and financial probity of bureaucrats, tasks that should normally be undertaken by internal administrative controls.
Things have been improving in recent years, however. Leandro Despouy, a renowned human rights lawyer who assumed the presidency of the AGN in 2001, has sought to improve the timeliness of audit reports and move towards concomitant control. Since 2002, audit reports have been made publicly available as soon as the college of auditors had approved them. This apparently minor procedural change is nevertheless significant, as it ends the informal veto power of the CPMRC and its capacity to ‘park’ adverse audit findings, ‘enviándolos al cajón.’ Audits have also been made more politically relevant, targeting sensitive areas such as social spending, trust funds, public concessions, state subsidies and external debt. The AGN has revealed irregularities by public utilities providers, occasionally leading to the suspension or annulment of public contracts.
The current president of the AGN firmly believes that improving the disclosure of and access to audit reports should enhance the effectiveness of the AGN, by making their release mandatory and sanctioning obstruction (Despouy et al. 2002). In 2003, a freedom of information law was adopted but its remit was limited to the federal government. The fiscal responsibility laws of 1999, 2001 and 2004 also oblige the government to disclose more fiscal and financial information, an obligation it has not actively complied with (Uña et al. 2004, 2005). The broadening of fiscal transparency has nevertheless carried political costs, reflected in the recent tensions between the government and the AGN. In 2006, the legislature, dominated by the ruling party, threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the AGN on unrelated allegations of impropriety.
Nevertheless, the enforcement of audit recommendations and the imposition of sanctions in case of non-compliance remain deficient. Voluntary implementation of audit recommendations by the bureaucracy is sparse and there are no rigorous mechanisms for following them up and monitoring compliance. In 2000 and 2001, for example, almost one fourth of audit reports were redirected to the public prosecutor’s office and to judicial authorities, as there were suspicions of malpractice, fraud or corruption (Fadel 2002). Yet, these have had little effect, except when relayed by the media or the opposition.
The technical quality of audit reports is seldom questioned. The main criticism rests with their being inconsequential in terms of judicial redress or legislative accountability (Fadel 2002; Rodríguez and Bonvecchi 2006, 2004).17 Audit information is seldom used to hold government to account, and is often short-circuited in the legislature usually dominated by the ruling party. During the Menem area, the ruling party dominated all three state powers and, therefore, was able to block adverse audit findings either within the AGN or beyond it. This suggests that the effective separation of powers and the degree of political competition matter greatly to explain the effectiveness of external auditing.
Enforcement of audit findings has tended to occur indirectly through the peer pressure of societal control and increasingly assertive civil society organizations. The media has proved a particularly effective actor to publicize audit findings and indirectly enforce audit recommendations. Between 1997 and 2001, of all corruption investigations that appeared in the two main journals (La Nación and Clarín), over half of them resulted from leaked AGN reports that were either not yet approved or had been blocked (González de Rebella 2001). Interviews suggest that frustrated
17 It is important to underscore that the AGN emits decisions (‘dictámenes’) that are processed through the legislative process. Audit recommendations are transmitted for consideration to the legislature’s joint public accounts committee. This committee does not have sanctioning powers either, and, in fact, is not obliged nor has the faculty to press judicial charges. It can nevertheless delay audit reports or abstain from emitting an opinion on audit findings, which ‘kills’ audit findings. The destiny of the audit reports is, at best, uncertain, lessening their effectiveness and usefulness.