Saturday, July 19, 2008

Macedonia grapples with public administration reform

Macedonia's public administration has not undergone any changes since the proclamation of independence in 1991. The strategy and the program for reforming the public sector first came to attention in 1999, but since then the government has done little to implement the new strategy.

Overstaffing is one unsolved problem. Currently, the government counts 128,000 employees, but studies by Macedonian and international experts see no need for more than 40,000, a goal that would require a reduction in manpower by nearly 69%.

In the last 17 years, power in Macedonia has changed hands many times, but nobody dared shrink the ranks of the civil service, for fear of outraging voters.

A widespread dearth of ability and qualifications is another problem for the government. Many civil servants lack the necessary competence or even the stated qualifications for their positions.

Besides the political, economic and administrative objectives imposed in 1995 by the Copenhagen Criteria for EU accession, the candidate countries must fulfil an obligation -- continual reform of public administration so as to facilitate the emergence of a democratic society and market economy.

In order for Skopje to meet the criteria, a merit system rewarding qualifications and experience must be in place. Currently, the only prerequisite for joining the civil service in Macedonia is having a "proper" ethnic background or party affiliation, neither of which guarantees productivity or competence. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank repeatedly advise -- in vain -- against hiring on the basis of party affiliation.

To that end, the Civil Servants' Agency (CSA) came into being with the support of USAID. The agency is the intended conduit for public sector employment. The staff at the CSA receives training by international experts to prepare and monitor exams for prospective government employees. Also, the agency receives large donations to fund IT equipment and civil service training.

The main obstacle, however, to reforming public administration is the continued reluctance of political parties to respect the law and to include the CSA in the government's hiring process.

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