For a lengthy period, governments worldwide believed that civil servants should be linked to the authority of the state and could not be compared to employees in the private sector. This group of public employees were perceived as agents of the “Leviathan” (Hobbes), intended to uphold the rule of law and to implement government policies. In this conception, where the state was separated from society and citizens, it was inconceivable that civil servants could be compared to other employees.
Towards the end of the 20th century, in almost all countries worldwide, reform measures have encouraged the change, deconstruction and decentralization of the civil service on all fronts. In the meantime, there are now as many different categories of public employees as there are different public functions, organizations, and tasks. Overall, the number of civil servants has decreased and some countries have abolished traditional civil service features. Moreover, working conditions and working life have changed. Thus, whereas for a long time, civil servants were very different from the employees of private companies, this distinction is much less clear in the early 21st century. Such a situation had been unthinkable 10 years earlier.
Consequently, the traditional concept of the civil service as a distinct employment group and status is slowly disappearing.
In addition, current organizational reform trends have made public administration as such into a somewhat heterogeneous body. In the early 21st century, civil services have become more diverse, less hierarchical and standardized, more flexible, diverse, representative and less separated from the citizenry than they were traditionally. Whereas the term “bureaucracy” had represented clear values (hierarchy, formalism, standardization, rationality, obedience etc.), new reforms have brought with them new values, but also more conflicting ones, and value dilemmas. Whereas most governments still agree that human resource management (HRM) policies should continue to be based on rational principles such as the rule of law, equity, and equality, the increasing popularity of behavioral economics and behavioral ethics and the trend toward the delegation of responsibilities to employees through different concepts such as engagement, lifelong learning, and competency development, illustrate that current trends run counter to classical bureaucratic styles. Moreover, digitalization and flexibilization trends are changing work systems and leading to an individualization of HR practices by facilitating the monitoring and measuring of individual efforts and engagement practices.
Thus, the problem with this description of administration in the 21st century is obvious. Whereas the terms “bureaucracy” or “civil service” can be defined and broken down into concrete definitions, this is much less the case with the new civil service systems and new administrative models.
However, stereotypes around public organizations and civil servants continue to survive, even though they were shaped in a world that no longer exists. Even in the early 21st century, many people still have the perception that civil servants work in an environment that is clearly separated from the private sector. Also, most public-service motivation theories start from the assumption that civil servants are different because they are civil servants.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.