Federalism should not be a topic in the presidential debate - IDESA


Report Nº: 83128/10/2019

Federalism should not be a topic in the presidential debate

The good practice of debating among presidential candidates was distorted by an agenda with issues –such as security, education, health, social welfare, environment, and housing– which are not the federal government’s concern. Respecting the distribution of jurisdictions’ roles is key to come out of the crisis. In a healthy democratic practice, it was established by […]

In a healthy democratic practice, it was established by law that public presidential debates are obligatory. The purpose is to give citizens knowledge about electoral platforms. The penalty that entails the obligation is innovative. Instead of a conventional sanction, such as fines, the absence at the debate leads to no longer receiving official advertising resources. In addition, an empty lectern is placed next to the rest of the participants to show the electorate the resistance of the absentee to debate.

For this presidential election, two public debates were held, one in the City of Santa Fe and the other in the City of Buenos Aires. In order to organize them, the following agenda was defined: international relations, economy, and finance, human rights, gender diversity, production and infrastructure, employment, institutional quality, the role of the State, federalism, security, education, health, social welfare, environment, and housing.

As crucial as debating is to address pertinent topics. As this regards, according to data from the Ministry of Finance, total public spending in Argentina on security, education, health, social welfare, environment, and housing reaches approximately 15% of GDP.  These resources are administered as follows:

  • The federal government executes 3% of GDP in these areas.
  • The provincial governments execute 10% of GDP in these areas.
  • Municipalities spend the remaining 2% of GDP on these issues

These data show that the federal government is in charge of executing only 20% of the public resources allocated to these purposes. Local governments are responsible for 80% of spending on security, education, health, social welfare, environment, and housing. This evidence, plus constitutional reasons, makes it clear that these issues should not be included in the presidential debate, or the candidates should excuse from responding by pointing out that they are governors’ and mayors’ responsibilities.

It is also highly contradictory to make the candidates talk about “security, education, health, social development, environment, and housing” and, in parallel, to put “federalism” as a topic of the presidential debate. The organizers are unaware that in a federal regime, these issues are the responsibility of the provinces and municipalities, not of the president of the Nation. Talking about “federalism” and promise actions on these issues collides with the institutional system.

Towards the future, it would be very positive to focus the presidential debates on the issues in which the federal government is the incumbent. Candidates for president should discuss international relations, economy and finance, human rights, gender diversity, production and infrastructure, employment, institutional quality, and the role of the State. In order to debate on security, education, health, social development, the environment, and housing, it would be necessary to call upon each province and municipality to organize public and obligatory debates between candidates for governor and mayor.

Unfortunately, the ignorance in the distribution of jurisdictions’ roles transcends the electoral debate. The overlapping between the three levels of government is one of the main sources of wasted public funds and perverse incentives. The incentives are wrong because the worse a local government is administered, the higher its chances of receiving financial “help” from the federal government. These squandering also explain part of the fiscal deficit, which contributes to macroeconomic instability. Therefore, the functional ordering of the State (each jurisdiction administering and being accountable for its responsibilities), together with the pension and tax orderings, are the strategic issues to confront the structural crisis.

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