Dilemmas over reforms in the public sector

Borce Davitkovski

The question of what and how big are the dilemmas that the reform of the entire public sector is facing can be analyzed from several aspects and sought in a series of phenomena and situations. If we fail to get a date for EU accession talks in June, it would be likely a result of (non) implementation of genuine reforms in the public sector. Or, a result of our inability and even lack of staff (probably because of the lack of a strong determination and will) to deal with the challenges that stand in the way of any major change. The current political factors and other political authorities in the past decades were mostly interested in the public sector only in terms of employing their party members, conducting public procurements of great value and possibly undertaking activities related to obtaining the expected election results “at all costs” and “by any means necessary”. Quite the opposite from the democratic countries where the public administration is a real service to the citizens, we can freely conclude from our past almost three decades of experience that it is a “service of the government”, where it is consciously and tendentious put into the function of realizing the wishes and interests of the parties that make up the government. Sad, but true.

Even after almost thirty years since the introduction of the new political system (inaugurated in the Constitution in 1991) and following the adoption of hundreds of “European” laws and dozens of development strategies, the public sector remained “servile” to any political set that would come to power. The question arises as to why it is so? First of all, it can start from an indisputable fact, even announced by the Minister of Information Society and Administration, that the administration does not have the capacity, that is, lack of professional staff that would be able to independently negotiate for EU accession. This is the reason for the government’s general “mobilization” for hiring “highly qualified experts” aside from public administration employees.

Tackling the perceived challenges and overcoming them is going extremely slow. Thus, for a whole decade, scientific knowledge, professional, and practice point to increased politicization in decision-making for providing services to citizens. In other words, the political representatives of the citizens (mayors) and of the Government (ministers) in accordance with our laws (made by the same political representatives) are authorized to decide in administrative procedures for specific rights and obligations of citizens. Therefore, the previous government in 2015 decided, through the new Law on General Administrative Procedure, to delegate this competence to the officials and to hand it to the most prominent to decide in administrative procedures – professional officials. But it happened that it remained only a declarative effort without any effect in reality. Until this year, those provisions of the LGAP not only did not apply, but no one was particularly interested in finding mechanisms for the start of their implementation. It is encouraging that this government has resigned after two and a half years to reach a conclusion on the consistent application of the Law on General Administrative Procedure with respect to the reduction / annulment of the discretionary powers of the holders of political functions (ministers, directors and other senior administrative officials) in the usual state bodies, organizations, institutions, public enterprises and other state-owned bodies.

However, this cannot be a universal solution for improving the quality of public administration. In fact, quality cannot be improved if old habits remain that all criticize, but at the same time they practice, such as nepotism in employment in the public sector. He persists to the extent that he is a caricature of the term “prevention of conflict of interest”. Namely, instead of seeking conflict of interest in the responsibility of the holders of functions, it is sought in the users of that conflict (for instance in hiring their children, relatives, party colleagues, etc.) directly contrary to the applicable legal framework for corruption and conflict of interest.

There is also the impression that the reforms are uneven and palliative. Thus, last year, amendments were made to the Law on Public Sector Employees and the Law on Administrative Officers when the integrity test was abolished, and when a delayed action for knowledge of foreign language was foreseen for one year. It also simplified the ways for getting ahead in the ministry. Today, public debates are held announcing new legislative changes to these same two laws. Also, with special laws (lex specialis – education, healthcare, culture), the administration in these areas is not included in the Law on Public Sector Employees and the Law on Administrative Officers, but the status and rights of this category of employees in the public sector are covered by the Law for labor relations?! This has disrupted the concept of building a single official system in our country.

Beyond any strategic commitment or government program, the adoption of a new law on high-level management is being proposed and prepared, that is, the election of senior public sector officials, although for their appointment there already exist provisions in the relevant legal texts (Law on Administrative Officers for General / state / other secretaries, the Law on Public Enterprises for the election of directors and members of management boards) and a series of substantive laws governing the selection of collective and individual managerial functions in state, local and state-owned institutions. So, the reform must not consist in overproduction of legal readings, but in the implementation, consistent implementation of the regulation that imposes principles, principles, guidelines to good government. It is necessary for the existing regulations to be consistently applied, for which political will is also necessary, and not the adoption of new regulations.

Certainly, the announced reform (announced on two occasions in the past two years) for the transfer (voluntarily, of course) of public sector employees in the private sector should be noted. This may be a good way to reduce the number of employees in the public sector, but that may be an even better way of reducing the quality in it. Because, it is expected that private entities will target the best, and of best quality, public sector staff who are not really in a huge number. In this way, the best part of the professional, competent and committed staff (primarily hired and professionally trained in the informatics sector) could leave, which are expected to make this transfer if not due to other reasons, due to higher salary, and partly because of disappointment with current policies. Namely, a large number of incompetent and unskilled staff are placed (or left) in managerial positions for the purpose of partisation, nepotism and various other socially negative phenomena, which further increases the disappointment among professional and conscientious administrative workers. In this way, the public sector will remain additionally without the professional staff (which is necessary and needed for normal functioning of the appropriate body) that it previously had, and it will remain only personnel who are not ready to work under “different workplace regulations”, established in the private sector. The problem with training employees in the public sector should be especially emphasized. Since 2014, with the adoption of the Law on Administrative Officers, in the MISA, there is a sector – an Academy for training public employees, with one employee for approximately 150,000 employees. Any further comment on this issue would be redundant.

It seems that in a number of ministers (unfortunately, the number is not so small) there is no political will to implement genuine reforms in its departments, and in particular in the non-application of the decisions and conclusions of the Government directly related to the reform of the public sector .

The column is part of the project “Childhood Diseases of Democracy”, supported and funded by the National Endowment for Democracy – NED and in the implementation of the AGTAC

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik