Budgets by the People

Participatory democracy, Brazil-style, is running into problems

By Michael Fox

“Although the Workers’ Party lost control of the city government in 2004, Mayor Fogaça (who was re-elected last year under the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) promised to maintain the process.

On its 20th anniversary, this year’s assemblies had surprisingly high participation thanks to the federal “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” (My House, My Life) program, which promises to finance a million homes across Brazil by 2010. City officials told Porto Alegre residents that if they were interested in enrolling in the program, they should participate in the PB process. Residents came out in record numbers. “It has become part of the city. It is not a political process,” says Ernani Mário da Pereira, the city’s Participatory Budgeting Transportation theme coordinator. “The process is not part of the government—it is part of our residents.”

But with cronyism, a drop in funds and almost everything behind schedule, long-time participants worry the process could be headed toward extinction in Porto Alegre.

“The projects that we prioritize aren’t carried out,” said Roberto Oliveira, president of the Vila São Judas Neighborhood Association, in the region of Partenon. He strongly denounced the system’s shortcomings during a regional assembly in May. “In the last three years in Partenon, not one road was paved through participatory budgeting … Health, which was one of our priorities, didn’t get one cent.”

Like many city residents, Oliveira blames Mayor Fogaça for the process’ “half-dead, semi-vegetative state.” Porto Alegre residents are clear that any mayor who attempts to rid the city of Participatory Budgeting would quickly find himself without a job.

“So it’s easier not to eliminate [participatory budgeting], but in reality it doesn’t work. It’s propaganda,” Oliveira says. Oliveira’s comments are echoed by the non-governmental organization Cidade, which has been following Porto Alegre’s participatory process from the beginning. Its statistics show that only one percent of the city budget is now debated in participatory budgeting, a tremendous drop from its heyday when all budgeting decisions were discussed and as much as 10 percent was decided directly by residents.

Nevertheless, participatory initiatives across the planet continue to look to Porto Alegre. In 2007, Cidade held an international conference on the future of participatory democracy. Some are now calling for a profound analysis of the system.”

Read full report at In These Times

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: