When Will Competence Define Who Works in Chile’s Cities?

The municipalities of Santiago de Chile

HAVANA TIMES – The year 2024 marks 20 years since the Civil Service Directorate and the Senior Public Management System began operating in Chile. They sought to provide a concrete response to the corruption scandal of the MOP-GATE case and what happened with Chiledeportes and State Railways, during the government of President Ricardo Lagos.

Since then, there have been significant advances in the professionalization and transparency in the selection of senior public positions at the central level, within important services throughout the country, in the fields of education, health, labor, security, economy, culture, sports, among others.

Thus, more than 1,500 positions for national and regional directors in various central-level services over the past 20 years have been designated based on education, experience, and merit to obtain the job (strategic, managerial, technical, and personal competencies), and not by political trust, as was the case before.

That said, there have undoubtedly been advances and things have moved in the right direction, despite some criticisms of the system, such as the excessive change of directors when a new government comes to power at the central level and the president’s power to request their resignation, as well as the lack of greater evidence on the impact of the new system on public management.

Some legal modifications are undoubtedly needed to give greater continuity to the work of those selected directors. Nonetheless, at least there is a minimum level of professionalism for the selection processes at the central level and in the various ministries, which shows a real concern on the part of the State for greater probity and efficiency.

However, these advances at the central level contrast with what happens in Chile’s municipalities, where there is nothing similar, despite the Engel Commission proposing to bring some important municipal positions under the Senior Public Management system and President Gabriel Boric’s submission of a proposal in this regard in March 2022, which has not been considered by Congress.

I mention this based on certain cases, such as what happened with the Santiago de Chile municipality of Las Condes, for example, which has been mired in multiple corruption scandals, as happened with the former Director of Purchases, Pedro Carrasco, who spent years stealing from the commune without any control, while mayors like Joaquín Lavin and Daniela Peñaloza looked the other way.

Not to mention the Municipal Corporations, which in the case of the Cultural Corporation of Las Condes, simply turned it into a cash box for political favors and a place to hire unqualified people without any public competition or anything similar, which is a disgrace, not only for the residents but also for those of us who have worked in municipalities.

Drawing from my own experience as a public servant, having worked in municipalities as a professional for the past six years, I not only see the need for the Senior Public Management system to reach municipalities in some senior positions but also in many other intermediate jobs, as there are people without adequate preparation who are only there because of political contacts, family ties, or simply friendship.

In light of the above, it is worth mentioning the drama of public competitions for permanent municipal positions, which are often just a facade, as many of them are selected solely based on their proximity to the current mayor, and they settle in the municipalities forever, without any control and without having minimal basic abilities or the desire to work for the community.

In short, it is urgent to bring greater transparency to public job competitions, especially at the municipal level. What exists today only generates greater discontent and distance from public policies, and only benefits a few unscrupulous individuals who denigrate the State and the honest and professional work of many who carry out public service with responsibility and as a key area for the democracy of a country.

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