it leaves no traces or clues but it does exist nonetheless.

However, it is and tends to be much more common and rampant in public organisations in less democratically inclined and less accountable places in the world, with weak[ened] or completely absent internal organisational systems of checks and balances on the power structure.

Public organisations in such places tend to be staffed with especially appointed and mainly unelected [government] officials most of whom, as a canon, know and are well aware to whom they are beholden, that is, on which end of the privilege stick they are in on. Most importantly, in whose hands lies and therefore who controls the stick and has the power to decide on when and whom to use it, which direction it should and shouldn’t swing.

Once this is ingrained and registered in their consciousness, as long as their masters’ interests are served, well looked after, protected and advanced – most tend to grow an uncontrolled and reprehensible tendency to be too arrogant. This behaviour is unnecessary and primitive and people should be called out for this kind of inexcusable attitude, irrespective of power dynamics, positions or anything at all.

Arrogance is simply a symptom or indeed sign of a much deeper personal issue and downright lack of civility. If anything, it is, by and large, an indication of a deep-seated inferiority complex that a person harbours and therefore feels the need to compensate with asinine outward behaviour that borders to insensitivity to[wards] others.

This phenomenon of arrogance that comes out of occupying positions of power and authority – not through elections but appointment by or through a patronage system, which is by all accounts, unaccountable and opaque – is more common with most of those in power in less democratically inclined and vaguely accountable or downright unaccountable places in the world than those with existing rigorous systems of checks and balances on power and where, majority of those who occupy positions of power and authority – public offices, tend to come from elected members and are consequently accountable to their electorates.

How one comes in[to] power, or rises to the top of an[y] organisation – public and/or private – largely defines and shapes and has a tremendous influence on one’s general attitude to[wards] power. It defines and influences one’s organisational management style and subsequently how one runs the affairs of the organisation one is put in charge of, one’s work ethics and how one relates with and treats those in middle to lower level positions through to those at the bottom rung of the organisation.

This is a fundamental factor, among others, that defines the ethos and management culture, style and attitude of an[y] organisation’s upper management – the few privileged individuals at the upper echelons of the organisational management.

If and when a fish is rotten at the head, the rot and stench [will] inevitably permeate the whole fish, down to the tail.

Finally and fundamentally, organisational management needs a good solid dose of humility and importantly, cooperation, from both management at all levels and the managed – everybody within and who is part of the organisation – to have a sense of proper perspective of what the organization – public and/or private – is about and what goes on inside and out, from top to bottom and vice versa.

An astute and modern organisation – public and/or private – ought to have and thus be run on a 360 degree organisational management policy that allows for and enables an all-round organisational perspective, not the traditional top-down model in which diktats come from the top and run and filter through down the organisational structure to the bottom.

The 360 degree management structure is such that it allows for and enables and thus predicated on a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship structure – “Top-Down and Bottom-Up and Bottom-Up and Top-Down” kind, instead of the traditional and predominant but certainly authoritarian Top-Down model on which most organisations – public and/or private – are still run today in an organisational eco-system where decentralisation and democratisation of information is becoming increasingly almost inevitable for organisational survival.

The 360 degree organisational management structure also allows for workers participation in the life [cycle] and activities of the organisation and its management affairs, again, a fundamental and equally becoming an increasingly critical factor in organisational survival.

It is far more cost effective, in the long run, to ensure that everyone whose life depends, in one or various ways, on the organisation and therefore who gets affected by the way the organisation is run or by the decisions made and taken on behalf of the organisation, participates in the organisational decision-making process.

This ensures that no one is left behind and no one has to be pushed to the periphery of organisational management, perhaps as undesirable enough to participate in the decision-making process and organisational management but desirable enough to participate in the process of creating organisational value.