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Tuesday, September 26 2017 @ 06:58 AM AST

Clientelism hurting Latin America and the Caribbean

Patronage can lead to corruption, low economic growth, poverty, and even higher child mortality. It also is a tenacious foe. Donor agencies pump huge amounts of money into rooting it out. They fund civil service and public administration reform. Yet, those well-intended efforts typically have little impact. Despite myriad attempts at technical solutions, 10 out of 18 Latin American nations were found to have classically clientelist bureaucracies in a recently released Inter-American Development Bank paper called Ideas for Development in the Americas, Volume 33.

Not surprisingly, institutional and political factors may be more important than technical ones in improving public administrations. Citizens’ groups and lending agencies may press to ensure that governments appoint, promote, and
give tenure to the most qualified personnel.

Donors may provide expertise. But one of the greatest predictors of success is the extent to which political systems either allow or restrain presidents from controlling patronage.

Two examples from recent history illustrate the point: the governments of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo from 2008 to 2012 and the Dominican Republic’s President Leonel Fernández from 2004 to 2012.

Both presidents arrived in office under politically difficult circumstances. Lugo, a former bishop, was the first head of state from outside the dominant Colorado Party (ANR) in more than 61 years, and controlled only one seat in the senate and one seat in the chamber of deputies. Fernández similarly commanded few seats in congress and came from a party that owed its victory to an alliance whose future loyalty was questionable.

Both presidents faced pressure to improve their civil services. The bureaucracies of Paraguay and the Dominican Republic rank among Latin America’s least meritocratic a past IDB study showed, and both nations had committed to greater transparency and professionalization through the 2003 Latin American Civil Service Charter.

They also had received international funds to do so. Citizen demands for reform were tepid in Paraguay. But by 2008, a broad civil society coalition of NGOs, religious organizations, and private sector associations in the Dominican Republic was clamoring for change.

Paradoxically, however, it was Paraguay, not the Dominican Republic, that began to professionalize its public administration. Between 2008 and 2013, the Dominican Republic passed landmark legislation, including a public service law, a public salary law, and 2010 constitutional reform with merit and tenure protections. But in Paraguay, where legislative reform languished, new policies affecting public sector performance steamed ahead. Competitive exams for civil service posts rose from a cumulative total of seven before 2008 to a maximum of more than 11,000 per year between 2008 and 2012, filling 26% of vacancies. The ministries of health, education, and agriculture especially benefited, and Paraguay improved in the World Bank’s Control of Corruption indicator from the seventh to the 25th percentile rank.

In the Dominican Republic, by contrast, the number of positions filled through competitive exams never exceeded 475 per year. The country, under Fernández, fell in the World Bank’s corruption indicator from the 42nd to the 23rd percentile rank.

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