A substantive argument informs the recent debate of a considerable section of Latin American social policy. This argument maintains that, since conditional transfer programmes are under way in about twenty countries of the region, in the face of the potentialities and limitations of this kind of interventions with a history going back to almost two decades ago, it is now time to move towards an integrated system for social protection (this is usually tagged with the concept, not always actually effective, of“rights approach”.)

Obviously, this is not the only debate engaging the wide and complex sector of public interventions in the States of Latin America. In point of fact, we should add to the difficult task ofdefining the very scope assigned to social protection, the increasing difficulty found to coordinate it with two critical domains of public action: on the one hand, the so-called universal social policies (especially as concerns education and health;) on the other one, economic policies that impact more or less directly the labour market.

A common denominator of these two challenges, which affect Latin American countries, is how to coordinate all these programmes, policies, and services, not just within the different sectors of the same governmental level, but also among national, subnational, and local levels, and between these last and non-governmental organizations (be they private companies, trade unions,NGOs, etc.) Most importantly, when the challenges of the region are not limited to the fight against poverty in its multiple dimensions, but also try and tackle the roots of the historic and dramatic problems of inequality.

In recent years, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic have been renewing their efforts to coordinate if not the whole of their respective social policies, at least some of their crucial aspects and components. This short article sums up their most recent developments, first separately, then by highlighting some common lessons.

Costa Rica

In its early days, the administration led by PresidentSolís Rivera issued theExecutive Decree No. 38.536 (Regulations Governing the Executive Branch.) Article 8 of that decree pointed out the following functions for Presidential Councils (one of them is the Social Presidential Council, the one we are concerned with:)

  1. a) To follow-up and ensure the actual accomplishment of the National Development Plan.
  2. b) To formulate, approve, and coordinate policies, programmes, and strategic projects involving the sectors represented in the Presidential Council.
  3. c) To design, in coordination with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy, a methodology and asystem to monitor and evaluate the different projects and programmes involving the sectors represented in the Presidential Council.
  4. d) To examine quarterly reports on the implementation of plans, programmes, and projects of the different sectors represented in thePresidential Council.

Likewise, Article 9 of the above-mentioned Decree, referring to theCommissioned Experts of Presidential Councils, establishes the following functions:

  1. a) To provide advice to thePresidential Council or to its Coordinator.
  2. b) To attend the meetings of the Presidential Councils and to organize its operation, carrying out communications work, control over agreements, andthe drafting of reports, and acting as Secretary to the Counsel in an advisory capacity.
  3. c) To establish Working Advisory Committees, thus allowing for the participation of expert officials of public institutions represented in the Presidential Council.
  4. d) To implement the methodologies and the monitoring and evaluation systems of the different projects and programmes involving the sectors represented in thePresidential Council.
  5. e) To elaborate technical or financial cooperation agreements aimed at facilitating the accomplishment of the functions of the Presidential Council.
  6. f) To manage the support personnel of the Commissioned Expert of thePresidential Council.

Among the multifarious tasks both of Presidential Councils and of their respective Commissioned Experts, I would like to draw attention to their responsibilities concerning the function of coordinating social policy. However, the whole social policy or specific aspects of it (which are not less important for all that?)This is a key question that reverberates through the debate on Costa Rican social institutionality.

Because, at par with the creation of the Social Presidential Council, which is in charge of the Second Vice-Presidency, The Executive Branch made the related political decision,(agreed upon, of course, within the same Council) to pursue the formulation of a National Strategy for Poverty Reduction, known as “Puente al Desarrollo” (“Bridge to Development”), that attained its public status in March 2015. This effort is not limited to tackle extreme poverty or even poverty at large, but it tries to coordinate a wide range of social programmes carried out by almost thirty social institutions of the State. Since its inception, its leadership was assumed by the utmost authoritiesof the Joint Social Welfare Institute, whose Head acted as Minister of Human Development and Social Inclusion even when the creation of the Ministry that funds itwas an emerging project.

Thus there emerged a situation of coexistence between the two areas of coordination. On the one hand, the above-mentioned Strategy, representing an effort towards a tangibleintersectoral approach, undoubtedly complex and only recently adopted, but with a clearobjective. Measurable,and with a considerable political backing. On the other hand, theSocial Presidential Council, although it has the mandate to formulate, approve and articulate policies, programmes, and strategic projects that involve the sector therein represented (as established by the Decree that inaugurated it), is in practice searching for its own role within the scope of the coordination of the whole social policy of the country and is very far from setting aside its own space of political articulation among the institutions involved in the Strategy.What crucial aspects of the social policy may be coordinated beyond what is included in the “Puente al Desarrollo” Strategy? How to do it without affecting the chancellorships and the incentives of sectoral ministries and organizations?There are no definite or simple answers to these questions.

Dominican Republic

The Office of Social Policy Coordination (GCPS), foundedin 2004 by the Decree No. 1082, is the most important coordination mechanismcreated in the country in recent times. It is composed of a series of social areas of the Executive Branch and Secretariats of the Presidency. In due course it joined a number of other institutions charged with responsibilities in the social sector (lately, those called “affiliated” have been created.)Thus it was established that: “The series of Secretariats composing the Office of Social Policy Coordination and the institutions and programmes affiliated to said Office make up the Expanded Office for Social Policies.”

The Decree that established it specifies that the Social Office will be coordinated by the Vice-President of the Republic (art. 5) and that it will be endowed with a Secretariat in charge of administrative and logistic support functions (art. 6), as well as with a highly qualified support group of experts (art. 7). Its internal regulation, enacted in 2005, established that: “The aim of the Office for Social Policy Coordination is to define and coordinate the Government’s social policy; to formulate its objectives, and to coordinate the actions of social programmes, eliminating the dispersion or overlapping of functions; to promote the coordination between supply of public social services and social demand at the national level; and to carry out monitoring and evaluation activities concerning the impact of social programmes.” This declaration sums up what the Decree No. 1082/04, art. 2, defines as the functions of GCPS, which should be:

  • To coordinate the formulation, execution, andevaluationprocess of the Government’s social policies.
  • To design, establish, and follow-up a strategic agenda for the social sector, and to inform duly and consistently the President of the Republic about itsevolution.
  • To get informed about, to pay attention to, and to give a collegiate and effective answer to social demand in matters in line with its action scope.
  • To propose to the President of the Republic preventive action routes to tackle actual and potential problems that may affect the sector.
  • To analyse and makerecommendations about general issues concerning the State Secretariats and their other component institutions.
  • To study the issuesconcerning the competence of different StateSecretariats that require the formulation of joint proposalsas a precondition to make decisions.
  • To answer to the President of theRepublicabout the general functioning of the sector they coordinate, especially about the effectiveness and quality of the implementation of the budget of their component institutions, as well as about the impact achieved by their resolutions.

Beyond that, the regulation paves the way for GCPS to coordinate the entire social policy. In recent years, with regard to the Dominican socialinstitutionality, we should consider the appropriate operation of the “Inter-Agency Coordination Committee”, which is essentially the core of the conditional transfer programme today called“Progresando con Solidaridad” (Making Progress through Solidarity – PROSOLI), of the Unified System for Beneficiaries (SIUBEN), of the Social Grant Administration (ADESS), with the cross-cutting support of the Technical Division of GCPS and the political leadership of the Vice-Presidency.

In practice, especially during the Presidency of DaniloMedina, some limitations (chiefly political) of GCPS have emerged, as for instance some structural reforms of social policy (as concerns Education, for example), which were mainlyformulatedwithin the scope of the Presidency, and not within that of the Social Office. The same thing occurred concerning a series of important social protection measures that the country adoptedat the inception of the currentAdministration and are implemented by a Directorate-General for Special Programmes of the Presidency, defectively coordinated with those in charge of performing that function for the whole of social policy.Thus, two questions arise: How to face the political challenges of coordinationbeyond legal mandates?Could the recurring idea to create a Ministry of Social Development solve this problem?


Some commonquestions

The short summaries we have presented here about how Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic have historically tackled thecoordination of their social policies (and, within their scope, of social protection) do not include all the advances that the efforts of the two countries have generated in the past few years.Our intent was rather to outline some critical reflectionsto continue learning in order to generate more and better coordination, indicating the pathwaytowards thecomprehensivenessrequired to face the serious problems of Latin American societies.

Having said that, it is necessary to highlight three questions that are common to the experiences herein presented.

  • What to coordinate? The cases described exemplify a common phenomenon in Latin America: the gap between the indications contained in the regulatory framework concerning coordination matters and what occurs in everyday practice. This highlights that the actual chances to coordinate the whole of social policy – when the chancellorships of its specific sectors are strong and with a considerable institutional history, often end up being limited to formulate a focussed and programmatic offer, which in itself is a great and much needed advance.
  • What role do Vice-Presidencies play in social matters? Although the phenomenon is not common to all Executive Branches of the region, in many of its countries the role of coordinating social policyhas been claimed by Vice-Presidencies. Theexperiences hereinoutlined highlight that the relative outcome of this effort is strongly conditioned by the political space or by the leading figureswithin the power maze of the country in question.Likewise, it is most important to emphasize the need to rely on figures really committed to social issues in the high spheres of political hierarchy.

Could the creation of a Ministry of Social Development (or with an equivalent title) be thesolution? Although these kind of institutional figures have been created in most countries of Latin America, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic did not do it, even if they are at the centre of the debate among the social policy stakeholders of each country. Thus, the much used subject of social authority now has a centre-stage position, showing how in practice Social Offices or Councils have not quite accomplished their roles. However, regionalexperience also shows the limits of Ministries of Social Development in coordinating their counterparts with a longer tradition and a greater power as concerns budgetary policies. Often they remain trapped in the implementation of a wide programmatic offer, whose impact is not always clear-cut.

Fabián Repetto, CIPPEC,  Social Protection Program Director
Ph.D. in Research in Social Science, Latin American Social Sciences University (FLACSO), Mexico Seat. M.A. in Governments and Public Issues, Latin American Social Sciences University, Mexico Seat. M.A. in Public Administration, School of Economic Sciences, Buenos Aires University. B.A. in Political Sciences, Buenos Aires University. As part of his work in Public Administration, he held the position of Sub-Coordinator of Information, Monitoring and Evaluation System of the Social Programs of the Ministry of Social Development and Environment. His experience in Academic Management includes Academic Secretary of the Master in Administration and Public Policy, San Andres University, and Graduate Secretary at Social Sciences Scholl, Buenos Aires University. He taught graduate courses in several universities in Latin American, and he was Manager of SOCIALIS, a Latin American Social Policy Journal. He published more than forty articles in specialized journals and books. Besides, he is author of the book “Public Administration and Social Development in the ninety”, and editor of numerous books. He has been a consultant for international organizations such as UNICEF, UNESCO and CEPAL. He has been the Resident Coordinator for the National Program of the Inter-American Institute for Social Development in Guatemala (2003-2005). Between 2005 and April 2008 he has been a professor in the Inter-American Institute for Social Development at the Inter-American Development Bank at Washington DC.