A QUIET REVOLUTION

Ecuador 2019 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

Only by reining in bureaucracy, smartening regulations, freeing up private sector investment, and fighting corruption can Ecuador's new government bring about the needed economic transformation for which it was elected.

José Agusto Briones
BIOGRAPHY
José Agusto Briones assumed his current position in May 2018, prior to which he was an advisor to the Minister of Hydrocarbons. For 13 years, he was a governance manager in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP-Ecuador). He also worked as a consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the World Bank, and the United Nations. As a public servant, he also served as Secretary of the Vice Presidency of Ecuador and was a member of the board of the Central Bank of Ecuador, Petroecuador, the National Development Bank, Conatel, and the National Financial Corporation. He has a degree in civil engineering from the Catholic University of Guayaquil and an MPA from the University of Valparaíso. In November 2018, he was appointed as Secretary of the Presidency.

You are currently overseeing a large project to redesign the organizational structure of the central government. Could you tell us more about this?

The new national administration began implementing the optimization plan at the state level because Ecuador had a sick economy, and it was necessary to take measures to fix it. One of the first projects was to optimize the size of the government to better allocate the country's resources toward the most important priorities. That included, for example, focusing on the poorest sectors to guarantee their access to services. It was not possible to maintain an administration with 40 ministries, and at the same time, invest resources in the necessary social programs. This social agenda was the basis of President Lenin Moreno's initiative to restructure the government. From 40 ministries, we went to 27, and the plan is to reduce the number to 20. In parallel, the Law of Productive Development was implemented to create better conditions for the private sector. In Ecuador, nine out of 10 jobs are generated by the productive sector, so it is the government's responsibility to create better conditions for this sector and train people to move into the most productive industries.

How is the integration process of the ministries proceeding?

Our objective is to consolidate the institutional design and monitor the new institutional arrangement within 90 days of launching it. The process is aligned with some key principles: first, no service of the ministries that we are merging will be suspended; second, interaction with citizens must be improved; third, public officials who are attached to employer changes will maintain their seniority and employment package, depending on their contracts. After the institutional design phase, each ministry will adapt to the new structure.

How will you improve interactions between the public and private sectors?

It is necessary to have clear rules to create a better business environment. As a national government, we focus on fighting corruption and building a transparent institutional administration. It is impossible to have a healthy and growing business environment when public policy is not done well. Thus, the biggest challenge of our administration is the fight against corruption.

How do you plan to address education and better prepare the leaders of tomorrow?

The problem of the traditional educational system is that it privileges rote memorization, whereas we must move on to a system that privileges knowledge and technology. By having an educational system connected with real needs, we will be able to transform the current economy, based on raw materials, toward one generated by services and knowledge.

Could you tell us more about the Ecuador 2030 project?

The project focuses on 2050, but 2030 is a special year since it marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of the Republic of Ecuador. Currently, the Ecuadorian economy is comprised of 55% services, 30% manufacturing, and 15% primary agricultural production. We want to move to a bigger economy, with more services and manufacturing and less primary agriculture. A service economy requires more skilled people and a value-added industry. Therefore, our National Development Plan has three axes: rights for everyone, an economy at the service of society, and a wider space for the generation of public-private partnerships. One of our current priorities is to study how we can involve all stakeholders in this project. The transformation implies changes in the sectors of education and production, as well as in the mentality of Ecuadorians. We are a country rich in natural resources, but we should go beyond to become one that is rich in knowledge.