Public Personnel Management and Democratization: A View from Three Central American Republics

Article excerpt

The development of stable democratic societies in Central America has been a popular news topic and a primary U.S. foreign policy objective for the past decade. Democratization has been a prime concern of social scientists in general (Barry, 1991; Booth, 1991; Booth & Seligson, 1989; Booth & Walker, 1989; Colburn, 1992; Coleman & Herring, 1991; Jonas, 1990; "Out of the Ditch," 1992) and of political scientists in particular (Collier & Norden, 1992; Dix, 1991; Geddes, 1991 and 1994; Goodman, 1992; Graham, 1990; Karl, 1990; Lijphart, 1992; Mainwaring, O'Donnell, and Valenzuela, 1992; Sloan, 1989; and Wynia, 1990).

In the United States, public personnel management is widely regarded as a critical element of democratic society (Mosher, 1982) and of effective public administration (Hays & Kearney, 1990; Shafritz et al., 1992). Although U.S. interest and aid for Central America has faded with the Sandinista threat (Robinson, 1991; "Forgotten Central America," 1992), this region remains important. And public personnel management plays a critical role in four of the ten U.S. foreign policy objectives specified for the Central American democratization process during the 1990s (USAID, 1991; 9):

(1) improving the administration of justice by increasing the independence, professionalism and effectiveness of the judiciary and police by upgrading judicial personnel through promotion of higher selection standards and effective training programs; (2) strengthening the ability of legislatures to conduct appropriate legal, economic and technical analyses of proposed legislation by trained professional staff; (3) strengthening local and municipal governments' effectiveness by enhancing their control over financial and human resources; and (4) promoting honesty and efficiency in government through transparency of decision-making processes and heightened accountability of civil service structures.

Yet despite this consensus on the importance of public personnel management to the development of democratic government and society, little comparative research has been done on the development of public personnel management in Central America or its relationship to democratization there. Comparative administration texts by Heady (1991) and Riggs (1964) do discuss civil service reform, although they do not focus specifically on this topic or region. Several authors have written studies of public personnel systems in particular countries: Siegel & Nascimento (1965) on Brazil, Brautigam (1985) on Costa Rica, and Kearney (1966) on the Dominican Republic. Although these studies often include persuasive conceptual analyses of the civil service reform process, they are by nature limited in comparative focus. Two works that are both comprehensive and conceptual, although by now of primarily historical interest, are Fonseca Pimentel's (1966) analysis of Latin American civil service reform and Torres Padilla's (1968) description of Central American public personnel systems. Ruffing-Hilliard (1991) has written an excellent comprehensive conceptual analysis of the civil service reform process in Latin America, although its conclusions are documented by literature review rather than by original data.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to:

1. describe public personnel management in three Central American republics (Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica);

2. evaluate public personnel management in each country;

3. present recommendations to enhance its effectiveness;

4. propose a general model for the development of public personnel management in Central America; and

5. delineate the relationship between the development of public personnel management and democratization in Central America.

Characteristics of Public Personnel Management: Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica

The three Central American republics used as subjects in this research study are unique but related. …