February 03, 2007

The Weaknesses of New Blood in Government

MABB © ®

One of the positive effects of the Morales government has been the almost total (above 90%) renewal of the old political elite. This group was seen as deeply corrupt and had completely lost touch with the people's political preferences. That was, more or less, the verdict. Instead, new people were elected and appointed who, it was hoped, would change the direction of leadership and make a fresh start.

Well, this was the case, pretty much, in the beginning. However, that renewal had also its negative effects. One major effect was that the people in office now did not have experience in government administration. Most people were very inexperienced local politicians with little experience at the local level. Others had experience in worker's unions leadership, but no administration.

The article I quote now is one example how can the issue of 'experience' turn into a negative effect against the current government. The report talks about the Amauri Samartino case. Samartino was a Cuban dissident living in Santa Cruz, who had criticized severely the relationship between Evo Morales and Fidel Castro. As a result, the government went after him.

In a legal battle, the Bolivian government deported Samartino to Colombia. He was deported by the then Minister of Government, Alicia Munoz. Ms. Munoz was one of those 'new' government officials who were supposed to bring new ideas and, most importantly, no connection with the old corrupt elite. She issued a ministerial decree deporting Samartino.

It turns out however, she was naively wrong. The case got all the way to the Constitutional Court. Last Friday, it ruled that the decree issued by Munoz was unconstitutional, because it violated the rights of foreign national living in Bolivia. This opens the door for a possible return of the Cuban to Bolivia.

Munoz, according to La Razon, made two grossly incompetent mistakes. One was that she based her arguments to deport Samartino on a Supreme Decree (DS 24423) which was found unconstitutional by the same court in 2001. The Supreme Court's opinion was that the DS 24423 violated the equality principle and the freedom of expression right in the Constitution by ruling that foreign nationals could not intervene in national politics. The second mistake was that she ignored she did not have the competence to issue such an order. That competency lies on officials of the Bolivian Immigration Service. She stepped over her boundaries without even looking back twice.

What does that tell us? For the purposes of this post, it simply highlights how much experience is worth when working in the government. That is the only way, I think, one can as reasonably and neutrally as possible explain these rookie mistakes. Even though Ms. Munoz was already a member of parliament and had experience in leading NGOs, she was not a member of the established elite and thus did not have as much experience.

However noble and liberating was to bring new blood into government, we can see experience is immensely important when it comes to govern. Without it, it can come to damaging outcomes, not only for the government but for the country as a whole.


Anonymous said...

It seems as though Morales has had some similar displays of naivety where he committed gross political errors, such as in the Ponchos Rojos affair. What means exist in Bolivia for potential politicians and government officials to receive training? Do no good advisers exist for politicians, or are they available but simply not used? Any ideas on what could be done to help with this problem?


Miguel said...

Al alternate explanation is that she just didn't care about the legalities. I agree that inexperience plays a large part. But I also wonder how many of the "mistakes" are as much caused by indifference as by inexperience. In the purest forms of "popular sovereignty" the rule of law doesn't apply, since nothing (certainly not mere constitutional laws) can override the "will of the people" to make decisions. That philosophy surely plays a strong role in this administration.

miguel (mabb) said...

Yes, I have been pointing out at many of Morales' 'mistakes' for quite some time now. It is becoming arguable if they can be attributed to naiveties.

As far as formal training for potential politicians, I think there are none. The training grounds are the parties themselves and now the unions, and various forms of social movements, and not to forget, NGOs.

As far as government administration, there was a program to professionalize the bureaucracy. However, Morales has been pressured by his supporters to give them jobs. He has tossed that program aside and is in the midst of making place for his supporters in government.

Additionally, there are several initiatives at the local level. Some of them, rather many, are sponsored by the development community in the form of funded projects, seminars, online documentation, etc., etc., etc.

I am not sure what you are asking with the second question. Bad advisers are everywhere, even in the White House (i.e. Chaney, Rummy and Condi). :-)

miguel (mabb) said...

Miguel: Yes, that is certainly a possibility. However, I thought of giving her the benefit of the doubt.

But, you are right. It is more than evident that some people in the government have some extreme dogmas. This notion of popular sovereignty seem to hit right on the nail.

This last argument is certainly complementary to the inexperience one. It is because of their political (not just administrative) inexperience that they can follow such dogma without weighing their consequences.

Norman said...

There is nothing surprising in the number of novice mistakes; they were a foregone conclusion when Mr. Morales decided to place unqualified people in these offices. Party loyalty was the prime consideration and aptitude was a distant second. As to good advisors to the politicians, that is exactly what a cabinet is, the President’s advisors. Mr. Morales can get away with his own high degree of lack of political / administrative skills as long as he appoints highly qualified advisors. He consciously chose not to do that. That in itself may have been a play though. He did have political accounts to settle for the mixed bag of support it took to get him in office. Now he can say “See guys, I tried”. Miguel’s point is also valid. Evo is not playing the same game that everyone else is playing; he bends or breaks the rules as necessary, and it works.