The Aptitude of Cuba’s Lawmakers

Marlene Azor Hernandez

Cuba’s legislators routinely ratify the decree-laws already put into effect by the government. They only meet a few days every six months. Photo: granma.cu

HAVANA TIMES — University degrees in Political Sciences or Public Administration don’t exist here in Cuba. Some postgraduate degrees in Public Administration are taught by Economy and Law professors who try to train up public officials in how to manage an institutionalism that has been inherited from the Soviet Union.

A system that has proven how dysfunctional it is and that it is a failure in its meaning of what every public official should do: create well-being and satisfaction among the population in the face of social conflicts that arise due to their rights being violated or flouted.

In a recent report from 2016 by the Public Administration Department at Havana University that offers postgraduate courses, researchers confirmed that public management at a municipal level doesn’t work. However, I didn’t find the contradictions of Cuba’s institutional system with the existence and management at a municipal level. I am referring to the institutional order that has been established as a fundamental obstacle to a municipality’s existence and functioning.

Centralization and subordination to a single-party State, as outlined in the Constitution, is the focus of these obstacles to any kind of decentralizing act. This is Soviet institutionalism.

With regard to candidate selection committees, I read an article on Cubadebate in which forum users analyzed these committees as obstacles in the election of candidates who managed to become lawmakers. The principle of selection that these committees use has nothing to do with proven performance in public management.

Therefore, nominees can be an exemplary worker in some industry, a retired athlete with high revolutionary credentials, a well-known doctor and a talented musician, but they are all lacking in expertise in international and national public management. Public management training might be an intensive course which doesn’t explain the system’s dysfunctions and roughly tells them how the Cuban system is organized.

New lawmakers come to learn how the Cuban parliament works on the job, at every parliamentary session. Old lawmakers already learned the routine but they have no other model to the one they have experienced: they applaud every one of the State Council’s decisions and it approves every Ministry report and decree law adopted between parliamentary sessions.

They aren’t professional politicians or professional administrators, they are people who have no idea about public office and they go twice a year as spectators in front of Ministers and they listen to the State Council’s guidelines, to then just go home with the satisfaction of having complained about the lack of attention their town received, in the best of cases.

At the last parliamentary session in July this year, these two aspects were made evident in all of the lawmakers’ speeches. On one side, complaints made about unresolved financial and social problems from lawmakers who represent their districts, about 50% of lawmakers. On the other side, a series of speeches sticking to the reports presented by Ministers without any criticism and jumping onto policies adopted even though the consequences of “the fight against prosperity” has been the adoption of extremely negative measures and decree laws for the production of goods and services in the private sector of the economy, the most dynamic and for consumers, thereby increasing the shortages of these and raising prices further.

One of Cubadebate’s forum users said that the ministers shouldn’t be members of Parliament because they are judges and participants, thereby ruling out the possibility of really evaluating their actions. There is no opposing party. Another forum user pointed out that government ministers go to parliament not to account for their actions but to give keynote speeches of what they themselves think about their ministries.

This arrogance on part of the ministers who are supposed to exist to serve the people and not to praise their questionable management is the result of a lack of popular control via the official press and of missing regulations for the lawmakers’ counter-proposal and for their legislative proposals. They are distanced from their national public role and travel to Havana every six months for a few days every year.

Their ignorance of efficient public service in the face of a dysfunctional model – of Soviet and/or Chinese – is the base that underpins the fact that Parliament has lost all of its management functions and its ability to transform current institutions. That’s why, another forum user added that in spite of greater press coverage with regard to what lawmakers discuss at Parliament, problems continue to be repeated and there are no solutions year in year out and it’s been like this for the past half century.

If we want to have an institutionalism that answers to the objectives of their public role, they need to be separated from any kind of political party that is in power. This is the institutional foundation that the most developed, most prosperous and highest HDI ranking countries have attained. I’m excluding China because of the 800 million citizens who are still waiting to come out of poverty. Chinese politics isn’t inclusive but extremely exclusive.

While legislation doesn’t change, the ways the current institutionalism works and the way public policies that the people call for are put forward, we will continue in a vicious circle of a “wallflower” Parliament whose members travel to Havana for a few days every six months on a trip as passive spectators in front of the decision-makers.

  • Jose Gonzalez

    Excellent article. simply excellent

  • N.J. Marti

    Good analysis, the system lacks checks and balances. Incompetence can be covered up or rewarded. A good place to start is to run the state companies as profit centers with management accountable to state oversight agency.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    A better heading and a more accurate one would have been:
    ‘The Ineptitude of Cuba’s Lawmakers”