Portugal

   

Executive Accountability

#34
Key Findings
With notable gaps in this area, Portugal scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 34) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.9 points 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. Budgetary restraints hampering the data-protection authority are being addressed.

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 and a weak civil society. While the media does offer high-quality content, financial constraints limit the ability to carry out in-depth policy analysis.

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 SGI 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 continues to be regressing as the bailout – and ensuing austerity measures – recede from the horizon. In a Eurobarometer survey carried out in June 2019, a total of 52% of respondents in Portugal had a “strong” or “medium” interest in politics, a roughly similar proportion to 2018 and 2017. This is the second-lowest total within the EU-28 with regard to “strong” and “medium” interest in politics, above only France, and well below the EU average of 63%. Moreover, the proportion of respondents attesting to no interest in politics was 34%, second only to Spain (36%).

This result further strengthens our assessment in previous SGI 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 91 (Data Annex), June 2019. Available online at: https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/STANDARD/surveyKy/2253

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.

The government of Portugal has tried to improve access by launching the e-Portugal portal (eportugal.gov.pt) that provides public access to government information within the framework of the Strategy for Digital Transformation of Public Administration and which might strengthen the public’s ability to hold government accountable.

Citations:
https://www.dn.pt/…/governo-lanca-portal-eportugal-para-simplificar-o-acesso-dos-po..

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#23

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
5
The Assembly of the Republic 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 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, total subsidies granted amounted to €8.8 million. As subventions are granted based on the legislation, the total is relatively stable over time.

Parliamentary groups are free to allocate this funding as they choose and set wages for staff accordingly. The overall number of support staff in 2018 was 250, which exceeds the number of parliamentary members (230) and is a small increase vis-à-vis 2016 (238) and 2017 (241). 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. During the 21st constitutional 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 – 2018,” available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/GestaoAR/Documents/oar/RelCGAR2018.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 fourth session of the 13th legislature, 15 September 2018 to 19 July 2019, parliamentarians issued 2,583 questions, while 240 questions were carried over to this period as they had not been answered during the previous legislative session. Out of this total, 48% (1,366) were answered. This marks a deterioration vis-à-vis the previous three legislative sessions, in which the proportion of answered questions was 55% (first session), 80% (second session) and 57% (third session).

There was, however, an improvement in terms of the proportion of requests answered by central government, which increased from 7% in the third session to 15% in the fourth session. Nevertheless, these are very low percentages.

As noted in previous SGI 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

Assembleia da República (2019), Balanço da Atividade Parlamentar –XIII Legislatura, 4.ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/Documents/2019/julho/Balanco_Atividade_Parlamentar_CS_XIII_4_1.pdf

https://www.homepagejuridica.pt/…/4235-app-id-gov-pt-aplicacao-oficial-de-acesso-a..

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) in the 21st constitutional government exceeded 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. During the period under review, three such committees operated. These committees focused on excessive rents for electricity producers, the theft of military equipment in Tancos, and the management and investment of public capital in the state-owned bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos.

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
Portugal’s media landscape is comprised mostly of newspapers that focus on providing high-quality content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. Indeed, the country has only one tabloid newspaper (with a sister cable news channel). While these are respectively the most popular newspaper and cable channel in Portugal, it should be stressed that they are very tame compared to other tabloid media in Europe.

The issue in terms of reporting is not so much one of the media’s structure but rather of its resources. All media companies face significant financial constraints, which limits their ability to carry out systematic in-depth policy analysis. This often leads media outlets to delegate policy analysis to expert commentators, rather than focus on in-depth journalistic work into policy issues.

In a previous 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.

Citations:
https://vidaextra.expresso.pt/…/2019-03-02-Os-politicos-invadiram-os-media-portugu.

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 10 parties, running on nine lists, won seats in the most recent parliamentary elections held on 6 October 2019. Only three of these parties obtained more than 10% of the vote: the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS), which received 36.3% of the vote and 108 seats; the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata, PSD), which won 27.8% of the vote and 79 seats; and the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE), with 10.2% and 19 seats.

Of the other lists that obtained seats, the most successful was the Unitarian Democratic Coalition (Coligação Democrática Unitária, CDU) between the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the Ecologist Party (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes,” PEV), which secured 6.3% of the vote and a 12 combined seats, which resulted in 10 seats for the PCP and two for the PEV.

In both the PS and PSD, party leaders are directly elected by party members, while party members also elect delegates to the party congresses. 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 short, the members of these two parties elect a leader, who then presents a list for the other positions. The party’s representatives in the government are selected by the leader in consultation (although the advice is not obligatory) with the party’s political commission.


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.

BE party members elect delegates that convene at the party’s national convention and in turn elect an 80-member national committee called “Mesa Nacional,” which is elected proportionally. The Mesa Nacional then votes for the party’s political commission, which has 18 members since the 2018 convention. In its 10th convention, held in June 2016, the party changed its statutes slightly, albeit the change did not significantly alter the degree of internal democracy. Due to this change, it is now up to the political commission to elect the secretariat, which is comprised of 10 people since the 2018 convention. 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 following the 2016 and 2018 conventions. The party approved some changes to its statutes during the November 2018 convention, though these also do not significantly alter the degree of internal democracy.

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 groups Zero and Quercus). The same is true of religious communities and social interest groups. Interaction with associations appeared to be largely instrumental and related to political or group objectives rather than policy-driven. Few associations have the ability to formulate policy proposals, while those that are able to formulate policy proposals tend to have very limited resources, often relying on the voluntary contribution of qualified members to formulate policy.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#24

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. It was created in 1975 and has displayed an increasing level of activity.
The ombudsman’s office report (relatório) for 2018 to the parliament reports that the office received 48,129 requests for assistance and initiated 9,338 processes, which is an increase of 20% over the previous year. According to the report, its level of activity is the highest it has been since its creation in 1975. The ombudsman, Maria Lucia Amaral, who has been in the position since 2017 is also head of the National Institute for Human Rights and the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, both of which exist in fulfillment of U.N. agreements.

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
7
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 activity report for 2017 and 2018 notes that the authority “cannot ensure the full execution of its tasks” with the conditions it has been facing. One of the main reasons for this pertains to human resources. The CNPD has seen its staff numbers fall from 26 in 2016 to 22 in 2017 to 20 in 2018.

Though the problem has now been recognized and a new law on this issue was introduced in June 2019.

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

Comissão Nacional de Protecção de Dados, Relatório de Atividades 2017-2018, available online at: https://www.cnpd.pt/bin/relatorios/anos/Relatorio_201718.pdf

https://www.dn.pt/…/parlamento-aprova-lei-sobre-aplicacao-do-regulamento-geral-da
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