Public Administration

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

The fall of the Trujillo dictatorship in 1961 did not produce a corresponding disruption of the traditions and practices characteristic of the government service. Corruption, nepotism, wholesale dismissals for purely political reasons, loyalty checks, patronage, and the sowing of distrust and suspicion had become ingrained habits which, unlike Trujillo, did not disappear overnight. However, the old habits were challenged by new pressures: demands that the bureaucracy provide real goods and services, that public functions be carried out honestly and efficiently, and that the government respond to the pent-up needs and demands of the population. The clash between the traditional patterns of bureaucratic behavior and new demands for public services, such as health care, education, water supplies, and electricity, contributed significantly to the political instability of the post-Trujillo period.

No effective law existed to protect Dominican public officials in their jobs. From the cabinet level to the lowest ranks, virtually all civil servants were appointed, served, and could be removed largely at the will of the president. The result was a patronage-dominated system in which public sector jobs were given out in return for loyalty and service.

Merit, achievement, and competence, therefore, were not always the main criteria guiding government appointments. The public bureaucracy was often characterized by genuine incompetence, even at the highest levels. Nepotism and corruption--defined as a favor in return for a favor, the granting of special governmental privileges to favored persons, private enrichment stemming from public service, or outright bribery--were also widespread. Those who tried to be honest were scorned; they were considered foolish by their colleagues. Indeed, government service was thought of, not so much as an honored career, as a brief opportunity to indulge oneself at the public trough. The frequent failure of government programs could often be attributed directly to the corruption and incompetence of the bureaucracy. Patronage and related activities were often tolerated at lower levels, so long as they were kept within reasonable bounds; however, when the corruption became blatant, as it did under President Jorge, the government was likely to suffer at the polls.

Under the president, were a number of technical offices-- administration, planning, budget, personnel--designed to help him perform his job more effectively. These offices generally did not function well, however, and most Dominican presidents continued to operate as personalistic and patronage leaders.

The size of the cabinet could vary; in 1989 it consisted of sixteen secretaries of state, three without ministerial portfolio. There were also an administrative secretary of state for the presidency, a technical secretary of state for the presidency, and twelve additional secretaries of state administering various ministries. The cabinet did not function as an independent arm of, nor very often as an advisory body for, the presidency (although some of its individual members might); rather, it was a loose collection of administrators, operating almost entirely according to the wishes of the president.

In addition to the cabinet ministries, there were in 1989 fourteen autonomous agencies and eleven semiautonomous agencies. The autonomous and semiautonomous agencies were established in the early 1960s to administer new public programs as well as the vast properties and enterprises inherited by the state after the death of Trujillo, who in addition to his political power had vast economic holdings. These agencies administered an array of programs and enterprises, ranging from farm loans to cooperatives and vast sugar lands. The largest of these were the State Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal de Azúcar--CEA), the 85,000 employees of which made it the largest employer in the country, and the State Enterprises Corporation (Corporación Dominicana de Empresas Estatales--Corde), into which a number of smaller state-owned enterprises had been consolidated.

Dominated by patronage considerations and plagued by corruption, the autonomous and semiautonomous agencies were frequently mismanaged. Some officials, believing that these agencies could be run more efficiently by the private sector, periodically proposed putting them up for sale. The usual reactions to such efforts included objections from nationalists about selling out the national patrimony; from politicians, seeking to preserve patronage opportunities; and from the employees of the state-run agencies, who feared layoffs under private sector management.

More about the Government and Politics of the Dominican Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress