Each judicial officer generates $270 million in spending - IDESA

Report Nº: 87419/08/2020

Each judicial officer generates $270 million in spending

The judicial reform being promoted by the government is generating heated debate. Among the criticisms, a very important but relatively unweight one, is that in order to improve justice there is no need to appoint more judges. What is needed, instead, is a profound change in the judiciary’s management.

The government made a gross mistake with the Emergency Family Income (IFE). It stipulated that one benefit per family would be granted. Many young people claimed to live alone and accessed the benefit. IDESA warned (https://idesa.org/ingreso-familiar-de-emergencia-por-que-no-es-eficiente/) that the IFE was being granted to 1.6 million young people under 25 as if they lived alone, when the INDEC Household Survey indicates that no more than 125,000 urban young people under 25 do so. Thanks to a healthy attitude of listening and correcting, the Ministry of Labour took corrective measures.

But management failures in the public sector are much more widespread. One area where extremely bureaucratic and obsolete administrative practices prevail is the judiciary. An organization that is resistant to the use of new technologies and old procedures demands increasing public funds to provide slow and unsatisfactory responses. Added to this is the strong politicization and doubts about the probity of many magistrates. To change this reality, the government proposes to expand the judicial structure by appointing approximately 300 new magistrates and judicial officials.

What are the financial implications of appointing a new judge or a judicial officer? Taking as a reference an initial salary of about $300,000 and considering the special pension regime for the judiciary’s executives, the decision to hire implies that:

  • Over the working life (estimated at about 25 years) the cost to pay the salaries of the magistrate or judicial officer is about US$2 million.
  • When they retire, in retirement (considering life expectancy) another US$1 million are added.
  • When he dies, a pension of about US$ 1/2 million will have to be paid to the spouse.

These data show that hiring a new magistrate or judicial officer is a decision that involves entitlements to be paid by the State (adding up salaries, pensions and retirement benefits) of approximately $270 million. Being a State employee, with stability in office, is a much more rigid commitment than public debt. The debt can be defaulted or rescheduled, but the magistrate or judicial officers’ salary, retirement and pension cannot be unpaid and must be kept inflation updated. If some 300 new senior judicial positions are planned, the fiscal commitment rises to US$ 1.1 billion.

Previous analysis should be very rigorous and transparent before hiring a new public employee. There is a tendency to consider as a cost only the monthly remuneration. It is overlooked that, due to employment stability and other regulations, the decision has financial implications that last for several decades. Contracting goods, works and services in the State require complying with very strict procedure, while evaluations are scarce and the procedures very lax hiring a public employee. In the case of judges and judicial officials, the cost to the public budget is even more burdensome, due to their high salaries and special pension regime. Increasing 300 new positions adds $600 million annually to the pension system deficit in the future.

In order to respond to the legitimate demand for a more agile and transparent justice, it is not necessary to appoint more judges, but rather a profound change in the judiciary’s management. The budget of the national Judicial system is $68 billion, 95% of which are salaries. This explains the little predisposition and financial capacity to invest in technology and the strong attachment to very archaic working methods. This is why files pile up, cases drag on and employees live in a state of distress because they have no physical space and no proper tools to work with. Under these conditions –and beyond the alleged political intentions of the reform– hiring more judges will mean multiplying the problems.

It is very important that the attitude shown by the government in correcting the error in the IFE is also applied in reorienting the reform on the judiciary. To improve justice services, there is no need for more judges. What is needed is to rethink working procedures, use modern technologies and force adherence to strict mechanisms for monitoring and control of results. Only in this way, there will be justice for the entire population.


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