Mapping Patronage in Guatemala

Why are civil servants fired after each election?

Enrique NavedaEnrique Naveda

Coordinator General at Plaza Pública

The Project

Every four years the capacities of Guatemala’s public institutions get weakened due to the pervasive firing of civil servants. New staffers, unprepared for the job and most of them lacking any knowledge about their new institution, are hired in a way that leads to other forms of corruption and to state collapse. At Plaza Pública, we aim at mapping both public sector employees that have been hired after the past 2011 elections by approximately 60 institutions and the then-candidates of the competing political parties, in order to discover if there’s any relation between both databases and be able to establish the extent to which patronage is decisive in public sector hiring

Plaza Pública, a digital newspaper in Guatemala founded in 2011, is specialized in politics in the broad sense, and has particular interest the lawful and unlawful relationships between politicians, the state, the corporate sector and the civil society. We have conducted extensive research on clientelism, patrimonialism and corporatism in the use of public funds. Mapping patronage is thus a natural extension of our work.


There are four step to reach our objective:

  1. Building databases of public sector employees since 2011 elections.
  2. Building databases of political parties candidates for elected positions in the past elections.
  3. Analysing and matching the information.
  4. Exposing the findings in Plaza Pública’s articles and news stories

Thus, we will provide a more systematic account of the extent of patronage and show how a reform of the civil service, which has been once and again postponed, is urgent.

Game Changing Factor

Our project attempts to open inform a discussion on the need of reforming how the civil service works and more particularly how civil servants are chosen. We hope to do that through a journalistic investigation that exposes whether patronage is systemic or not. This project (its methods and its scope) is surely unprecedented in Guatemala, and moreover we have not heard of anything similar elsewhere.

Why I fight Corruption

During the eight years I have worked as a journalist in Guatemala, I have clearly noticed and experienced the effects of corruption not only in state services to the people, but in the whole system. Corrupt systemic, legal and cultural institutions regulate politics and the economy in a way that excludes most of population from achieving living standards beyond survival. Patronage in public sector jobs is widely considered to be pervasive, and it is deemed one of the main reasons why the state does not fulfill its constitutional objectives regarding citizen rights. So it is one of the problems to be urgently tackled. No one, though, has yet tried to map it in a more systematic and comprehensive fashion. I feel that it could be done through database research using the Free Information Act and the new computer tools that are being developed by our team at Plaza Pública and, if successful, if could give the citizens a more comprehensive understanding of the extent of patronage and tools for discussing reforms.