Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Distritos" do not matter!

Do you want a rule of thumb to classify an encyclopedia either as good and accurate or bad and inaccurate? Read the article concerning Portuguese districts and the politico-administrative divisions of Portugal: if it says Portuguese "distritos" are very important, the encyclopedia might be deemed inaccurate and bad.

In Portugal, there are two main politico-administrative levels: central government and municipalities. With the exceptions of the autonomous regions of Açores and Madeira, there DO NOT exist any intermediate politico-administrative level in Portugal. I.e., except for the Atlantic Ocean archipelagos, Portugal administration goes directly from central power to local power.

But then... what are "distritos"? Each district has a "Governador Civil" ("civil governor") who is NOT elected but simply nominated by the central government; his/her functions are nothing much more than some responsibilities over civil protection (coordination of resources and efforts in the case and prevention of floods, fires, etc.) and to "determine" the day of local power elections (actually, local power election date is decided among political parties, central government and the President of the Republic, the "Governador Civil" plays only a formal and almost irrelevant role here).

Since the competences of the civil governor are only a few, they are not political in content at all, and since the civil governor is not elected - one can accurately say that "distritos" are the less important politico-administrative division in Portugal. Actually, it is weird to call it a "political" division. And even though a district encompasses many municipalities, the civil governor has no power whatsoever over local power (i.e., municipalities and "freguesias").

It is "municípios" (and to a much, much lesser extent "freguesias") the politico-administrative divisions that do matter in Portugal: they are directly elected and have many responsiblities with direct influence on the daily life of citizens; some of those responsibilities are pretty much political in content; they have their own budgets and power.

In conclusion: all Wikipedia articles thay claim "distritos" are very important politico-administrative divisions of Portugal are wrong and should be changed; also, the articles about Portuguese cities: for instance, the article about Lisbon tells this city is the seat of the district with the same name even before stating Lisbon is the biggest Portuguese municipality. It would be just better not to make any reference to the fact that Lisbon is also the name of a district.

A final note: all the problems and strange statements about Portuguese districts one finds in encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, might have two reasons:

1. historically, the Portuguese concept of "distrito" was imported from the French concept of "district" and since in France "districts" are, I believe, important, so people who write encyclopedia articles believe "districts" are important in Portugal too;

2. since most European countries have intermediate politico-administrative level or levels (German Länder, Spanish autonomous regions, Italian regions and provinces, Belgian federal divisions, United Kingdom's countries, etc., etc.), people might just assume that the same is true in the case of Portugal. But the truth is other: according to the "Constituição da República Portuguesa", Portugal is an unitary state, PARTLY and PERIPHERICALLY regionalized: this means that only a part of Portugal has its own intermediate politico-administrative level. Except Açores and Madeira, there is no intermediate politico-administrative level in Portugal. And, to avoid any confusions, "mainland Portugal" or "continental Portugal" is not an autonomous region of Portugal and has no regional government of its own.


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