The result has been a breakdown of the entire certification process. Since 1994, the legislature has failed to either approve or disapprove government accounts. The last public accounts to have been approved by the legislature are those of 1993, which were approved in 1997 (Uña et al. 2005). Such delays tend to make the whole exercise extraneous, all the more because the review of government accounts tends to restrict itself to a review of compliance with legal and procedural rules, rather than a substantive review of government performance. Moreover, the legislative decision whether or not to discharge government is an ordinary law, which could, in theory, be vetoed by the executive, an absurd situation that has nevertheless not yet occurred (Baglini 2005; Rejtman 2005).
Table 7 shows that delays in the certification process originate in the legislative stage, rather than in the audit stage. In 2004, the AGN processed the public accounts of 2002 and reviewed those of 2003. This finding suggests that dysfunctions in the auditing process do not originate in the AGN’s weak technical capacity, but rather in the political filtering of audit findings in the legislature. The result is a lack of enforcement of audit recommendations, ineffectual follow-up of audit findings, and limited publicity of audit reports.
TABLE 7 ABOUT HERE
These shortcomings reflect deeper structural flaws in the system of fiscal control. They impede the budget to function as an instrument for strategic planning and a tool for legislative scrutiny. They are partly a result of a lack of interest or incentives of the legislature to use external audits to effectively oversee government finances. This situation is not new, however, but has deep roots in Argentina’s history. More fundamentally, it reflects wider dysfunctions in financial governance, in particular legislative oversight and bureaucratic integrity (Makón 1998). Excessive polarization s and a general weakness of the rule of law constitute key hindering factors to the independent auditing of government finances (Ducoté 2001).
Fiction of control
A characteristic feature of the Argentine system of fiscal control is not the lack of control, but the fiction of control. A former auditor-general, Hector Rodríguez (2002:161), summarizes the Argentine ambivalence towards the law: ‘we are Argentineans and have anomies. Sometimes, things are not what the lay says they are.’ This gives the impression ‘that the administration is being controlled or that it is possible to control it, when in reality the system ties the hands of those who are supposed to exercise such control’ (Atchabahian 2002:155). While the law is complied with formally, reflecting a formalism of control techniques inherited from the country’s legal system, it is not complied with substantially. The absence of evaluation of management performance, both inside and outside the government, precludes substantive government accountability. This façade formalism nevertheless constrains public managers by detecting minor procedural and administrative mistakes, rather than tackling structural dysfunctions and political corruption.
Since the process has been in disarray for so long, the question then becomes why politicians and policymakers have maintained the fiction of control. The root cause of such dysfunctions is not a lack of technical capacities, but rather a lack of political incentives to use existing audit information to hold government to account, both for compliance and performance. In the Argentine institutional set-up, the relations between the AGN and the legislature, mediated by the CMPRC, are essentially political in nature, between the representatives of political parties in the legislature and the professional auditors designated on partisan grounds. The ruling party tends to dominate the CPMRC, which diminishes its incentives for critical oversight. The result is that the AGN has ended-up hierarchically depending on those very authorities it is meant to control. As