23, September, 2016

Mind the gap, understanding the policy and practice of horizontal accountability mechanisms in Argentina

This brief is based on new research examining the accountability of the Executive to the Legislature in Argentina, leading to a set of specific recommendations to improve ‘horizontal accountability’.

While some threats to institutional quality still exist in specific countries, democracy has become the ‘only game in town’ in Latin America. But institutional weaknesses remain. This Policy Brief explores one of those weaknesses. It looks at the relationship between the executive and the legislature, and examines the question of horizontal accountability. Horizontal accountability expresses the concern for checks and oversight, for surveillance and institutional constraints on the exercise of power between the branches of government. It involves several ways of preventing and correcting the abuse of power. It opens up power for public inspection, forcing it to explain and justify its actions. A key component of horizontal accountability mechanisms is the existence of sanctions. In other words, accountability exists when the actions taken by executive bodies are held subject to oversight from the legislative authorities. But, is there a gap between what the law demands in terms of accountability and what actually happens? When horizontal accountability performance is low, good governance, transparency and the quality of democracy itself are put in jeopardy.

By studying a set of accountability mechanisms the brief demonstrates that horizontal accountability is working imperfectly in Argentina. Key gaps relate to loopholes in regulations and to low incentives for both the executive and legislature to comply with existing regulations. Recommendations are presented focused on strengthening horizontal accountability mechanisms through an improvement to regulations, policies and institutions. The existence of specific regulations that assign responsibilities, set deadlines and sanctions is of vital importance. The findings and recommendations from the Argentine case have important lessons for capacity building in other democracies as well.

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Key Lessons:

  • Regulations must be specific, establishing which brand of government is the one that sets the meetings and how the informative sessions should be held, as well as assigning clear responsibilities and establishing deadlines and sanctions for noncompliance.
  • A national development plan will define the policy priorities and targets that the executive aims to achieve.
  • Better dialogue between the two branches could be promoted by putting in place routines to exchange information and promote coordination at lower level staffers.

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