Friday, April 19, 2013

Cuba Tests a New Type of Public Administration

Cuba Tests a New Type of Public Administration
April 18, 2013
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — They got rid of half of the bureaucrats, drastically cut
down on administrative expenses, transformed dozens of government office
facilities into homes and now plan to house in one building all the
offices for the population's legal procedures.

These things alone suffice to make one consider the possibility of
moving to Cuba's province of Artemisa, a laboratory where Raúl Castro's
government is testing a form of public administration that is less
bureaucratic, more efficient and cheap.

What's novel in this region bordering with the province of La Habana is
the creation of a true provincial government, furnished with enough
authority and budget to operate in accordance with the priorities and
needs of the local population.

There, the Public Administration Council has been transformed into a
local government that coordinates most of the national institutions
operating within the province, including those in such important fields
as public health, education and agriculture.

This process of decentralization contrasts dramatically with what is
happening in the rest of Cuba's provinces, where local parliaments,
devoid of any real "executive power", merely support what central
administrative bodies and State companies decide to do in the region.

Artemisa is witnessing the first steps towards a horizontal
administrative model, designed to do away with Cuba's vertical
government structure, a structure through which, for decades, all of the
decisions about what to do, even in the smallest and most remote town,
were made in Havana.
La nueva forma de gobierno permitió reducir la burocracia
político-administrativa a la mitad. Foto: Raquel Pérez

This pilot experiment seeks to give power back to municipal authorities,
to make them responsible for identifying their needs and for
administering their budgets, in accordance with their local priorities.
These authorities have already been authorized to open bank accounts in
Cuban pesos and hard currency.

In addition to this, these institutions will not depend exclusively on
their State-assigned budgets. The Artemisa Administrative Council has
determined that all companies operating in the region are to pay a
provincial tax equivalent to 1 % of their earnings.

That sum will not be insignificant. The province currently supplies much
of the Cuban capital with food and has undertaken the construction of
the nation's first Special Development Zone, an area, nearly 500 square
kilometers, where Cuba's main port, a gigantic containers terminal, a
refinery and dozens of foreign companies are to operate.

The administrative decentralization of the province seeks greater
flexibility for regional policies. Common sense alone tells us that
these will be better adapted to local reality than directives thought up
in an office in Havana, by people who don't even live in the region.

In the area of agriculture, for instance, hospitals in Artemisa will now
have the authority to decide whether to purchase the food supplies they
need directly from agricultural cooperatives, bypassing the government's
intermediary, a body whose inefficiency has even resulted in the loss of
entire crops.

The province is also taking bold strides in the encouragement of private
enterprise, having already granted over 20 thousand commercial licenses
and rented unproductive State businesses out to small business people,
so that they may set these in motion.

In addition to privately-run barber shops, which already operate
throughout the country, these private businesses include cafeterias and
even an amusement park, brought to life by a Cuban émigré who decided to
"move back" to Artemisa from Peru, where he worked as a pastry cook for

Diunesky Giménez, born in the province, told me that, on hearing about
the possibilities that had opened up in Artemisa, he didn't think twice
about it. He invested all of his savings on an inflatable castle,
electric bump-cars, an ice-cream machine, a gigantic trampoline, and
returned to the land of his birth.

For US $7 a day, he rented a lot on a corner of Artemisa's central park
and transformed it into an amusement park. He has 6 employees and claims
he is happy with his earnings. On a Sunday alone, he takes in more than
US $100.
El gobierno de Artemisa avanza con más rapidez en el alquiler
trabajadores autónomos de negocios deficitarios estatales. Foto: Raquel

Decentralization can have positive repercussions for the population if
local needs and priorities are determined at the municipal level, the
parasitical bureaucracy is reduced and greater administrative efficiency
is achieved, through the creation of a provincial government with real

Ulises Guilarte, First Secretary of the Communist Party (PCC) for the
province, told us that the main obstacle they have run into is trying to
change the mentality of Party cadres, accustomed to all decisions being
made in Havana, after decades of such an administrative structure.

According to Guilarte, with the new provincial organizational scheme,
the PCC will now focus on political and ideological matters and entrust
administrative and regional government functions to the Public
Administration Council.

What no one was able to explain to me is what the Assembly of the
People's Power will do now, beyond choosing the Council chairperson.
This regional parliament never had any significant degree of power, but,
in this future structure, its functions appear to become even less

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