close to judicial power’ (Speck 1999:4). However, while binding, TCU sanctions are not self- enforcing and require coactive enforcement by the courts.
The 1988 Constitution expanded the scope of the TCU’s mandate. The TCU is primarily concerned with compliance with rules and procedures but has gradually expanded its remit to include broader aspects of financial administration and service delivery. The TCU controls the legality, legitimacy and economy of public finances, including both revenues and spending (Pessanha 1999). The TCU’s competence now include a wide array of functions, including the review of federal government’s public accounts; the examination of the accounts of public managers, the control of the legality of public sector hiring, retirement, and pensions; the monitoring privatizations; and the investigation of allegations of irregularities made by any individual citizen, political party, civic association or trade union. In the area of federal revenues, the TCU has authority over multilateral agreements, oil royalties, and the distribution of the tax sharing funds allotted to municipalities and states through the calculation of the corresponding coefficients. Moreover, legislation often adds new tasks, for example to verify compliance with laws on public procurement and human resource management.22 The fiscal responsibility law of 2000 requires the TCU to ensure compliance with caps on civil service recruitment and help enforce fiscal discipline.
In terms of audit techniques, the TCU has traditionally focused on compliance auditing. Until 1967 it had the authority to perform ex-ante reviews on selected government acts and transactions. Since 1988, it has gradually embraced performance auditing, assessing the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of federal public spending. The TCU has interpreted its mandate flexibly in order to widen its remit and have greater impact on policy. For example, the TCU has been able to influence public policies in the energy or electricity sectors, public procurement and, more recently, social protection. It is nevertheless criticized for not sufficiently focusing on improving public sector results (including its own performance) and for the low level of recovery of resources.
The TCU enjoys a significant degree of autonomy in the performance of its responsibilities. While its independence is not enshrined in the Constitution, which establishes it as an auxiliary organ to the legislature, it is anchored in practice. The TCU has ample autonomy in the manner in which it structures its organization, deploys its resources and programs its activities. Its independence has practical limits, however (Speck 1999). The TCU has to undertake a series of routine oversight activities, which consume most of its resources. These include the registration of administrative acts and the verification of annual accounts, most of which are largely passive
forms of control (Gonçalves 1991).23
The TCU also undertakes special audits and inspections at
the request of the legislature. It is constitutionally bound to attend to the legislature’s requests, emanating in particular from its numerous ad-hoc inquiry commissions. 24
In terms of budgetary independence, the budget has generally not been used to pressure the TCU. However, nor have budget increases been used to strengthen it. Its budget has tended to decline in
22 Specific tasks in the management of human resources in the federal state include reviewing the legality of civil service retirement, severance and pension payments, the recruitment and dismissal of civil servants.
23 During the decade between 1990 and 1999, the TCU examined almost 172,000 cases, more than half of which (about 108,000) related to the registration of civil servants and admissions of pensions, 48,770 review and judgment of accounts (‘tomadas e prestações de contas’) and only slightly over 4,300 inspections and audits, almost 900 (866) allegations and charges of irregularities and 1,513 requests of investigation (TCU 2000d).
24 For example, during the period 1994-1999, 47 public auditors and financial analysts collaborated with 16 standing or ad-hoc legislative committees and special inquiry commissions (TCU 2000b:4).