Checks and balances: an assessment of the institutional separtion of political powers in Colombia
Abstract: In this chapter, we evaluate the institutional and legal structure of the Colombian government. In particular, we want to assess how a system of institutional checks and balances can be structured to promote the rule of law, preserve property rights, and stimulate economic growth. The 1991 Constitution indeed makes commendable commitments to these objectives. Yet, due to its institutional structure, Colombia is governed in a manner that is both unchecked and unbalanced. The Constitution tried to «constitutionalize», or put into the basic law of the land, a welfare state system that emulates that of Canada or Sweden. Yet, neither of these countries has deemed it necessary to put such rules into the constitution of their countries. The result was an enormously long document that attempted to reassure all parties that the future would be to their liking. For example, Article 58, which permits uncompensated expropriation for reasons of «equity», might be a substantial deterrent to investment. Our examination of the Constitution of 1991 sounds a warning about the current peace process. The nation´s long run economic health may be seriously impaired if peace is bought at the price of widespread concessions with regard to either the process of decision-making about the economy or to the content of future government economic policies. One may buy transitory tranquility, which may not translate in to lasting peace, at the price of long-term instability and turmoil. The implied tradeoff may be most undesirable. We make recommendations for institutional reform, which aim to mitigate clientelist and populist trends in Colombian politics. An overall smaller congress is suggested. To enhance policymaking by reducing the scope for gridlock, we propose measures such as long-term appointments and ballot accountability that eliminate distortions to the voting incentives of both judges and lawmakers. Also, suggestions are made to promote citizen referendum initiatives, specialized courts and executive agenda setting powers. Finally, procedures are set forth to limit undue deliberations by the judiciary and to induce stability through status-quo bias.
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