How deep is public leadership engaged in public interest and ethics? The recruitment of public managers in Portuguese public administration
European Group of Public Administration (EGPA) Conference
Abstract In a context of growing unpredictability and complexity of the social and economical environment, the ability of public organisations and public leadership to readjust to new strategic challenges has become an imperative. The discussion on methods of recruitment of public managers has therefore become more relevant in public administration, in politics, as well as in civil society, as they represent the first line of responsibility for executing public policy. Since the development of administrations is anchored in local and traditional cultural patterns, any line of reform must be aware of its environment (Araújo, 1999; Rocha, 2001). Page & Wright (1999) have identified the institutional loyalty principle as a key-factor in public office, despite the administration’s degree of independence from the political sphere. However, this concept of loyalty can be interpreted and applied in numerous and very different ways. In some cases, like in Denmark, administrative modernisation transformed traditional bureaucrats into “public management professionals” (Jensen & Knudsen, 1999), whereas in Austria, where public administration is highly politicised, practice tends to value personal loyalty instead of political or institutional loyalty. All main reformist trends in western countries, inspired by different organisational theories and concepts and driven by distinct political orientations, have one aspect essential to the link between political power and administrative elite: Trust. Nevertheless, pressures from a growingly mistrusting civil society as well as a changing political party logic are adding new variables to this equation. The importance and objectivity of performance, competences and capacities evaluation must therefore be assessed in order to clarify if it influences the trust criteria. After a long dictatorship that perpetuated institutional immobilism and bureaucracy in public administration, which lasted until the 1974 Revolution, it was the intensification of social, financial, political and international pressures that drove Portugal to start a reform process in the 1980s’ (Araújo, 1999). Starting 1979, public managers where no longer appointed for life, but in a temporary commission regime. In 1987, the first majority government centralised administrative power in the hands of politicians and in 1989, government members were legally allowed to recruit public managers in the private labour market, with the intent of developing competence, loyalty and efficiency. The last 15 years have seen succeeding approaches to the recruitment of managers. Two important legal documents concerning public leadership were published in the last two years, namely a new statute for public managers in 2004 and a set of rules for the appointment of public managers in 2005. With the first law, academic and experience requirements were increased, new management training courses were implemented and the traditional examination procedure was abandoned, giving way to direct contracting. In a contradictory way, the second law reintroduces the examination procedure for intermediate managers, but leaves top managers out. Paige & Wright (1999) argue that it is still not clear whether the personal trust criteria, claimed by politicians when appointing top managers is not a way to legitimate the high subjectivity and discretion of the process. It is yet to prove the goodness of this recruitment model, and unless it is associated to an objective evaluation system with concrete consequences, it should not be accepted with complacency.