independence is statutory (guaranteed by the constitution), personal (guarantee of immovability once nominated, until 75 years of age), functional (the CGR is not hierarchically dependent on any other state power and its decisions are not submitted to revision or approval by other organs of the state) and normative (power to emit binding norms in its areas of responsibility).
The organization’s autonomy is enhanced by the political independence of the comptroller- general and the privileges and immunities from arbitrary removal he or she enjoys. A single comptroller and auditor-general with ample powers heads the CGR, assisted by a deputy comptroller general. The comptroller-general is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate and his or her term of office is for life, until the statutory retirement age of 75. While formal nomination procedures are clearly politically motivated, as in Brazil, permanence in office and life-tenure are designed to reduce, over time, the political origins of the comptroller-
Furthermore, the comptroller-general can only be removed through impeachment.45
The impeachment procedure is a radical form of control, however, and is unlikely to be effective in cases of lesser misconduct or arbitrary actions. It also requires a degree of political consensus that is difficult to muster.
The individual independence of the comptroller-general is reinforced by an unwritten rule according to which the deputy comptroller-general succeeds the comptroller-general. As the comptroller-general nominates his deputy usually from within the ranks of the agency, he or she largely determines his or her succession. This tradition has only broken twice, in 1977 by Augusto Pinochet and in 2002 by Ricardo Lagos, generating intense controversy. Lagos’ decision was part of a broader strategy of the ruling Concertación coalition to tam the influence of the political right in the CGR and un-root what it considered one of the last bastions of the military regime.46 In 2006, President Michelle Bachelet attempted to nominate her own candidate, but her attempt ultimately failed.
The comptroller-general also has complete discretion over the management of the CGR and its staff. He or she sets the agency’s budget, level of staff and salary scales within the financial constraints of the state budget and in consultation with the President and the Senate. Agency staff benefits from an advantageous pay regime and permanent tenure. These factors, coupled with rigorous recruitment procedures, a predominance of law and accounting professionals, and the existence of career prospects within the organization, contribute to creating a strong ‘esprit de corps’ and sense of mission. Officials pursue most of their careers within the CGR and often within the department they first joined. For example, Sciolla Avendaño had 48 years of public service when appointed as comptroller-general, 43 of which spent in the CGR. These factors nevertheless lead staff to develop personal allegiance to the comptroller-general and reverence to hierarchy, which tends to generate a ‘bastion’ mentality, institutional inertia and aversion to
44 Some comptrollers-general had extraordinarily long tenures, such as Osvaldo Iturriaga, from 1978 until 1997. However, comptrollers-general are typically appointed at an advanced age, which shortens their tenure. For example, Arturo Aylwin Azócar was nominated in 1997 but had to retire in 2002, after five years in office.
45 This procedure has seldom been used. In 1945, in the context of increasingly tense relations between the executive and the legislature, Comptroller-General Augustín Vigorena was impeached after he questioned the legality of secret decrees through the CGR ex-ante control prerogatives.
46 In 2002, Lagos nominated Sciolla Avendaño, the CGR’s third highest-ranking official but trusted by the ruling Christian Democrats, rather that the long-serving deputy comptroller-general, Jorges Reyes, considered close to the opposition and who made most of his career in the CGR since he joined in 1959. The Senate confirmed Sciolla Avendaño by a narrow vote of 27 against 21. Media reports have revealed the existence of an unwritten quid-pro-quo between Sciolla Avendaño and Mario Fernández, then Secretary-General of the Presidency, according to which Sciolla Avendaño promised to cleanse the CGR of remnants of the ancient régime. However, upon assuming office, Sciolla Avendaño did not accede to Lagos’ demands and even promoted some of the individuals in question, including his deputy. Sciolla Avendaño had to assume a corporate position to assert his authority not only vis-à-vis the executive, but also within the CGR.