Separation of waters


The president of the Legislative Assembly has talked to the media. His comments on various issues received extensive coverage in the Portuguese language newspapers. Some of these observations were quite general, as befits the post; but they deserve further reflection and are worth a wider debate. I will focus here only upon a particular topic, related to the overall structure and functioning of our political system – the participation of legislators in the Executive Council.
On that subject, the opinion expressed could not be clearer. With softer words than these, the understanding is that there are too many legislators in that Council – and that it is not good. Indeed, as pointed out, there is no legal conflict – but a smaller ‘representation’ would be welcome.
The approach is diplomatic and, if anything, less ambitious than it might be. The Executive Council does not exist only to provide advice to the CE on the ‘big affairs of state,’ as it were. No, it discusses current affairs and previews and filters legislative proposals. In a way, its role is closer to a Council of Ministers albeit a diminished one, than to a ‘state advisory body’. In such circumstances, it is arguable that there are apparent conflicts of interest at play and, therefore, there should be no legislators sitting in the Executive Council.
Its existence weakens a proper separation of powers. It blurs the distinction between the executive activities, on which the Council is expected to have an influence, and the representative and monitoring tasks assigned to the Assembly. That devalues the Assembly function, overall; and diminishes the role of those legislators who are not also members of the Executive Council, creating somehow two different categories of legislators.
The suggestion advanced that their number should be reduced to two (or three, at most) is understandable; and would mean an improvement, a movement in the right direction. However, prudent as the president’s position may be, that solution does not go far enough in dealing with the essence of the matter.
The formal representation of the Legislative Assembly is incumbent upon its president, as the representative of that (independent) branch of government. And can be complemented by the communication channels, formal or informal, which both institutions, government and Assembly, see fit and decide to set up conjointly.
A neater separation of roles would clarify institutional relations and remove the conflicts of interest the current arrangements inevitably create.