Meritocracy and the State

By Eddie Cóndor*

“Taken” is a Hollywood movie starred by Liam Neeson, in which the phrase “Good luck!” is often used. “Good Luck!” is also a cold expression of many employers who decide on their workers’ jobs arbitrarily. The problem is when it is not a “rapacious capitalist” who does it but the State; worse even when it calls itself inclusive and revolutionary.

In fact, a State is not inclusive and revolutionary if it continues the old model customs. In this case, revolution is continuation. Many public officials have been removed from office to allow that politicians pay their political debts. This destroys meritocracy and turns public institutions into employment agencies working for clientelism.

Things worsen when this problem, typical of states’ bureaucracies, becomes the general rule and is replicated throughout the public structure. It is a way to assign positions and satisfy,  in many ways, demands of those who financed or supported political campaigns. State authorities have been empowered by these political practices and turned into some sort of kings. The kings, of course, manage public institutions moved by their self-interest and self-will.

Therefore, if we want independence and autonomy with good management and services, we must put these issues in the public debate and ensure that public institutions, controlled by client politics, conduct processes of self-evaluation and self-criticism. We do not necessarily say that all state institutions are controlled by this pernicious practice, but it is common where watchdog institutions are precarious or scarce.

In recent years, arbitrary namings in public institutions thanks to clientelistic practices led to poor decisions and cases of abuse of power. These decisions, based on personal interest, turn the institutional structures into spaces for private activity.

We demand the population to oversee so that these practices do not continue. We call the attention of politicians (who should answer for the quality of public services we have the right to) to work and engage development with the vision of the country we want. In the immediate future, countering this institutional crisis that corrodes state structures is a priority.

Also we demand clientelistic practices to stop and base the selection of public employees based on meritocracy. It is not fair to sacrifice consolidated careers, honest and capable officials for people whose only “merit” is to have participated in political campaigns, have funded candidacies or to have integrated the government’s party.

Private interests should not prevail over the public career. Weber spoke of the need for an “enlightened bureaucracy”. Contrary to that, what we see is political gratitude as a condition for new positions in the State.


* He is a lawyer, analyst and international consultant on democracy and rights humans.

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