September 01, 2004

Nepotism?'s not Nepotism. It's Just the Way it works.

MABB is a registered TM.

Political parties in Bolivia, are actually more powerful than they appear. They just don't only have influence through the legislative branch. The parties' tentacles extend all around the government apparatus through nepotism, favoritism and job quotas.

On August 1, of this year, president Mesa surprised congress by designating 17 new officials (district attorneys, judges and other officials) to fill posts in the Judicial branch that hadn't been filled for a decade by congress. According to some analysts, Mesa meant to tackle two problems at once with this initiative. One was to fight corruption by appointing reputable individuals in these posts. The other one was to pressure congress to once and for all take responsibility and do its constitutionally mandated job of filling such posts. This lack of action in the part of congress was, and still is, due to the partisan politics within it (for more info on this look here).

Why is the Bolivian Congress so ineffective? Well, in addition to the fact that legislating is such a complex process, there are 16 political parties representing the Bolivian people in congress. In order to make laws these parties, first, have to form coalitions so there is a majority and a minority faction. And, in order to form these coalitions, the members of these parties negotiate intensely all the aspects related to consolidating power for the party.

According to a report in the La Paz newspaper La Razon, one of the ways in which the parties gain consensus and make allies is actually distributing political posts and jobs in the bureaucratic apparatus. They do not only distribute among themselves the most powerful jobs in the administration, like ministries, advisors and so on, they also distribute the less prestigious but important nevertheless, administrative jobs. They actually have quotas of jobs in the public administration assigned to each party.

Just recently, a Senator from the MAS Roman Loayza (Movement Towards Socialism), acknowledged that his party has a quota of 57 jobs within the congress. Another member of parliament (MP) from MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), who asked to be kept anonymous, confirmed that his party had 150 jobs within congress. Altogether in the Deputy Chamber there are 333 jobs assigned to political parties and around 600 contractors. But, the party politics doesn't stop there. Many of those jobs go to family members of the MPs. For example, the deputy Reyes Villa (NFR) had his mother-in-law in the payroll. Moreover, the daughter of Senator Chirvechez (NFR) works in the offices of the Vice President. Some cases are even amusing. Senator Majluf (MNR) assured La Razon that his relatives were of 4th or 5th degree, thereby not really relatives. Loayza argues that this arrangement is necessary for his party to maintain the connection to the social movements.

As a result of La Razon's report which made public nine cases of nepotism within congress, the heads of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies ordered an investigation. Senator Hormando Vaca Diez (MIR) and Deputy Mario Cossio (MNR), presidents of the Senate and the Camber of Deputies respectively stated these cases of nepotism were going to be investigated and they promised action, an audit and a report in the near future.

Along with the investigation, the congress has called on the anti-corruption delegate Lupe Cajias to work with congress to help with this issue.

One immediate result from this practice of job quotas I can think of is that it makes the administrative apparatus less consistent and less responsive to the needs of the people. That means, if every time there is a new government, or a new governing coalition, jobs all over the public administration are reshuffled, therefore there is no continuity and consistency for the people. The public administration is in a continuous process of renewal. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes renewal is good, but continuous renewal can also be harmful. People in these jobs, therefore, will tend to want to gain as much as they can from the job, since they do not know for how long they will be working. This, in my mind, contributes to corruption.

Bolivia has and will have its work cut out when it comes to corruption. At least the country has already begun on the right path.