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Case #994

Participative Budgeting Program (PB) in Porto Alegre, Brazil


For the last 13 years, Porto Alegre has been running a successful Participative Budgeting Program (PB) which aims to overcome the common Brazilian urban problems of unaccountability and extreme poverty. The scheme was launched in 1989, following an election victory by the Brazilian Workers Party. That year, the city faced a major financial crisis that clearly demonstrated how the money raised from taxes could not hope to balance out extremes of wealth and poverty. A progressive taxation system was introduced, which had a strongly egalitarian effect and gave PB extra funds during its infancy.

From humble beginnings, the program has steadily grown, taking a larger share of the city's total budget each year. Today, it involves around 40,000 citizens, mostly from among the poorer socio-economic groups and has attracted the attention of academics, urban planners and citizens' organisations in many countries. The UN regards it as a 'best practice' example in the area of city management and in 1999 the city was chosen for a World Bank summit meeting on participatory democracy.


THE STRATEGY: Devise a legal within-the-political-system to address poverty and give citizens power in order to overcome the common Brazilian urban problems of unaccountability and extreme poverty.

To administer PB, Porto Alegre was divided up into 16 economically and socially distinct geographic sectors, whose meetings, known as 'Assemblies', are open to local residents. Five over-arching issues - traffic and transport; town planning and urban development; economic development and taxation; health and social security; education, culture and leisure activities - were allocated to the municipal authorities. Since 1994, these five have had their own Thematic Assemblies, also open to all citizens. The mayor attends many of the meetings, to indicate to ordinary people that their views are being taken seriously and to maintain his or her political credibility. Council experts have been learning to convey recommendations in accessible language, and to avoid the mentality that wants to impose from above.

WHAT WORKS: (1) PB has increased the self-esteem of the poorest citizens, who traditionally had no role in Brazilian politics. It has also encouraged residents to create new and enlarged worldviews that extend beyond their own street, to take in the whole municipality. They are thinking more co-operatively, and are prepared to collaborate with other neighbourhood groups in pursuit of broader goals. (2) PB has resulted in a redistribution of public investment to outlying districts, traditionally some of the poorest and least-funded. (3) Over its first five years, participative budgeting gave 65,000 more homes a basic water supply, while by the late 1990s the percentage of the population served by the sewerage system had jumped from 46 per cent to 85 per cent. 4 Education has also improved, with school enrolments growing by 240 per cent between 1988 and 1998.

IMPORTANT POINTS: (1) The program has strong grassroots support; 85 per cent of inhabitants know about the participative budgeting program and 80 per cent are supportive of it. A lesson for affluent countries is that in Porto Alegre there is no room for passivity or complacency. This form of active citizenship cannot be taken for granted; if ignored, the opportunity will most likely disappear. A wise saying repeated in Porto Alegre is: 'Happiness is not a safe port; it is a way of navigating.' (2) Participative budgeting is now used in a hundred Brazilian cities, and in five of the 15 major municipalities. Cities in Uruguay and Argentina have also introduced their own forms of participatory budgeting, each in response to local political realities rather than simply replicating Porto Alegre's model.
Location: Porto Alegre, Brazil
Action: Legal, Political
Setting: Developed World, Urban
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Human Rights, Resources
Year(s): 1989
Outcome in progress
Source: Positive News (UK), Issue 25, Autumn, 2003


Porto Alegre City Hall, Praca Montevideo 10-11 andar, Porto Alegre. Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, +55 51 224 4400, Web Site: http://www.portoalegre.rs.gov.br, Email: comunicacao@procempa.com.br
Prepared By: sl, 9/10
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