The conditions of office of local elected representatives shall provide for free exercise of their functions.
On this point, the Charter appears to be complied with even though certain restrictions were introduced as of 2013 to limit the number of terms of office of mayor to a maximum of three. Furthermore, this reform conforms to Article 118 of the Constitution, which states that the law may specify limits on successive renewals of mandates of holders of executive political office. The reservations expressed in 2012 (in the previous report) by representatives of the ANMP regarding this reform were not reiterated, suggesting that it has now been accepted. It is true that an age limit might have been opted for by the legislature, but its choice, which conforms to the Constitution, has therefore prevailed.
Among others, the rapporteurs put questions to the Secretary of State for Local Authorities during their visit in June 2019, who emphasised the governmental measures taken in the area of liability which put on an equal footing the liability under civil law of local elected representatives and that of their administration where it had provided guidance and support to that representative in the taking of the decision. On the other hand, criminal liability remains a logical counterpart to the exercise of new responsibilities, as observers could see during the major fires of 2017 and the indictment of local elected representatives for manslaughter.
On the more specific question of remuneration and compensation connected to local office, the rapporteurs did not hear any particular complaints. A socialist member of Parliament who sits on the Committee on Environment, Spatial Planning, Devolution, Local Government and Housing and is the former mayor of a large municipality told them she was not in favour of increasing local elected representatives’ allowances, as they were already well remunerated, this was a very sensitive issue in public opinion. The rapporteurs saw the main challenge above all as the participation of women in the municipalities (less than 10% of them were presided over by women) and parishes, despite the fact that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee gender equality, and the law now imposes a minimum of 40% women in elections.
Finally, the problem of corruption was raised several times in interviews with the rapporteurs during their visits in June and November 2019. It appears to be an issue but remains difficult to accurately quantify the phenomenon – criminal convictions of elected representatives being only what is visible – and to distinguish how much of such activity is local or national. Various solutions have been put forward or experimented with, such as increasing allowances, with no real success so far. However, the Congress has already had occasion to stress the extent to which corruption could be directly linked to the low level of remuneration of local elected representatives, even adopting a recommendation to this effect at its 36th session.6 Articles 6 and 7 of this recommendation state that “Corruption in all its forms is a destructive threat to the efficiency and quality of good governance at both local and regional level. For this reason, not only should the financial compensation of local and regional representatives be appropriate and adequate, it should also be publicly transparent. Applying such transparency at the local and regional level will contribute to instilling trust in local and regional governments. The means, levels and sources of financial compensation for local and regional representatives should be made clear and accessible. Reliance on systems of local and regional elected representation which are voluntary and nonremunerated representation can result in certain socioeconomic groups of the population dominating elected positions. Only in the smallest councils, where duties are light, should it be considered acceptable for elected representatives to be voluntary or unrecompensed.” It cannot be denied that the phenomenon is a reality in Portugal, but it must not be overstated.
Paragraph 3 of Article 7 on the rules on incompatibilities does not in itself give rise to any difficulties, as Portugal complies with it to the letter: it is in fact a legal and regulatory mechanism that establishes these rules and therefore ensures the proper exercise of local mandates.
Notwithstanding the above reservations, particularly with regard to paragraph 2, the rapporteurs consider that the three paragraphs of Article 7 of the Charter are generally complied with.
6 Recommendation 434 (2019) on the financial compensation of local and regional elected representatives in the exercise of their office