1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance (2000 - 2009)

Economic Policy Making and Parliamentary Accountability in Chile



Important features of Chile’s new democracy have been the widespread adoption of a consensual approach to policy efficiency, fiscal discipline and the careful avoidance of economic populism and ideological polarization. The enormous influence that technical cadres gained in pre-transition politics has sustained the pragmatic strategy followed since 1990. This study argues that, ironically, the spillover of technocratic policy conventions from the executive branch to the legislature—illustrated by the increased presence of economists in Congress—may have fostered democratic accountability, raising the policy stature of the legislature and expanding its ability to challenge government actions and policy preferences in a super-presidential system.

Despite the executive’s exclusive initiative in budgeting and its lack of constitutional prerogatives, the legislature has become more involved in policy negotiations, especially after reforms to the budgetary process were introduced in the 1990s. “Legislator-economists” have played a critical role in moderating executive dominance in economic policy, particularly through the assertion of their professional jurisdiction over congressional committees relevant to economic policy making and in informal negotiations with the governmental economic team.

Nonetheless, attempts to strengthen presidential hegemony over state finances have a long tradition in Chile. Indeed, the Constitution adopted under Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian regime in 1980 reaffirmed many of the budgetary rules introduced in previous constitutional reforms. There is a remarkable degree of acceptance of the current policy framework, and Congress approved spending proposals with minor or no alterations throughout the 1990s. Although the government has made concessions regarding the quality and periodicity of the information sent to legislators, and it has taken several initiatives to increase transparency and efficiency in government spending, frustrated legislators continue to demand greater oversight in the budgetary process. Attempts to institute mechanisms for independent policy analysis in the legislature have failed, however, and Congress still lacks adequate access to expert knowledge, information and resources to evaluate economic policy formation. The author thus suggests that for a more permanent and effective empowerment of the legislature, it would be necessary to revise current institutional arrangements, especially those affecting interbranch relationships and the organizational characteristics of Congress.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Dec 2003
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8178
    From: UNRISD