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José Luis Álvarez Arce, Director of department of Economics of School of Economics of the University of Navarra.

proposal on the discussion of severance payments

Mon, 28 Mar 2016 12:44:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

According to the bill presented by EH Bildu and Podemos, Navarre could eliminate the dismissals for the current senior government officials, while extending the deadline in which they are forbidden to perform jobs related to their previous political activity. In my opinion, this is an ill-advised proposal , mainly because it proposes a limited vision of a topic that must be faced from several perspectives. Undoubtedly, the transition to the private sector of those who have held high public office entails a high risk of conflicts of interest. The mere existence of doubts in this regard is a problem, as it erodes the confidence of citizens in public servants, which has now been severely eroded by the crisis. Hence the need for regulation to limit this danger.

But it is also worth thinking about the transition from the private to the public sector. This would be an interesting move for society, since it would have trained and experienced people in the administration. People who, after completing their tasks in the administration, will want to return to their previous activity. Something equally desirable for society as a whole; it does not seem very healthy for anyone to be "leveraged" indefinitely in public positions of power. A dilemma arises here, but fortunately, there are mechanisms and incentives that improve the terms of the dilemma. Transparency International, an organization that fights corruption, explains and endorses in several reports, as does the OECD, the procedures in place in many developed countries.

In general, they have a regime of incompatibilities, prohibiting the use of privileged information from position public. There are laws that, for periods that vary from country to country, close the access of public officials to certain subsequent job opportunities that could give rise to conflicts of interest with the work performed in the government. This limitation greatly complicates the return to the labor market of professionals who were given, precisely because of their training, responsibilities related to the sector in which they previously worked and where, logically, they would have a better professional fit. Thus, countries with strong restrictions on this subject are accompanied by a system of severance pay that, like an insurance policy, covers this contingency. This is the case in Norway and Austria, countries that are very scrupulous in the pursuit of transparency and public accountability.

If the proposed law only proposes greater restrictions, without establishing formulas to facilitate the return to the private sector of those who left it, it will have a harmful effect: it will discourage prepared and valuable people, with an interest in providing a public service, from holding public office. People from other fields, with other ways of doing things, who could enrich the functioning of public administration.

What are the alternatives? There are two possibilities which, in fact, today combine satisfactorily with the presence of people coming from the private sector. One, professionals from the civil service itself, with backgrounds that qualify them for the responsibility they are taking on. In this case, the limitation is that technical competence is not enough; it is necessary to take a step and make a political statement, something that a person may not want to do in view of future consequences. This problem does not exist in the second alternative, with professional politicians occupying high positions. But we would have another disadvantage, because it would encourage the emergence of professional politicians who thrive under the protection of their parties.

A final thought. The bill we are talking about focuses on the exit stage of the administration, not on the whole complexity of the matter. My proposal would be to go further, to articulate mechanisms of entrance and exit that facilitate that the positions of government are occupied by competent people, motivated by a will to serve, whether they come from the public or private sector. As stated in exhibition , holding the highest positions in the community is an honor, their performance is a reward in itself. But if we unnecessarily or excessively increase the cost of such performance, who can we count on?