Partner Institutions: Universidad Nacional de San Martín, School of Politics and Government
The System of Local Government in Argentina
Lucas González and Juan Javier Negri Malbrán, Universidad Nacional de San Martín
Argentina is a federal country consisting of 23 provinces and the Capital City of Buenos Aires as a federal district. Their autonomy is enshrined in the Constitution of 1853, which was last time reformed in 1994. According to the Federal Constitution, provinces can vote their own constitutions and laws. They have the power to elect their authorities and organize their own administrations, even in areas of justice and security. In addition, provinces have broad constitutional autonomy in fiscal and spending functions. A delineation of powers between central government and the provincial states is based on the general principle that all provinces have the power of those competences not expressively delegated in the Constitution to the federal state.
The third tier is composed of local governments. As the provinces have a political, administrative, judicial, and financial autonomy, the scope of municipal autonomy is determined by the province in which they are located. That translates into a wide range of definitions and configurations for local governments. Several municipal governments, depending on the provinces, have the authority to draft municipal charters (usually depending on the size of their populations). In some provinces, municipalities include only urban areas around cities, leaving rural areas under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. This translates into serious challenges for the delivery of social services. In others, municipal governments may include several cities and rural areas too.
Departments are an administrative division between provinces and municipalities, which do not have policy functions nor fiscal responsibilities. They mainly have a cadastral and statistical role, but in some provinces, they are also electoral districts to elect provincial representatives.
The adoption of federalism and a decentralized system of government that recognized autonomy to subnational units was the result of civil wars in the 1820s, after independence, and the only possible way to solve the political and economic conflicts in a country of enormous territorial extension.
Both the national Constitution, as amended in 1994, and most of the provincial constitutions explicitly recognize the autonomy of municipalities. According to Article 123 of the Argentine Constitution, ‘[e]ach province dictates its own Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of Article 5 ensuring municipal autonomy and regulating its scope and content in the institutional, political, administrative, economic and financial order.’ The sanction of several municipal charters (cartas orgánicas municipales) marks a progressive increase in the decision-making capacity of the municipalities. But this contrasts with limited administrative capacities to provide services (many of them decentralized at the provincial level) and scarce public resources and tax powers to finance their expenses (mostly concentrated at the national level).
Although the Argentinian Constitution establishes a substantial autonomy for subnational tax powers, in practice the provinces have delegated large amounts of responsibility to the national government for the collection of revenue (income taxes, sales, special taxes and taxes on fuel). The resulting revenue concentration contrasts with a process of decentralization of expenditure whereby the responsibility for key social functions is in the provincial hands. The only activities that are the exclusive competence of the national authorities are those related to defense and foreign affairs. In the areas of economic affairs, public security, and social infrastructure, the national government shares responsibility with the provinces, while the latter have exclusive competence in primary and secondary education and local (municipal) organization and services. The Constitution defines a wide area of public services for which national and provincial authorities can participate in the legislation and provision of public services, although the tendency in the last two decades has been for the national government to decentralize direct administration of those functions to the provinces. Therefore, the provinces are currently in charge of most social expenditures (including basic education, health services, poverty programs, housing) and economic infrastructure. Despite this, the national government maintains a significant regulatory power in many of these areas and manages some programs within these sectors, such as social security, social programs for poorer households, and complementary educational programs that subsidize poorer schools.
Given this decentralization of spending and fiscal centralization, there is a high degree of vertical fiscal imbalance. Argentina addresses this large vertical fiscal imbalance through a complex system of intergovernmental transfers. The most important component of this system is the revenue sharing agreement (called coparticipación), which is the process by which part of the revenues collected by the central government are transferred to the provinces. Over time, the system has redistributed revenue from the richest central region to the most backward provinces in the northwest and northeast. It has also favored richer and low-density Patagonian provinces. Despite this, the system has corrected part of the large regional income asymmetries among provinces in Argentina. We have to bear in mind that regional inequalities in Argentina are enormous. Formosa, for instance, has a GDP per capita more than 10 times lower than the City of Buenos Aires (2,256 versus USD 23,439). Although it has corrected regional income inequalities, the revenue transfer system has not had a substantial impact on provincial and local welfare indicators, as most social functions depend on the provinces (and are strongly correlated with provincial spending, particularly in social areas).
The main parties that govern the provinces are the Justicialist Party (PJ), Cambiemos, which is the alliance governing the national government (formed by the Radical Civic Union, or UCR, Republican Proposal, or PRO, and other minor parties), and a constellation of minor parties, including the Socialist Party and provincial parties. Cambiemos governs four provinces (Buenos Aires, Corrientes, Jujuy and Mendoza) and the City of Buenos Aires. The PJ (in one of its several factions) governs 14 provinces (Catamarca, Chaco, Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Formosa, La Rioja, La Pampa, Salta, San Juan, San Luis, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego, Tucumán, and Santiago del Estero). The socialists govern one province (Santa Fe) and provincial parties govern the other four provinces (Chubut, Misiones, Neuquén and Río Negro). Argentina has 1922 municipalities governed by these and other national, provincial or local parties.
According to the last census, Argentina has 40,117,096 inhabitants, out of which more than 91 per cent (36,517,332) live in urban areas and the rest (3,599,764) in rural areas. More than 19 million live in 10 cities of more than 500,000 inhabitants, the largest being the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires (with 12,806,866 inhabitants and 31.9 per cent of the population).
Iturburu M, ‘Municipios Argentinos: Potestades y restricciones constitucionales para un nuevo modelo de gestión local’ (2nd ed, Instituto Nacional de la Administración Pública 2000)
Local Responsibilities and Public Services in Argentina: An Introduction
Lucas González, Universidad Nacional de San Martín
In Argentina, as in all developing countries, access to local services is a trenchant social issue. The place where you are born determines a large part of your wellbeing, including the probability of not dying at birth, living a longer and decent life, and having access to basic and good quality health, education, and security.
Some figures could give an idea of that link between place of birth and wellbeing. Infant mortality in Formosa is three times larger than in Tierra del Fuego or Buenos Aires. Life expectancy in the Province of Chaco is 5 years lower than in Neuquén. The illiteracy rate in Ramon Lista (13.5 per cent), one of the poorest departments in Formosa, it is 64 times higher than in the Comuna 14, Capital (0.21 per cent).
Improving living conditions of the poorer population plays a fundamental role in achieving sustainable development, and these living conditions depend on the access to basic services, which in most cases depend on subnational units of government. The relevance of this report section to the project is twofold. In the first place, the access to services is significantly influenced by the urban-rural divide. The latter area has extremely low levels of access to most services. It is important to note, however, that not all urban centers enjoy basic service provision across their territories, but coverage in urban areas is considerably larger.
In addition, access to services in Argentina involves the three existing levels of government. In the first place, the federal government plays an obvious role in oversight and regulation. The public services regulative bodies are autonomous agencies within the scope of the executive branch, that check on the quality of provision by private or public companies, which are bestowed with the task of providing and extending public services networks. The provincial (second tier) and local levels play key roles, because the provision of public services has been decentralized to the provinces since the late seventies, and most provinces implemented some form of local decentralization. Therefore, provincial and local governments are in charge of delivering most social services.
Local public service provision in Argentina is an ideal topic to be explored due to its linkages in combination with at least three crucial issues. First, coordination and cooperation in federal countries is relevant because several layers of government are involved in the process of public service provision. It is therefore closely linked with report section 5 on intergovernmental relations of local governments. Secondly, it is also important to take into account that, besides the role of the public sector, local public service provision also depends on the role of civil society. Thirdly, it is also influenced by particularistic interests.
Firstly, provision of local services in Argentina is an ideal opportunity to analyze intergovernmental coordination and cooperation (or conflict) in a federal country. The provision of local services in the country depend on the coordination and collaboration between multiple levels of government. At the national level, despite recent advances in a clearer definition of responsibilities, the institutional framework continues to lack coherence and coordination between federal actors is poor. Being a federal country, the provinces are responsible for delivering most social services, including basic health, primary and secondary education, and public security. The large political, fiscal, and administrative autonomy of the provinces results in a great diversity of institutional arrangements and administrative capacities for the provision of these basic services, and others such as drinking water and sewerage.
Second, the provision of local services is not only a function of coordination or collaboration between units of government. In other words, it does not only depend on the role the public sector pays. Collaboration and even pressures from community organizations and economic interests are also critical factors to consider. In the literature there is a certain consensus that collaboration between the public and private sectors and civil society is fundamental to improve access to services. On the other hand, a growing urban segregation generates differentiated access to goods and services. For Heller and others, the place of residence determines the level of basic services to which a person is entitled, generating a ‘differentiated citizenship’, with unequal access to essential services, such as health, education, and economic opportunities. This research project explicitly focuses on the role of social organizations in allowing the most disadvantaged sectors of society to access resources in possession of the richest sectors.
Thirdly, we argue that the provision of local services also depends on the role of economic interests. When economic elites capture the local state, different sectors of society will be more likely to have differentiated access to services. By state capture we understand a scenario in which politicians are intimately related to dominant economic sectors at the local level. More specifically, where a given local unit has a predominant economic sector, provision of local services is more likely to be either limited or skewed in favor of the dominant economic sector, compared with local units enjoy a diversified economic structure.
Of course, the phenomenon of the concentration of economic power and its impact on the political process occurs in all countries to varying degrees and at different levels of government within each country. However, in developing countries the levels of economic power concentration of economic power can lead to excessive overrepresentation of the interests of the powerful, which at its turn affects the level of legitimacy the regime enjoys. Countries with low levels of development (and relatively poorer districts within these countries) have fewer resources for the development of state infrastructure and lower levels of institutionalization that make capture easier, more likely and intense.
In short, public service delivery in Argentina provides an ideal setting to explore state capacities and coordination among levels of government in federal countries, the effect of community organization, and of economic concentration (or diversification) and their effects in the provision of basic services; which at its turn speaks also to democracy and legitimacy.
Heller P, Mukhopadhyay P, Banda S and Sheikh S, ‘Exclusion, Informality and Predation in the Cities of Delhi’ (Working Paper, New Delhi Centre for Policy Research 2015)
Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INDEC), ‘Tasa de mortalidad por mil habitantes, según grupo de edad y sexo. Total del país. Años 2012-2016’ (INDEC 2016)
Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INDEC), ‘Tablas abreviadas de mortalidad 2000-2001. Total País y Provincias’ (Documento de Trabajo del Programa Análisis Demográfico No 146, INDEC 2017)
Putnam R, Leonardi R and Nanetti R, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton University Press 1993)
 Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INDEC), ‘Tasa de mortalidad por mil habitantes, según grupo de edad y sexo. Total del país. Años 2012-2016’ (INDEC 2016).
 Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INDEC), ‘Tablas abreviadas de mortalidad 2000-2001. Total País y Provincias’ (Documento de Trabajo del Programa Análisis Demográfico No 146, INDEC 2017).
 See, for instance: Robert Putnam, Robert Leonardi and Raffaella Nanetti, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton University Press 1993) 99.
 Patrick Heller, Partha Mukhopadhyay, Subhadra Banda and Shahana Sheikh, ‘Exclusion, Informality and Predation in the Cities of Delhi’ (Working Paper, New Delhi Centre for Policy Research 2015).
Local Financial Arrangements in Argentina: An Introduction
Lucas González, Universidad Nacional de San Martín
Addressing socioeconomic problems is mostly a subnational task in Argentina, as in many other decentralized countries. In the midst of adjustment reforms and deep economic crisis in the 1990s, the national government initiated a process of retrenchment and reduced significantly the social services it delivered. Associated to it, policy responsibilities of subnational units dramatically increased after the 1990s decentralization policies. Several key social services, such as primary health and education, are policy responsibilities of subnational units in Argentina (as well as in the most decentralized federal systems, such as Brazil and Mexico, and even in some decentralized unitary countries, such as Colombia). These decentralized social services are crucial to improve socioeconomic indicators at the subnational level.
Municipal governments in Argentina have 6 per cent of the total revenues and 9 per cent of the total spending. These shares are 16 and 33 for provinces and 80 and 58 for the federal government. This imbalance means that subnational units have to rely on two main sources of revenue to face dire socioeconomic conditions: their own revenue (that is, the revenue they collect autonomously) and federal transfers they receive from the central government. Local governments collect very few taxes (such as garbage and lightning service fees), which represent about 40 per cent of municipal total revenue, and depend on provincial as well as federal transfers, which are about 50 per cent of their total revenue. Some of them are automatic transfers (such as those from the revenue sharing system) and other discretionary. Without federal transfers, more disadvantaged provinces and municipalities depend on their own revenue to deliver vital social services. This severely diminishes their capacity to deal with the social problems they face, especially because their own revenue is lower than the national average and they usually have to deal with worse social indicators (and in most cases, they have poorly trained professionals with low salaries to deliver them).
López Acotto A and Maccioli M, ‘La estructura de la recaudación municipal en la Argentina: alcances, limitaciones y desafíos’ (Ministerio del Interior 2015)
The Structure of Local Government in Argentina: An Introduction
Elisabeth Mohle, Universidad Nacional General San Martin
Historically, Argentine municipalities performed three types of functions: regulation and control of urban infrastructure and economic activities carried out in their territory, some basic social services (such as primary health), and local government administration. Most of these functions were fulfilled without any form of horizontal inter-institutional articulation because the implementation of the policies was basically local.
However, the decentralization processes implemented in the nineties, where the central government transferred some functions – especially local development – without funding attached, prompted the need to generate mechanisms of inter-municipal cooperation. The most important example of inter-municipal cooperation are interjurisdictional agencies and/or municipal associativism for local development. Specifically the local development agencies work with the mission of designing and implementing a specific territorial strategy, constructing a regional territorial problematic agenda and seeking solutions within a framework of complementarity and public-private commitment.
The limited institutional and fiscal capacity of local governments to deliver the new functions demanded innovative responses which, incidentally, exceeded territorial limits. Examples of these innovative responses can be found in environmental issues as waste management, climate change adaptation and mitigation and the promotion of agroecology.
This emergence of inter-municipal cooperation in Argentina could be attributed to the transformation of the roles, functions, and spheres of action of local governments in the context of neoliberal economic reforms during the 1990s.
Coraggio JL, ‘Descentralización, el día después—‘ (Secretaría de Posgrado, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales and Oficina de Publicaciones, Ciclo Básico Común, University of Buenos Aires 1997)
Cravacuore D, ‘La cooperación intermunicipal en la provincia de Buenos Aires. Fortalezas y debilidades’ in María Elena Laurnaga and Antonio Cardarello (eds), La geografía de un cambio. Política, gobierno y gestión municipale en el Uruguay (Ediciones de la Banda Oriental 2001)
Falleti TG, ‘Una Teoria Secuencial De La Descentralizacion: Argentina Y Colombia En Perspectiva Comparada’ (2006) 46 Desarrollo Económico 317
 Daniel Cravacuore, ‘La cooperación intermunicipal en la provincia de Buenos Aires. Fortalezas y debilidades’ in María Elena Laurnaga and Antonio Cardarello (eds), La geografía de un cambio. Política, gobierno y gestión municipal en el Uruguay (Ediciones de la Banda Oriental 2001).
 Tulia G Falleti, ‘Una Teoria Secuencial De La Descentralizacion: Argentina Y Colombia En Perspectiva Comparada’ (2006) 46 Desarrollo Económico 317.
 Pablo Costamagna and Noemi Saltarelli, ‘Las agencias de desarrollo local como promotoras de la competitividad de las pymes. Experiencia del caso argentino’ in José L RhiSausi, El desarrollo local en América Latina. Logros y desafíos para la cooperación europea (Nueva Sociedad 2004).
 José Luis Coraggio, ‘Descentralización, el día después—‘ (Secretaría de Posgrado, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales and Oficina de Publicaciones, Ciclo Básico Común, University of Buenos Aires 1997).
Intergovernmental Relations of Local Governments in Argentina: An Introduction
Elisabeth Mohle, Universidad Nacional de San Martín
While the federal government in Argentina has exclusive responsibility for foreign policy, economic regulations, and defense, there are shared powers with the province in the areas of justice, health, education, and social security. Each provincial constitution defines the scope and contents of the responsibilities shared with the federal government, as well as the organization and powers of its local governments.
This legal framework balances the autonomy of subnational units and self-rule of these units with the principles of shared government between them and the central state. In other words, both levels share the capacity for decision-making without consultation with the other level, in an attempt to combine the self-government of regional and/or minority interests, with the government of common national interests. The same dynamic occurs, although with a lower degree of autonomy, between provincial and local governments.
The specific processes, mechanisms, and institutions through which the constitution is put into practice in the interaction between levels of government depend on a multiplicity of political and socioeconomic conditions, including historical tensions and informal traditions. Both formal and informal dynamics regulate federal supervision and intergovernmental cooperation. Communication and coordination among the different levels of government take place in some formal arenas (such as the federal councils for fiscal, education, health issues), and through the federation of municipal authorities, but in many instances they depend on partisan as well as personal or informal relationships.
The decentralization processes and the growing relevance of local identities and interests have placed local politics at the center of federal politics in Argentina, demanding better intergovernmental coordination.
Specifically, in relation to the management of natural resources, the national Constitution in Argentina establishes that the provinces are sovereign over the resources found in their territory. Thus, although the federal government has competence in environmental matters, for example, in relation to the protection of forests and glaciers, decisions about the exploitation of mineral resources depend on the provincial level of government.
In this scenario, local governments have traditionally been little more than recipients and executors of provincial level policies. However, the tendency of recent decades to promote large-scale mining has turned their role into a more complex one. Citizens under their jurisdiction are the ones that will be affected by the potential negative impacts of the activity. Hence, the political alignment or opposition between local and provincial governments is an important factor affecting the degree of organization and mobilization of populations that resist or oppose mining and the implementation of provincial policy in that matter.
People’s Participation in Local Decision-Making in Argentina: An Introduction
Romina Del Tredici, Universidad Nacional de San Martín and Universidad Católica de Córdoba
In Argentina, the incorporation of mechanisms of direct democracy into its legal framework is recent and was not due to a demand from society for greater participation and transparency, but it rather was part of a package of reforms promoted in 1994 by the national government with the aim of convincing voters and enabling presidential reelection. The main mechanisms are: referendums and popular consultations, popular legislative initiative, revocation of mandate, popular juries, public hearings, and participatory budgets. The main aim of these institutions is mainly propositional, although depending on specific regulation, they can also be informative, consultative and, in some cases, it can mandate a decision.
In recent decades, direct democracy mechanisms occupied an important place in the political agenda, due to three main processes: the aforementioned constitutional reform promoted by leaders who sought to eliminate institutional obstacles to stay in power; the crisis of representative democracy, with the increase of citizens’ distrust in politics and increasing protests; and the decentralization process, which allocated greater powers to subnational levels of government and increased the relevance of participation mechanisms for citizens.
Despite this common context, the institutionalization of participatory democracy mechanisms shows uneven development in Argentina. The national Constitution makes tacit reference to direct democracy mechanisms but does not regulate their functioning at the national, provincial, or local level. In the last three decades, the legislation that formally institutionalized the mechanisms of direct democracy was fundamentally developed at the municipal level. In most cases, they were formalized in the provincial constitutions and provincial laws for municipal regimes (municipal organic laws), while in others, they were regulated by municipalities in their organic charters.
In the Province of Buenos Aires, the municipal organic law does not refer to the mechanisms of direct democracy but the Constitution of the province and the City of Buenos Aires enshrine these instruments. In some cases, the provinces explain the procedures necessary for their implementation or in others they indicate the need to pass a law that establishes specific conditions. The legislation of the provinces of Catamarca, Entre Ríos, La Pampa and Santiago del Estero scarcely mentions these mechanisms. In Santa Cruz, San Luis, Salta, and Tierra del Fuego there is not even mention of the three main mechanisms: referendum, revocation of mandate, and popular legislative initiative. However, a significant number of municipalities established in their organic charters some instruments that directly appeal to citizens. The Constitutions and Municipal Organic Laws of Mendoza and Santa Fe do not mention direct democracy mechanisms. The capital municipalities of these provinces have not yet approved their organic charters, where they could include these mechanisms, in accordance with the principle of municipal autonomy enshrined in the national Constitution of 1994. At the other extreme, Catamarca, Córdoba, Chubut, Chaco, and Río Negro show a greater development of the mechanisms of direct democracy in their Constitutions, Municipal Organic Laws, and Organic Charters. They are regulated in such a detail that it is unnecessary to regulate them in specific ordinances.
While recognizing the increasing relevance of this legislation in Argentina, all direct democracy mechanisms have obvious limitations as a source of access for citizens to the political system. In the first place, many of the procedures need to be activated or mediated by state powers (the executive and legislative branches). Second, the requirements of large investments in time and money usually cause apathy and lack of commitment in citizens. In this context, motivations for mobilization are temporary, and they dissolve once individual demands have been met. Finally, in many cases the leaders resorted to these mechanisms to overcome the checks imposed by other State powers, strengthening what O’Donnell defined as ‘delegative democracy’.
All these criticisms of the effectiveness of institutionalized forms of participation mechanisms have a correlation in the importance of other non-institutionalized or spontaneous forms of citizen participation in Argentina. The fact that we call them non-institutionalized does not mean that they lack any organization, direction, incentive or promotion. It only means that they do not emerge from a legal regulation (at most it is restricted by it). Unlike institutionalized participation that is mainly propositional, the non-institutionalized forms have an accountability role and tend to be critical to formal political decisions.
Popular demonstrations in public spaces have been gaining ground since the late 1990s and the historic mobilization in the 2001 crisis, which led to the resignation of the President. These movements show not only the existence of a citizenry capable of mobilizing and contesting governments. They are also a new form of collective action, legitimate ways of channeling demands, especially those for decent jobs, material goods, and social services. Governments have tended to respond to them through the delivery of social programs, mostly designed to contain these conflicts.
Eberhardt M L and others, ‘Mecanismos de Participación y Control Ciudadano en la Argentina’ (FSOC 2008)
——, ‘Acerca de la participación y la protesta social en Argentina’ (Diagonales, 15 July 2019) <https://diagonales.com/contenido/acerca-de-la-participacin-y-la-protesta-social-en-argentina/15542>
García JG, ‘Los mecanismos de democracia directa como procedimientos institucionales de participación ciudadana en Argentina’ (2009) 51 RMCPS 77
Rodríguez Blanco M, ‘Participación ciudadana no institucionalizada, protesta y democracia en Argentina’ (2011) 40 Íconos 89
Welp Y, ‘La participación ciudadana en la encrucijada. Los mecanismos de democracia directa en Ecuador, Perú y Argentina’ (2008) 31 Íconos 117
 Yanina Welp, ‘La participación ciudadana en la encrucijada. Los mecanismos de democracia directa en Ecuador, Perú y Argentina’ (2008) 31 Íconos 117, 127.
 María Laura Eberhardt, ‘Acerca de la participación y la protesta social en Argentina’ (Diagonales, 15 July 2019) <https://diagonales.com/contenido/acerca-de-la-participacin-y-la-protesta-social-en-argentina/15542> accessed 21 December 2019.
 Welp, ‘La participación ciudadana en la encrucijada’, above, 118.
 José Guillermo García, ‘Los mecanismos de democracia directa como procedimientos institucionales de participación ciudadana en Argentina’ (2009) 51 RMCPS 77, 88.
 ibid 90.
 ibid 93.
 María L Eberhardt and others, ‘Mecanismos de Participación y Control Ciudadano en la Argentina’ (FSOC 2008).
 Welp, ‘La participación ciudadana en la encrucijada’, above, 118.
 Maria Laura Eberhardt, ‘Acerca de la participación y la protesta social en Argentina’ (Diagonales, 15 July 2019) <https://diagonales.com/contenido/acerca-de-la-participacin-y-la-protesta-social-en-argentina/15542> accessed 21 December 2019.
 Maricel Rodríguez Blanco, ‘Participación ciudadana no institucionalizada, protesta y democracia en Argentina’ (2011) 40 Íconos 89.