Panamá,25º

21 de Jan de 2020

Nacional

Hack jobs and professions

All day on the day this was written, a little crowd was gathered around the Perejil campaign office of Beby Valderrama , a Panameñista w...

All day on the day this was written, a little crowd was gathered around the Perejil campaign office of Beby Valderrama , a Panameñista who just won a seat in the National Assembly. These were people looking for jobs with the new government.

Martin Torrijos will be leaving the Palacio de las Garzas and Ricardo Martinelli will be moving in. But, maybe as a Freudian slip, Torrijos listed himself as a “permanent” employee on the list he provided for the next government. A bunch of his confidential political advisors were also listed as non-replaceable civil servants in the Ministry of the Presidency.

Torrijos came to office with a little more than 5,000 people on the civil service list, changed the law in 2007 and added more than 34,000 people -- almost all of them hired because they were activists with the PRD or its allied parties -- to the rolls.

Had we seen efficient government these past few years the case may have been different, but with the sewage flowing in the streets, postal service declining, traffic nightmares, a major crime wave and corruption left and right there is nothing to recommend this particular batch of public employees.

So will we see mass firings and a plethora of lawsuits about them? Will the PRD - dominated courts insist that Martinelli preside over a hostile partisan work force?

These abuses were neither invented by nor have been the exclusive practice of the PRD. However, the abuses have been particularly egregious under Martin Torrijos.

There are good people who get jobs through bad systems. Think of all of history’s enlightened monarchs as examples. But with many honorable exceptions here, we are talking about mediocre and worse people getting jobs through a bad system.

So will the packing of the government payroll with PRD hacks set up a confrontation among branches of the government? There is the possibility of a constitutional crisis, although there would be plenty of opportunity for compromise along the way to the brink. The issue could also end up as a good excuse to rewrite Panama’s constitution, which should have been done right after the dictatorship fell.

The ideal, which the Torrijos crowd outrageously claims to have accomplished, is a professional civil service, with few jobs becoming vacant when administrations change. Leave it to Mariela Jiménez , the former legislator and incoming civil service director, to determine how short Torrijos fell. Leave it to the incoming National Assembly to repeal the 2007 law.

But still, a problem would remain.

A fair, effective and lasting solution preserves the jobs of the most senior people, and allows for lateral shifts among these people. Then, a group of those hired on whatever basis by governments past or present – those who have served honorably and effectively – ought to get some preference but should have to take tests and compete for positions.

After that the civil service tests should be open to anyone off the street who hasn’t been convicted of a serious crime or fired from a public job for proven misconduct.

In the end, everyone who gets a government job should have to make a choice – they could engage in partisan politics on the one hand, or they could be a civil servant on the other.

Not both. We need a public work force whose first loyalty is to the nation, not to a political party.