Monday, May 29, 2023
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< view full issue: The corruption that does not cess
Fernando Jiménez Sánchez

​The corruption and patrimonialization of Public Administrations

University of Murcia

The IDE 2014 (Report on Democracy in Spain) of the Alternativas Foundation dedicated a chapter to the analysis of which, together with the Nóos case, are the three main scandals of recent years: the Bárcenas-Gürtel case, the Palau case and the case of the Andalusia Regional Government ERE (fictitious workers compensated when laid off due to official large-scale company staff reductions). These three cases reveal serious problems in the functioning of our public administrations.

Palau de la Mu00fasica

The parallels between the first two cases, Bárcenas and Palau, are more than evident. In both, we see many common elements: the irregular financing of parties, together with the more than solid suspicions of the favourable treatment that donors receive in the awarding of public contracts. Furthermore, in order for a political party to be able to ensure that the public administrations under its control lend themselves to contributing to these exchanges, those who work in such organisations has to have a system of incentives that are willing to violate the legal mandates.

The case of the Andalusian EREs illustrates this characteristic quite well, which also haunts the other two cases. As the prosecutor of the Palau case stated, it is the ascendant abusiveness that the high positions of the parties exert on public administration personnel that gives rise to the corrosion "of the obligatory impartiality" of those in public service. What is different between the first two cases and the third is the motivation to exercise this ascendancy. While in the first two cases it has to do with the irregular ways of financing the political parties, in the third case it is an extremely discretional distribution of public resources between a few of the electoral base of the governing party and, more particularly, the base of personal and partisan support of some of its leaders.


What is not different from one case to another is the ease with which the leaders of the governing party get these public administrations to acquiesce to their dubiously legal or openly illegal wishes. 

When certain leaders of a party in the government are able to achieve the results described in this chapter, it is a clear indication that the degree of politicization of our public administrations is certainly excessive.

As the works of Dimitri Sotiropoulos, among others, have shown, the public administrations of the southern Europe countries (Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal) are characterized in general by their extensive politicization. Sotiropoulos pointed out how this greater degree of penetration of party influences in the public bureaucracy was evidenced by two types of clientelism: from above and from below.

Clientelism at the top refers to the depth that political appointments often have in the upper echelons of the administration.

Unlike what happens in northern and western European countries, in the southern ones the political appointments are not limited to those at the highest levels (ministers and secretaries of state, or equivalents), but they descend many levels until clearly technical positions for those selected public civil servants who have patent sympathies for the party or the governing parties.

Clientelism at the bottom refers to stakeholder control exercised by the governing parties in hiring those who will occupy jobs in the lower echelons of the public sector. As Víctor Lapuente pointed out, this politicization of public administrations promulgates among public civil servants and employees a clear awareness of what the true rules of the game are: " a promising young person who has just entered an administration, and who is ambitious about his job, will realise that dedicating 100% of their effort to doing impeccably professional work may not be the best way to reach the top." And, moreover, quite often this excessive politicization of public administrations also extends worryingly towards independent control agencies (Constitutional Court, National Securities Market Commission, National Commission of Markets and Competition, Nuclear Safety Council, General Judiciary Council...) thus hindering the effectiveness and impartiality with which they need to carry out their work.

These three cases indicate to us that, if we really want to reduce opportunities for corruption, one of the fundamental objectives must be to end the excessive politicization of public administrations. 

This objective extends, at the very least, to reinforcing the merit systems and capacity both in the recruitment and in the professional career (which includes a good performance evaluation system), the real introduction of the figure of professional public managers, a effective public information transparency policy, and the implementation of training programs in integrity and public ethics for ordinary and senior officials to help effectively manage the difficult problem of conflicts of interest.

 Co-author of the Report on "Democracy in Spain 2014: Democracy without politics"



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