presidency in the prevention and prosecution of irregular acts or omissions in the federal administration. 35
The institutional trajectory of the TCU illustrates the need for a more nuanced approach to agency autonomy. It is often believed, within the TCU in particular, that independence ought to be preserved at all cost, often as an end in itself.36 However, as this review suggests, the ultimate effectiveness of the TCU depends both on its autonomy as well as the fluidity of its relations with the other components of the systems of fiscal control. The main question therefore is not whether AAAs should be independent, but how much independence is enough and how much independence is too much. The case of Chile further illustrates this point.
Chile: Failure to reform and threat of anachronism
He who lives outside the budget lives in error. Carlos Fuentes, La Silla del Águila, 2003.
Chile is a country that governs itself by the law. Gustavo Sciolla Avendaño. 37
The Chilean Contraloría General de la República (CGR) illustrates the third model of AAA. It also illustrates a third path to reform, or, rather, the lack thereof. The CGR is anchored in a highly centralized budgetary process and in a public administration highly respectful of the rule of law. Its relative effectiveness is reflected in its performance against the four criteria in Table 5 and the aggregate index in Figure 3. While it has decisively contributed to anchoring probity and integrity in the public sector, it has also greatly benefited from it. There exists a strong correlation between the quality of the civil service and the effectiveness of the CGR, but causality is difficult to ascertain.
The case of the CGR is interesting for two main reasons. First, its effectiveness is hampered not by a lack of political independence, but rather by its excessive independence and insulation in the system of political accountability. Ironically, while the effectiveness of the Argentine AGN and the Brazilian TCU is hindered by political and partisan interference, that of the Chilean CGR is hampered by its excessive independence in the architecture of financial governance and fiscal control. In many ways, the CGR is an agent without a ‘principal’ to which to report and which can enforce its recommendations. The oversight it exercises, essentially legalistic and procedural in nature, fails to translate into effective accountability of government.
Failures in the system of fiscal control originate in dysfunctions in the transmission mechanisms between the oversight agency and accountability institutions. Relations with the legislature, the judiciary and the executive are characterized by mutual suspicion and benign neglect. The legislature has developed its own capacity for fiscal oversight and the executive has strengthened its own capacities for performance evaluation. The bi-partisan political system would have predicted a more active role of the opposition in using the CGR to check government.
Second, the institutional trajectory of the CGR is marked by a failure to reform and, consequently, the threat of anachronism. Its high degree of independence has allowed it to resist repeated attempts at reform. It has few incentives to reform itself from within because of its
35 The CGU fused the Secretaria Federal de Controle Interno (SFC) and the Comissão de Coordenação de Controle Interno (CCCI). In 2003, it was renamed the Controladoria-Geral da União (CGU) and its head was upgraded to Minister for Control and Transparency (Ministro de Estado do Controle e da Transparência).
36 Barbosa originally favored a TCU with wide autonomy from all powers, an intermediary body at equidistance from the executive and the legislature, acting as an ‘independent mediator and assisting both powers’ in order for the TCU not to become an ‘ornamental and useless institution’ (Barbosa 1994:181).
Author interview with Gustavo Sciolla Avendaño, former Comptroller-General, Santiago, Chile, 4 August 2004.