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State Reform: A Challenge for Democracy

Leonardo Garnier Rímolo

The topic of state reform is approached from a strictly technical point of view, disregarding the political content which by its very nature affects any process of public institutional change.

The first problem suggested in this approach is the social efficiency of public services, understood as a complex balance between their cost, quality and coverage, rather than a mere definition of priorities and a cost reduction effort. At the same time, the need to promote greater democratic participation is stressed, where instead of the simplistic assumption that participation replaces representation, both are considered to be complementary in a democracy in the making.

Secondly, the argument is put forward that adequate political leadership and accountability -both to the authorities and the citizenry - are vital elements in democratic state reform and that the instruments of evaluation should play a key role in public institutional activity.

Thirdly, radical reforms in public resource administration are urged in order that such resources be allocated with increasing flexibility to adjust to national priorities, rather than continue with the routine allocations that tend to become ensconced with time, in line with vested interests within and without Government. This approach should logically include both expenditure and income, with reforms that combine ethics, equity and fiscal efficiency, while also opposing the savings culture and sound financing of public programmes to the debt culture.

Fourthly, a successful state reform process should lead towards innovative management of the human resources required by public institutions in order to render professional and reliable services. This covers the range from legal transformations in public employment systems, which by their very nature take place very slowly, to the use of outsourcing methods and the purchase of services which will provide institutions with the leeway required today. Incentive and sanction systems included in collective contracting as well as administrative and outsourcing contracts are the key to success in this field.

Lastly, the above should be complemented by ongoing institutional modernisation processes that may serve as the basis for public management that is efficient, of high quality and user-oriented. State reform should not be regarded as a spur-of-the-moment effort, almost always derived from more or less serious fiscal account problems, but as an ongoing effort to adapt to processes leading to increasingly democratic collective decision-making and to increasingly efficient implementation of the latter from the social and long-term point of view.

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