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Colombia: Public Administration
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > The Governmental System > Public Administration


Before 1957 the administrative system was a spoils system in which patronage served to reward political followers and public resources were used to promote party loyalties. Each time a party fell from power, the bureaucracy had to be totally revamped. The absence of any career civil servants or public service ethic was not conducive to policy continuity and long-term planning.

The creation of the National Front in 1958 led to the establishment of a public service-oriented bureaucracy. According to the amendments approved by the 1957 plebiscite, party affiliations are not to be considered in the hiring, firing, and promotion of career administrators, and government leaders are obliged to follow civil service norms passed by Congress in dealing with administrative personnel. Although career bureaucrats retain the right to vote, they are not to engage in any other political activity.

To implement the amendments, the government enacted a career civil service law in 1958 and put it into effect by executive decree (Law Number 19) in 1960. Law Number 19 and subsequent decrees established the Commission of Administrative Reform to study ways to reorganize the executive branch and the National Civil Service Commission to centralize the government's personnel policies by establishing a professional civil service through oral and written examinations. It also created the Higher School of Public Administration (Escuela Superior de Administración Pública -- ESAP) to train middle- and upper-level bureaucrats by offering a four-year college program, as well as graduate courses in public administration, urban planning, international relations, and other fields relevant to government service.

Law Number 19 also sought to complement the civil service by developing national planning and long-term programs through the creation of the National Council for Economic Policy and Planning (Consejo Nacional de Política Económica y Planificación -- CNPEP) and the Administrative Department of Planning and Technical Services (Departamento Administrativo de Planificación y Servicios Técnicos- -DAPST). The DAPST's mission was to formulate long-term development plans and create long-range programs of public investment. These administrative reforms created the conditions for developing a technically competent bureaucracy and served to standardize procedures, elevate the role of planning, and provide some administrative consistency.

Additional reforms in 1968 made various personnel offices of the ministries and agencies responsible for developing a career service (carrera administrativa) and allowed government employees to apply for competitive positions in the civil service. The career civil service system remained, however, highly partisan and small; by 1970 career service employees numbered only 18,000. In the mid-1980s, civil service employees still constituted only about 15 percent of the bureaucracy; the rest were patronage appointees. The sizable bureaucracy existed primarily to provide educated young people with socially prestigious and relatively well-paying jobs. It remained generally overstaffed, inefficient, and partisan, with appointments frequently made on the basis of political patronage, private influence, connections (palancas), or nepotism.

In addition to the various governmental reforms, the technical development of the small, professional, and public-service oriented segment of the civil service was furthered by the proliferation of decentralized agencies and the assistance of international and foreign agencies in supplying training and expertise. This group was able to legitimize planning, develop long-term programs, generate some grass-roots support, and occasionally minimize conflicts involved in administering programs. Three kinds of semiautonomous or decentralized agencies existed: the independents, such as Incora; the government-operated and government-controlled public enterprises, such as the Coffee Bank; and the mixed enterprises, which were financed and controlled by a combination of public and private sources. The proliferation and independence of these agencies during the 1960s and early 1970s, however, inhibited governmental coordination. Although a ministry or government department directed each agency, the large number of agencies limited the degree of control actually exercised by the executive branch.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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