Merit versus “batatism”

The merit system emerged in the Chinese government in the years before Christ. China's great contribution to universal culture has been the invention of the meritocratic civil servant. The Chinese established an efficient, open and secular bureaucracy, selected on the basis of talent, merit and scholarship. This system not only ensured the permanence and flourishing of the Chinese Empire for 2,000 years but was eventually imitated in the West.

Today, the Chinese government automatically recruits the best graduates from its universities. In other words, the Chinese civil service is made up of the best minds of its population.

The PNP-PPD are hindering the implementation of a merit system for public employees as it goes against their interests of retaining political power at any cost, according to Angel Collado Schwarz. (Archive)

The basic principles of the system are competency tests for entry into the system, promotions and penalties based on performance, and protection against actions based on political-partisan pressures.

In European governments and in the United States, merit systems are used to recruit, promote and transfer public employees through objective examinations and evaluations.

When changes in government occur because of elections, most public employees are not affected by the changes. Only a few positions of trust change with the new government leaders. This ensures continuity and quality of services to citizens. In Puerto Rico, until the 1970s, there was a merit system in government and public employees were subject to examinations for recruitment and promotion. The idea was to recruit the best talent, even if they had not voted for the governor and sympathized with the opposition party.

Two cases stood out: when Governor Luis Muñoz Marín appointed Sol Luis Descartes as Secretary of the Treasury Department in 1949 and Dr. Guillermo Arbona as Secretary of the Health Department in 1957. Both warned the governor that they had not voted for him and were not members of the PDP.

The Autoridad de las Fuentes Fluviales (Water System Authority) was the "crown jewel" with a pool of professional employees and a Board of Directors made up of highly qualified individuals.

In the 1970s, when the rotating door of power between the PDP and the PNP began, the merit system was forgotten and partisan “batatismo” or partidocracy in its crudest and crudest expression was escalated. The political machines in public agencies began to raise funds for campaigns and electoral mobilization.

The party that wins elections rewards its partisan armies in public agencies by providing them with agency control, promotions, and isolation, oppression and discrimination against those on the other side. Sometimes they are banished within the same agency, with no jobs to perform, and are disowned as if they had leprosy. All until the next elections, when the situation can be reversed.

This partisan corruption validated by the PNP and PDP goes against all principles of sound public administration. Such a system has a high cost for the treasury, since it duplicates human resources for a function that a single competent person could perform.

Another devastating effect is the cost of lawsuits. Between 2005 and 2015, more than 200 political discrimination claims were filed in federal courts in Puerto Rico.

Recently, 109 former Capitol employees won a million-dollar discrimination lawsuit against former presidents Eduardo Bhatia and Jaime Perelló. In 2013, the legislative leaders fired all employees they suspected of being PNP.

It is estimated that over the past decades, these lawsuits have cost the treasury hundreds of millions of dollars.

The PNP-PPD hinders the implementation of a merit system for public employees as it goes against their interests of retaining political power at any cost regardless of public welfare.

This piece was originally published in Spanish in El Nuevo Dia.

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