Technocracy v. CEOcracy
The Argentine bureaucrat has been a pet target for parody for far too long to deny a welcome to any serious proposal to train a professional civil service — indeed not since Gustavo Beliz more than a quarter-century ago has any government official shown any real interest in the idea. In launching a plan to upgrade the public administration, Modernisation Minister Andrés Ibarra is only being true to the mission implied by his portfolio’s name as well as to President Mauricio Macri’s general aim of bringing Argentina into line with the rest of the world. Yet at the same time Ibarra is on a collision course with other aspects of Macri’s presidency. Ibarra himself (an executive in various Macri Group companies before accompanying the future president both at Boca Juniors and in City Hall where he occupied his current portfolio in Macri’s second mayoral term) is typical of a CEO-laden Cabinet which presents a concept of efficiency completely opposed to a professional civil service, despite the numerous conflicts of interest arising — will this entrepreneurial spirit underlie the various live and online training courses proposed by Ibarra as his idea of “transforming the state”? Furthermore, this insistence on trained professionals was not always in evidence in the first year of the Macri administration with several examples of blatantly political appointments — often with generous salaries of 50-70,000 pesos.
Such appointments were not the only thing predating the new criteria now apparently being adopted — in the first couple of months of the Macri presidency, some 20,000 public-sector jobs were axed. Government is proposing to replace these with around 6,000 new appointments, generally at much higher pay levels to be justified by the professional training courses now planned. Why has Macri (who ad already had eight years in City Hall to fine-tune his civil service modernisation ideas) waited until now to present his plans? Moreover, even if Ibarra’s reforms are viewed as being entirely on the right track, the scheme falls well short of being comprehensive — as against a total public-sector universe of almost four million workers at national, provincial and municipal levels, it proposes to send some 85,000 central administration employees to training courses (as against 26,000 last year) with a modest budgetary allocation of 60 million pesos.
Despite the above, we would still conclude by welcoming the idea of administrative modernisation. Everybody loves to blame the politicians for everything but they are much the same worldwide — the lack of a professional civil service here has been the real difference causing many of Argentina’s woes. Yet this support cannot be uncritical — “transforming the state” will not automatically be for the better.