Portugal

   

Executive Accountability

#35
Key Findings
With notable gaps in this area, Portugal scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 35) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.0 point relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have few official support resources, through formal oversight powers are generally strong. The audit and ombuds offices are independent judiciary-branch bodies. The active data-protection authority has been hampered by budgetary restraints.

The population’s surge of crisis-driven interest in policy and politics seems to be receding. Policy knowledge remains uneven, undermined by insufficiently clear government and opposition communication, a weak civil society and an often scandal-focused media. In-depth journalistic policy analysis remains rare.

Political-party decision-making styles range widely. Unions and employers’ associations can formulate relevant policies, but are largely reactive. Non-economic interest associations continue to have little impact despite signs of economic recovery.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#40

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
5
As noted in previous reports, the bailout heightened citizens’ attention to and interest in policy matters, as did the occurrence of a legislative election in the previous period but one. In the period currently under review, the situation appears to be regressing as the bailout – and ensuing austerity measures – recede from the horizon. In a Eurobarometer survey carried out in March 2017, a total of 52% of respondents in Portugal had a “strong” or “medium” interest in politics, a roughly similar proportion to 2017 and 2016. This is the third lowest total within the EU-28 with regard to “strong” and “medium” interest in politics, above only Spain and France, and well below the EU average of 62%. Moreover, the proportion of respondents attesting to no interest in politics was 35%.

This result further strengthens our assessment in previous reports that the Portuguese public’s policy knowledge is limited and unevenly distributed. The factors limiting citizens’ policy knowledge include the insufficient and incomplete explanation of policy by the government, the incomplete and insufficient explanation of policy alternatives by the opposition, a media system that tends to focus more on short-term issues and scandals than on in-depth policy analysis, presentation of policy in terms that tend to be exclusionary for most citizens; and a weak civil society that is unable to socialize and educate citizens on policy issues.

Citations:
Eurobarometer 87 (Annex), May 2017. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/79557

Eurobarometer 89 (Annex), March 2018. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/83136

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
5
Data and information is published by the government. However, it is not comprehensive nor necessarily regularly updated. It is also not easy to locate information, which is dispersed across agencies, ministries, QUANGOs, public administration bodies, and other state and quasi-state organizations.

In addition to the nature of the information, the government provides access to IT so that the citizens, in theory at least, can access data. Whether the available information is very useful is, however, questionable.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#22

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
6
The Assembly of the Republic (AR) has a very robust committee structure composed of standing and ad hoc committees, as well as committees to assess implementation of the Plano do Governo and the Orçamento de Estado. Moreover, it can call members of the executive to explain issues and has some degree of autonomy in terms of its budget allocations. However, there remains a substantial lack of expert support staff.

Members of parliament do not generally have their own staff and, in most but not all cases, have little ability to rely on expert support. However, this is not due to a lack of funding for support staff. Legislation provides parliamentary party groups with fairly generous subsidies to hire support staff. In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, total subsidies granted amounted to €8.5 million. As subventions are granted based on the legislation, the total is relatively stable over time.

Parliamentary groups are free allocate this funding as they choose and set wages for staff accordingly. The overall number of support staff in 2016 was 238, which exceeds the number of parliamentary members (230). However, support staff for members of parliament are limited, because parliamentary party staff funds are frequently used to pay general party staff rather than staff for the parliamentary group specifically. The former head of ECFP (the independent body tasked with monitoring party financing and accounts) recently noted that funding for parliamentary staff has become “a means for financing parties.”

As such, parliament’s capacity to monitor government activity is mainly contingent on legislators’ own expertise. Under the Costa government, a Socialist Party government supported by the parties to its political left, parliamentarians have shown a greater amount of interest in government monitoring, and the number of meetings involving these different political parties has increased substantially. However, this energy and interest does not imply that lawmakers in fact have adequate personnel and structural resources for the purposes of monitoring.

Citations:
Assembleia da República, “Relatório da Conta de Gerência da Assembleia da República – 2016,” available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/GestaoAR/Documents/oar/RelCGAR2016.pdf

Davim, Margarida. 2018. “O caso dos assessores-fantasma.” Sábado, September 13.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
6
The government is obliged to respond within 30 days to requests for information from the Assembly of the Republic. While there is no data on how it responds specifically to requests from parliamentary committees, delivery of information to requests from members of parliament can be untimely or incomplete. During the third session of the 13th legislature, held during the current period under review, parliamentarians issued 3,056 questions, while 833 questions were carried over to this period as they had not been answered during the previous legislative session. Out of this total, 57% (2,235) were answered. This marks a considerable deterioration vis-à-vis the previous review period, when 80% of questions were answered, but is similar to the pattern in the first legislative session (55%).

Moreover, there was a further deterioration regarding requests to the central government, with only 7% of (new and pending) requests being answered during the period under review. This is considerably lower than the previous review period.

As noted in previous reports, this response rate does not appear to reflect a deliberate attempt to conceal information from the Assembly. In general, it is likely that committee requests are answered more promptly and fully than those made by individual legislators

Citations:
Assembleia da República (2018), Balanço da Atividade Parlamentar – 3.ª Sessão Legislativa da XIII Legislatura, available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/ActividadeParlamentar/Documents/Estatisticas_Actividade_Parlamentar_XIIILeg/ActividadeLegislativa_XIII_3.pdf

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
Ministers must be heard at least four times per legislative session in their corresponding committee. Additionally, committees can request ministers to be present for additional hearings. A committee request requires interparty consensus. However, each parliamentary group may also unilaterally request ministerial hearings. These vary from one to five per session, depending on the size of the parliamentary group. Ministers accede to requests for their attendance at hearings.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
9
Parliamentary committees are generally free to request the attendance of experts at committee meetings.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The Assembly of the Republic has 12 permanent committees, each with a policy focus.
All ministries are covered by at least one committee, although some committees cover areas of more than one ministry. While these committees by-and-large reflect the portfolios of ministries, there is not an exact correlation, as the number of ministries (17) exceeds the number of committees (12).
The 12 permanent committees are:
• Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees
• Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Portuguese Communities
• National Defense Committee
• European Affairs Committee
• Committee on Budget, Finance and Administrative Modernization
• Committee on Economics, Innovation and Public Works
• Committee on Agriculture and the Sea
• Committee on Education and Science
• Health Committee
• Committee on Labor and Social Security
• Committee on the Environment, Territorial Planning, Decentralization, Local Government and Housing
• Committee on Culture, Communication, Youth and Sport
Each committee can create sub-committees to work on a specific area or project. Creating a sub-committee requires the prior authorization of the president of the Assembly of the Republic, after consultation with the Conference of Parliamentary Committee Presidents. Further, each committee can also create working groups for even more specialized tasks.
In addition, and of greater importance for monitoring government ministries, the Assembly of the Republic can create ad hoc parliamentary committees of inquiry. Their specific purpose is, according to the parliamentary rules of procedure, to “assess compliance with the Constitution and the laws and consider the acts of the Government and the Administration.” These ad hoc committees of inquiry have investigative power and judicial authority

Citations:
Rules of Procedure of the Assembly of the Republic, available online at: http://www.parlamento.pt/sites/EN/Parliament/Documents/Rules_of_Procedure.pdf

Media

#36

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
There continues to be a lack of systematic in-depth policy analysis. Policy analysis is usually delegated to expert commentators, with little or no journalistic work performed on policy issues.

In an earlier SGI report, we noted the large amount of commentary time allotted to former politicians, particularly on television, a pattern that generates potential conflict-of-interest questions and does not seem to have contributed to improving the quality of policy analysis. The most salient example of the confluence between politicians and television is provided by Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the PSD and Portugal’s most popular TV commentator, who was elected president of Portugal in January 2016.

Parties and Interest Associations

#33

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
5
A total of seven parties, running in five lists, won seats in the parliamentary elections held on 4 October 2015. These included the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata, PSD) and Democratic and Social Center/Popular Party (CDS-Partido Popular, CDS-PP), which ran together as the Portugal Ahead (Portugal à Frente, PAF) alliance. This won 38.5% of the vote and 107 seats, of which 89 were allocated to the PSD and 18 to the CDS-PP. The Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) received 32.4% of the vote, and 86 seats. The Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE) won 10.2% and 19 seats. The Unitarian Democratic Coalition (Coligação Democrática Unitária, CDU), which included the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the Ecologist Party (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes,” PEV) took 8.3% of the vote and 17 seats, which resulted in 15 for the PCP and two for the PEV. Finally, the People-Animals-Nature party (Pessoas-Animais-Natureza, PAN) won 1.4% and one seat.

Of these seven parties, only three gained more than 10% of the vote in the 4 October 2015 legislative elections: the PSD, the PS and the BE.

Both the PS and PSD hold direct elections of their party leadership by party members and have congresses whose delegates are also elected by party members. However, regarding policy issues and candidates other than the party leader, the rank-and-file members have little say. Instead, decisions are largely made by the party leadership, which – depending on the internal balance of power – may have to negotiate with the leaders of opposing internal factions.

In January 2015, the PS approved new statutes that allow primary elections to choose political candidates and would let registered party sympathizers (not just members) to vote to choose the party leader. While current party leader António Costa gained the party leadership because of a primary election, this technique was not used to select candidates for the 2015 legislative elections, nor was it used for the 2016 and 2018 party leadership elections, which reverted to the direct election model previously noted.

The BE elects delegates that convene at the party’s national convention to elect an 80-member national committee called “Mesa Nacional,” which is elected proportionally. The Mesa Nacional then votes for the party’s 21-member Political Commission. In its tenth convention, held in June 2016, the party changed its statutes slightly, albeit the change does not significantly alter the degree of internal democracy. Due to this change, it is now up to the Political Commission to elect a seven-member Secretariat. Until the ninth party convention held in November 2014, the BE had two national coordinators within the permanent commission. After this convention, the party returned to the model of a single coordinator, in this case Catarina Martins, who retained her position in the 10th convention. The party will hold its 11th convention 10 – 11 November 2018 and several proposals to change the statutes have been submitted. Though these proposals do not appear to significantly alter the degree of internal democracy.

While only these three parties met the 10% criteria in recent legislative elections, two other parties are potentially relevant within Portugal’s political landscape: the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the CDS-PP. These are also marked by a high degree of centralization in their national-level internal decision-making. The former abides by the rules of democratic centralism. The latter is characterized by a small rank-and-file base.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
5
A few employers’ associations and trade unions are capable of formulating relevant policies. However, their proposals are largely reactive to government measures rather than being proactive in setting policy debate. While employers and trade unions have expressed dissatisfaction at some policies these tend to be reactions to specific government measures rather than ex ante and general policy proposals. And, as most of the policies regarded austerity, to which the government is no longer committed, they have even less relevance today.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
5
Despite the alleviation of austerity and initial signs of economic recovery, non-economic interest associations continue to have little impact. The focus in recent years on economic issues means that proposals by established groups engaged with other issues attract less visibility than before Portugal’s bailout (e.g., proposals by the environmental group Quercus). Interaction with associations appeared to be largely instrumental and related to political or group objectives rather than policy-based.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#27

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
8
The Tribunal de Contas or Supreme Audit Office (SAO) is totally independent of the Assembly of the Republic and the executive. It is part of the judicial system, on an equal level with the rest of the judicial system.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
7
There is a judicial ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça), which is situated in the judicial system. It serves as the advocate for citizens’ interests.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
6
Since 1994, Portugal has had a National Authority for Data Protection (Comissão Nacional de Protecção de Dados, CNPD). The CNPD plays an active role in data protection issues. However, budgetary restrictions, under the previous and current governments, are limiting the CNPD’s ability to carry out its tasks. Indeed, the introduction to the most recent CNPD 2016 activity report noted that the authority has faced “increasing difficulties” due to budgetary restraints and limitations on public sector hiring.

Citations:
Comissão Nacional de Protecção de Dados, Relatório de Atividades 2016, available online at: https://www.cnpd.pt/bin/relatorios/anos/Relatorio_2016.pdf
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