The main problems confronting the Argentine economy are inflation, lack of judicial security and a low level of investment. The impuesto al cheque (a tax imposed on personal bank account transactions) is the first item which should be eliminated. The heads of state organizations of a technical nature, as well as regulation entities, public media, the PAMI, the INDEC, the AFSCA and the AFIP, should be chosen by means of a competitive process, based on experience and not through political criteria like they are now. Such are the main consensus points of the Barómetro Legislativo 2012-2013, an opinion survey of national legislators and carried out by the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).
The Barómetro Legislativo is a tool created by CADAL with the intent to facilitate civil society organizations’ influence on public policy. The Barómetro Legislativo aims to detect if a particular policy measure is supported by a sufficient number of legislators who must adopt it. In other words, it shows if an initiative promoted by civil society is politically viable.
This is the third time that CADAL has employed this instrument (previously in 2008 and 2010) in order to understand the argentine legislators’ opinion. In this particular case, national legislators were invited to respond (personally or by way of their advisors) to a semi-structured questionnaire made up of ten questions. All of the national legislators received in their office at the National Congress, on at least one occasion, a printed copy of the questionnaire. These were followed up with phone calls made by CADAL collaborators, inviting them to answer and in many cases emailing them the questionnaire as well. It was also made clear that though the list of respondents would be made public, each legislator’s specific answers would remain anonymous and would not be divided into party groupings. The data collection process began in February 2012 and ended in August 2013.
In total, 51 legislators, 13 senators and 38 representatives responded to the questionnaire. Despite CADAL’s efforts to collect legislators’ opinions from all the political spectrum, the majority of those who belong to the ruling party chose not to participate. Likewise, the vast majority of respondents belonged to opposition parties: 28% to UCR, 22% to dissident Peronism, 14% to PRO and Unión por Todos, 14% to Frente Amplio Progresista, GEN and Proyecto Sur and 8% to the Coalición Cívica-ARI. Just 8% of respondents were affiliated with provincial parties (some of them close to the government) and the remaining 6% belonged to members of ruling Frente Para la Victoria. As far as geographical representation of the respondents, a little more than half of them represented the province and city of Buenos Aires (33% and 22%, respectively) and the rest came from Entre Ríos (8%), Salta (6%), Tierra del Fuego, Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, Mendoza and Jujuy (4% each) and the rest of the country (12% total).
The questionnaire aims to understand the legislators’ opinions on two areas: on one hand, the economic situation and the political economic tools most apt to deal with it; and on the other, the institutional agenda, including legislative transparency and attitudes towards the presidential reelection.
In economic terms, the legislators’ answers show a high level of consensus with regards to which are the main problems confronting the economy, but they also reveal key differences with respect to the most adequate policies for addressing them.
The consensus raises two main points. In first place, the vast majority of respondents agreed that the main problems that will confront the economy over the next two years are inflation (mentioned by 80% of the respondents), judicial security (71%) and a low rate of investment (61%). If we consider the low rate of investment to be in good part a consequence of judicial insecurity, we can conclude that the majority of respondents agree that between now and 2015, the economy will face two basic problems: (a) how to halt the inflation; and (b) how to create predictable rules that promote investment and therefore contribute to future growth.
In second place, there is also consensus that the impuesto al cheque should be eliminated, as 60% of respondents expressed that if possible, this tax would be their first choice for elimination; largely outnumbering the 12% that stated that they were against eliminating any taxes and the 8% that would eliminate only the Ganancia Mínima Presunta tax (an anticipated tax based on the previous and current years’ expected income).
However, the respondents demonstrated considerable differences with respect to the adoption of specific policy measures. State enterprises are an emblematic case: a third of respondents said that public companies should be the norm in “key” sectors of the economy – with the energy sector frequently indicated as the most important. However, a fourth expressed opposition to state control of public enterprises, while others expressed that the state should only control public companies when the private sector has proven inefficient, and the remaining 18% were in favor of other options.
There are also marked differences regarding the most adequate policies for combating unemployment. The options “creating a uniform unemployment insurance” and “reducing labor costs for businesses” head up the list of preferences with a little more than 45% of respondents choosing them (the legislators could choose more than one option), but other alternatives, like subsidizing at-risk businesses or increasing severance pay also received strong support. Similarly, although four out of every five respondents expressed support for reallocating the budget for Fútbol para Todos (a public television program which shows football games), there is little consensus on how these funds should be redirected. It’s worth mentioning however, that even among those legislators that were in favor of continuing the program, more than half believe that advertisement slots should be regulated as to avoid them being used for propaganda.
The institutional agenda includes four questions, in all of which the respondents showed a high level of agreement on. First, there is wide support for a rejection of the use of state organizations of a technical nature for political use, as well as entities that regulate public services, public media, the PAMI, the INDEC, the AFSCA and the AFIP. Between 67% and 82% answered in favor of electing the heads of these organizations through a competitive process based on experience; support for which drops by four points in the case of the ANSes and eight points in the case of the Central Bank.
Second, four out of every five respondents agreed or highly agreed that the most important laws should pass through a prolonged parliamentary process and not one was in disagreement. This represents a wide rejection of the ruling party’s practice of subjecting the most important laws to an express treatment, as in the case of the recent Judicial Power reform.
Third, with respect to legislative transparency, between 55% and 86% of the respondents were in favor of requiring legislators to publish on the internet, information on public funds at their disposition, including diet, personal expenses, travel allowance, scholarships and non-contributory pensions.
The final question on the questionnaire dealt with the election of the head of the Executive Branch. The respondent was asked his/her level of agreement with the following statement by “an ex-President of the Republic” (without specifying that it was made by Juan D. Perón during a speech before the Legislative Assembly on May 1st 1948): “It would be enough just to observe what is going on in the countries in which such a speedy reelection is constitutional. There is no resource which they will not exploit, whether licit or illicit. This is a type of fraud which incites violence and serves as a temptation for political action by the government and its civil servants. And although these men are depended upon by the people, history has shown that they aren’t always impartial enough or honorable enough to critically judge their own actions or take into account the needs of the population, which are often subordinated to personal interests or to those of their inner circle”. 63% of the respondents agreed or highly agreed with this statement and only 12% disagreed.