Participatory budgeting in Brazilian cities: limits and possibilities in building democratic institutions
Authors: C. Souza
Publication Year: 2001
Journal: Environment and Urbanization
This paper describes participatory budgeting in Brazil, where citizen assemblies in each district of a city determine priorities for the use of a part of the city’s revenues. This is one of the most significant innovations in Latin America for increasing citizen participation and local government accountability. After describing its antecedents, as various local governments sought to increase citizen involvement during the 1970s and 1980s, the paper reviews the experience with participatory budgeting in the cities of Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte. It describes who took part in different (district and sectoral) citizen assemblies, the resources they could call on and the priorities established. It also discusses its effectiveness regarding increased participation, more pro-poor expenditures and greater local government accountability. While noting the limitations (for instance, some of the poorest groups were not involved, and in other cities it was not so successful) the paper also highlights how participatory budgeting allows formerly excluded groups to decide on investment priorities in their communities and to monitor government response. It has helped reduce clientelist practices and, perhaps more importantly for a society as unequal as Brazil, helped to build democratic institutions.