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Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper 11: Economic Policy Making and Parliamentary Accountability in Chile

6 Sep 2004

  • Author(s): Verónica Montecinos


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 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, 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 calls for a more permanent and effective empowerment of the legislature. She argues that it would be necessary to revise current institutional arrangements, especially those affecting interbranch relationships and the organizational characteristics of Congress.

Verónica Montecinos is Associate Professor of Sociology at Pennsylvania State University, United States.

Order PPDGHR 11 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).