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  Political Supervision


In its roles as guarantor of democracy and the rule of law and supervisory body par excellence, the Assembly of the Republic has several political scrutiny instruments at its disposal.

The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic and the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly of the Republic both make provision for two legal formats – the Question and the Request – which Members of the Assembly of the Republic can use to call on the Government and the Public Administration, which are then legally obliged to respond within a period of thirty days. Members can either pose direct questions, or ask for clarifications about any of a whole range of issues, such as the current status of a given works project, or the respective call for tenders, or which public or private entity has been awarded the contract to build a hospital, school or any other social facility... Members are entitled to receive any data, information and official publications that they consider useful to the exercise of their mandate from the organs of any public entity, although Government or Public Administration acts concerning matters covered by the law on state secrets are excluded.

In addition, the rules on Parliamentary Inquiries permit close supervision of the work of the executive branch of government, by granting Committees of Inquiry the power to requisition all the documentation concerning a given issue or specific proceedings. They can also summon members of the Government or any other citizens whom they believe to be in possession of facts or information that are useful to finding out the truth. Once the decision to hold an inquiry has been taken, an ad hoc committee is formed, assesses whether a de facto situation complies with the Constitution and the law, and considers the acts of the Government and the Public Administration in relation to that situation. A parliamentary inquiry must be held if one fifth of the Members of the Assembly of the Republic in full exercise of their office ask for one; parliamentary groups, committees or individual Members can also take the initiative of asking for an inquiry. Inquiries must be conducted within 180 days, although the Plenary of the Assembly of the Republic can grant an extension of a further 90 days. In addition to the specific powers given to them by law, parliamentary committees of inquiry enjoy the investigative powers of the judicial authorities, except for those that are exclusively reserved to the latter by the Constitution.

Petitions are another way of scrutinising the acts of the Government and the Public Administration. This method is available to citizens, who, subject to fulfilment of the requirements laid down in the Law governing the Exercise of the Right of Petition (Law no. 45/2007 of 24 August 2007), can address petitions to the President of the Assembly of the Republic, for consideration by the parliamentary committee(s) with responsibility for the matter in question. If a petition is signed by more than 4,000 citizens, it can even ask that a given matter of interest be considered by the Plenary itself.

Calls on the Government are a political prerogative of parliamentary groups, which can use them to oblige members of the Government to attend the Assembly. The idea is that in the ensuing debate in the Plenary, members of the government can be confronted with criticisms of their general or sectoral policy. Each parliamentary group has the right to use this mechanism to bring about two debates in each legislative session.

Motions are another important instrument for the exercise of political scrutiny. They take the following forms:

  • A motion of no confidence, which aims to censure the way in which the Government’s Programme is being implemented or a matter of important national interest is being managed. A motion of no confidence can be made by one quarter of all the Members of the Assembly of the Republic in full exercise of their office, or by any parliamentary group. Its passage requires an absolute majority of all the Members in full exercise of their office and will cause the Government to resign.
  • A motion of confidence, which asks for the passage of a vote of confidence in relation to a statement of general policy or a matter of important national interest. Such motions are made by the Government, and their simple rejection leads to the latter’s resignation.
  • A motion to reject the Government’s Programme, which only parliamentary groups have the right to make. Passage again requires an absolute majority of all the Members in full exercise of their office, and will cause the Government to resign.

The debate on the Government’s Programme – a text containing the Government’s most important political guidelines and the measures it will be taking or proposing in the different areas of governance – is of the greatest importance where political scrutiny is concerned. The Programme must be submitted for consideration by the Assembly of the Republic within ten days of the Prime Minister’s appointment, and is discussed in plenary, in a debate which cannot last more than three days. At any time until the end of the debate, any parliamentary group can propose that the Programme be rejected, and the Government can ask for a vote of confidence. 

At the end of each calendar year, the Assembly of the Republic has a means of exercising effective control over the Executive, when it considers and approves or rejects the General State Accounts. This is a document that is drawn up by the Government and contains all the figures for the state’s income and expenditure. It also includes a report and general statements of account, groups of accounts and other information. Once approved, the General State Accounts are published in the official journal – the Diário da República.