Development that Works
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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Has civil service improved in Latin America?



    servicio civil foto

    Despite the fact that “the science of delivery” is a hot topic these days, the truth is that we don´t know that much about its engine: the public sector workers. A recent book from the IDB sheds some light, looking at the evolution of public employment in the past ten years.

    The book focuses on civil Service reform (public employment in the Central Administration) in Latin America and presents a diagnosis of civil service systems quality in 16 countries. In addition, it extracts reform lessons and identifies strategies to modernize public administration in the region. Finally, it proposes an agenda for reform in order to deepen professionalization efforts.

    The main conclusion of the book is that in the last decade, some countries have gone further than others, which have stalled (the book is only in Spanish).

    servicio civil grafico


    The book contains a lot of relevant statistical information and many lessons. Here are six:

    1. Different empirical studies link the professionalization of civil service with benefits such as economic growth, poverty reduction, control of corruption, increased confidence in government, improved service delivery and more efficient budget spending and investment. (Although we must not forget that correlation is not causation.)

    2. Expenditures are less than 2004. On average, the salaries of public employees of the central administration of the 16 countries covered in the study represented 5.6% of GDP, 27% of expenditure and 41% of tax revenues in 2012. If the salaries of employees of the decentralized entities, public enterprises and subnational governments were to be accounted for the percentage of the wage bill as a percentage of GDP would be much higher.

    3. All of the countries of the region signed a treaty in 2003, called the Ibero-American Charter for Public Service, which defines the principles and practices of human resource management in the public sector in order to seek a more efficient and effective state. This is the yardstick that the Bank has used in order to benchmark progress

    4. The average Index for the 16 countries improved from 30 to 38 points-on a scale of 100 – between 2004 and 2011/2013. The most improved are the countries that started at lower baselines, which highlights the difficulties in implementing more advanced reforms.

    5. The improvements that occurred depended, almost always, on the central governing body, and less so in at the sector level. An example is personnel information systems and public employment portals that have brought improved use of the principle of merit – which measures the degree of fairness in human resource management decisions and the protection against political capture in public employment.

    6. However, the efficiency of public sector institutions depends not only on meritocracy. It also depends on how human resources are planned, on post structures and job profiles (how many administrative, professional and managerial positions there are and what are their responsibilities); the pay structure to attract, motivate and retain qualified personnel, which has to be competitive with the labor market; that these employees operate in an environment where performance is the main career driver; what kind of opportunities employees have regarding job development; and the type of relationship that management has with employees. The region does not have very good scores on some of these subsystems (performance management, compensation management and career development, for example) and shows almost no progress on them in the last decade.

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