The Modernisation of Argentina's Public Administration
On assuming the presidency of Argentina in 2015, Mauricio Macri initiated a vast programme of public sector modernisation. The programme was designed in a holistic way to achieve equity, tackle the digital divide, and deliver better and more efficient public services.
First, ready-to-use digital tools were made available for regional governments to develop their own IT capabilities. Second, free technical support, such as workshops and local monitoring, was made available to public agents and citizens with the aim of minimising digital exclusion, enabling them to benefit from digital services. Third, government data started to be made open and accessible.
The País Digital [Digital Nation] programme comprised the organisation of events to build "complementarity", promote local and private sector initiatives, and encourage a creative and innovative mindset. It envisaged a significant level of infrastructure investment for local municipalities, including the development of a Wi-Fi network throughout the whole country, in order to achieve digital inclusion and other objectives.
To accomplish these goals, the economist Andrés Ibarra was appointed minister of modernisation in December 2015. Driven by technology and ICT reforms, the ministry's ambitious programme of transformation is being developed through four major modernisation hubs:
- The modernisation of human resources via the centralisation of the management of all public employees at a national level. Public officials are incentivised by clearer career paths and greater opportunities for training and progression, together with open information on wages, contracts and the recruitment process. These measures have led to the professionalisation of public services, attracting young talent, making public officials a central part of the transformation of the public sector, and upgrading the value of public service from the citizens' perspective.
- The modernisation of processes for every department of the state based on technology, digitisation and digital innovation, with the objective of achieving a paperless and more agile government. The implementation of basic features such as electronic files and e-signatures are aimed at simplifying the administrative process and making it more accessible.
- This initiative has gone hand in hand with an e-government ambition, which is especially significant in a country where internet penetration has been sporadic. Until 2015, a third of Argentines had no internet access and 94 percent of municipalities did not provide any public Wi-Fi. País Digital has been a tool for the government to achieve digital inclusion through the deployment of a free national Wi-Fi network and the creation of digital centres that train and help citizens with the management of ICTs. The Federal Internet Plan aims to connect 1100 municipalities within 2 years. Moreover, to counter inequality of opportunity across provinces, the central government has provided ready-to-use digital solutions and workshops for public officers.
- Open government and public innovation: the aim is to lead to transparent administration processes and greater citizen participation, encouraging a more inclusive democracy and promoting innovation within the government and throughout civil society. Information has been made available to citizens through the website Datos.gob.ar. Salaries of public officials, public tenders, public budgets and statistical data are published, so that the public can participate in the process of controlling the use of public resources and using data for innovation.
Since the early 1990s, the functioning of Argentina's public administration has been adversely affected by patronage and partisanship. Authority has remained in the hands of powerful politicians who were pursuing their own personal agendas and modus operandi. This encouraged informal and corrupt practices, deepened the differences between the nation's 23 provinces, and encouraged a lack of cooperation across government departments.
Moreover, central government processes have been arbitrary and have not operated equally across different departments. Information on invitations to tender for public contracts have not been made publicly accessible, for example, resulting in unclear rules and an opaque administrative process. Appointments, salaries and public sector career procedures were vague and inequitable.As a result, citizens had few tools to influence the use of public resources.
Despite the existence of anti-corruption legislation, the “abuse of office by elected officials usually goes unpunished”.The lack of clearly-defined public bidding rules led to infamous cases of corruption and abuses. Additionally, the perpetuation of informal practices and the existence of a slow-moving bureaucracy has made reforms very hard to implement, leading to dysfunctional public services. For example, a simple administrative process such as a request for a birth certificate would require long waiting times.
The public impact
Since December 2015, in parallel with digital innovation, the Ministry of Modernisation has realised several transformation measures, which have had a positive impact on the relation between citizens and their local and central government:
- 70% of provinces signed the Federal Commitment for the Modernisation of the State
- Argentina has risen from 54th to 17th in the Global Open Data Index
- More than 300 digital centres have been created across the country
- More than 50 municipalities' websites were launched
- A guide to more than 7,500 administrative processes is now accessible online, and services such as remote medical consultations have been made available
- There is now a centralised website for public sector job opportunities
- More than 70 datasets are available from a wide range of public institutions 
- As of 2017, over 1,000 administrative processes can be found online, and the implementation of centralised and highly regulated public procurement is considered a major step towards transparency.
Central government is the primary stakeholder in the Ministry of Modernisation's programme, but the design of the transformation programme involved all the provincial authorities who signed up to the Federal Commitment for the Modernisation of the State.
The relevant government ministries, such as the Interior Ministry, and the Ministries of Science and Technology, Education, and Security are closely engaged in the process, and they collaborated in the process of creating the new ministry. Meetings between the leading minister and governors are held regularly, as are meetings with the provinces that endorsed the Federal Commitment and local teams. 
Since the ministry's inception, Andrés Ibarra, the minister for modernisation, along withPresident Mauricio Macri and Marcos Pena, the chief of the cabinet of ministers, has highlighted the importance of modernising the state to achieve the government's objectives for the next four years.
In June 2016, President Macri launched the País Digital programme in Cerrillo, a town of 18,000 inhabitants in the poor province of Salta in northern Argentina. This was indicative of the modernisation initiative's objectives of social and digital inclusion.
The ambition is to create "a state oriented towards the citizens to achieve the Argentina of the 21st century that we all desire". The Ministry of Modernisation was created as an autonomous organism with national outreach, but it works in close cooperation with other government agencies, local authorities and civil society. One of President Macri's ambitions is to position Argentina "amongst the 10 most transparent countries in the world".
The Ministry of Modernisation has been criticised for its high running costs and its elaborate bureaucracy. Moreover, the modernisation of human resources implied a revision of contracts, missions and roles, which the public interpreted as a rationalisation. With high unemployment rates and economic problems in the background, the emphasis that the government has placed on the programme is seen by the public as unwarranted. As a result, there has been only a partial appreciation of the programme among the general population.
On the other hand, the public trusts the institutions themselves, and the number of users of the digital services and ICT innovations is constantly increasing. The programme is seen as addressing existing inequalities in citizens' access to public services and the use of the internet and ICTs.
People from disadvantaged regions have highlighted the importance of training in the use of internet and other digital services, and how it can improve their daily life. Finally, by facilitating data and encouraging innovation, the government participates in the design of apps that target disabled or handicapped citizens for more inclusive digital services.
Clarity of objectives
The objectives of the modernisation programme are very clear, although rather broad and not quantified. They were stated by President Macri at the time of the Ministry of Modernisation's creation, and were also part of the 10-point programme that his party presented during the 2015 election campaign. The main objectives of the Modernisation Plan are to:
- Create a more dynamic and agile public sector
- Professionalise the public service, create new leadership roles, and attract young talent
- Increase transparency of public sector processes, such as invitations to tender
- Bring the state closer to the citizens by improving digital services
- Encourage better links between the citizens and the government by guaranteeing access to information about the public administration.
Strength of evidence
The modernisation programme clearly positions itself within a global trend of digitisation and greater use of ICT in public administration. It was based on many of the features of President Macri's tenure as Buenos Aires' chief of government. His administration achieved several important outcomes that were innovative in Argentina at the time, such as the deployment of a free Wi-Fi network and delivering software that tracked public transport online.
The city was the first one in the country to work on the creation of a closer link between the citizens and the administration, through the organisation of public hackathons. At both a local and a national level, UK's e-government programme provided evidence to the policymakers of the importance and effectiveness of e-government and modernisation programmes.
The programme was fully financed by the central government. As the Ministry of Modernisation was created through an executive order, a new budget and allocation of resources were provided for its operations.
At 1.730,5 million ARS, the initial funding for the modernisation programme was around 0.3% of the total public administration budget. One of the most challenging aspects related to human resources: new teams needed to be recruited because of a lack of relevant technical expertise.
The Ministry of Modernisation's structure makes it difficult to isolate accountability. It is organised around four main departments: Public Employment, País Digital, Management and Public Innovation, and Administrative Modernisation.
The creation of an implementation chain from the central to local governments ensures the achievement of goals and publicising policies and results. In terms of scope, the Ministry of Modernisation leads the creation of nationwide reforms and the delivery of ready-to-use digital tools, training programmes, and public consultations. At the same time, it acts as provider and supporter for local municipalities. Provincial and local modernisation officials are accountable for coordinating the local monitoring and control of projects.
Being more qualitative than quantitative, the objectives of achieving digital inclusion, becoming a transparent administration, and creating a state oriented towards its citizens are very hard to measure, especially given the lack of accurate statistical information. The "management by results" culture that Andrés Ibarra is aiming to establish is largely responsible for the gradual progress and initial achievements.
Therefore, in addition to monthly advancement meetings between the minister of modernisation and the chief minister, the ministry created and made public a control board that allows the chief cabinet minister to measure, monitor and track the progress of every project.
And some measurable results can be seen, for instance through the improvement in the country's position in global rankings in areas such as open government, transparency and corruption. Since the beginning of the modernisation programme, the country has climbed 12 places in the Corruption Perception Index (to 95th). It has risen 34 places to joint 17th in the Global Open Data Index. It also improved its ranking between 2014 and 2016 in the UN E-Government Development Index.
The scale and nationwide objective of the modernisation programme was a challenge in terms of alignment. Although provincial and local authorities publicly agreed with the need for modernisation and the creation of an agile administration, there were significant obstacles.
The deployment of the programme was made in collaboration with all government departments and ministries, mandated by the president to support and participate in the transformation process according to the objectives and requirements of the modernisation programme. 
However, the central administration had limited scope for guaranteeing the alignment of goals and incentives between the federal government and the more remote administrations, particularly with the more resistant local authorities. The government has addressed this difficulty by prioritising the development of the project in Argentina's more receptive municipalities and states.
Interviews with senior public officials from the Argentine Ministry of Modernisation. Buenos Aires, Ministerio de Modernización, December, 2016 & June 2017
Politización, estrategia y cultura burocrática: áreas de abordaje para la reforma del servicio civil en Argentina, Mercedes Iacoviello, Laura Zuvanic & Mariano Tommasi, 28-31 October 2003, VIII Congreso Internacional del CLAD sobre la Reforma del Estado y de la Administración Pública, Panamá
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