Latin Americans don’t think much of the quality of the public services they receive

Jul 7, 2023

Latin Americans don’t think much of the public service they receive from the government and even most private businesses. That’s the conclusion of studies conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which look into ways to cut bureaucratic red tape.

Chileans wait in line to pay taxes.

The study looked at public service satisfaction levels in Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. The idea was to obtain a representative sample that tracked the efficiency of public and private services provided to citizens.

In the first report, titled, “Simplifying Lives: Quality and Satisfaction with Public Service” citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean give a low rating to common government procedures such as resolving a tax dispute, paying taxes, arranging a doctor’s appointment, or reporting a robbery, in a survey using Facebook.

A second study, titled “Governments that Serve: Innovations that are Improving Service Delivery to Citizens” looks at innovative ways to improove government services.

The IDB said in the first study on quality, the average satisfaction score for public services was 4.8 on a scale from 1 (worse) to 10 (best) — below similar measurements in developed economies (in the U.S., the satisfacation score is 6.4, for example).

It said two out of every five individuals surveyed want to complete the procedures online, rather than in line, which is common practice in most of Latin America. The poll was done online using Facebook to reach more citizens.

“Over 11,000 responses were obtained on six common procedures: getting disability benefits; getting a doctor’s appointment in the public health system; reporting a robbery; registering for a birth certificate; registering a child in a public school; and renewing an identification document.,” the IDB said.

It said that overall, the highest score was reported for renewing an ID, with 5.8. Reporting a robbery received the lowest rating, with 3.6. The satisfaction or dissatisfaction scores were similar across all countries, with Uruguay getting the best rating with 5.1 and Ecuador getting 5.0 while Trinidad and Tobago getting the lowest, with 4.6.

“To better serve citizens, you need to measure satisfaction. This is something any company already knows and governments are no different,” said Carlos Santiso, the chief for the Institutional Capacity of the State division at the IDB. “The low level of satisfaction is a powerful warning that procedures are too complex and bureaucratic. This undermines trust in public institutions, he said.”

The IDB said using Facebook enabled researchers to reach a broader audience at a cost that is one third of a person-to-person survey. The final sample was adjusted to reflect the overall population in terms of gender, age, location, and income levels.

The IDB said the second report shows how it is possible to reform bureaucracies to improve citizen services. Using a common analytical framework, the study reviews select cases to better understand how innovation works by looking at multiple dimensions such as technological platforms, regulatory frameworks, inter-agency coordination, citizen participation, and governance.

The study includes contributions by experts such as Stephen Goldsmith, from the Ash Center of the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University, and Maryantonett Flumian, of the Institute on Governance, in Canada. “Bureaucratic dysfunction and institutional weaknesses in the public sector have distanced governments from the citizens they serve,” said Santiso.

“Many governments understand that providing good service is a way to regain public trust quickly. The good news is that many governments are looking for ways to make bureaucracies nimbler to help the day-to-day lives of citizens. These studies can help in the implementation of these reforms.”

The bad news, Santiso added, is that economic conditions in many Latin American countries make upgrading services difficult. “The pandemic, political protests and stagnant economies mean that many countries don’t have the funds to make the needed changes.”

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