Governance and Democracy katarsis survey Paper



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CAHIERS DU CRISES 

 COLLECTION ÉTUDES THÉORIQUES 



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external actors. In that sense civil society has played a secondary role in the policy process 

through a more informal participation.  

3.2. Porto 

Alegre 

An important example for the potential of participatory settings in local and regional politics is 

the Participatory Budget (PB), where the city-administration of Porto Alegre, the capital city 

of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil, implemented an international “best 

practice model” in 1989 (Novy/Leubolt 2005; Leubolt 2006). The question of participation in 

decision-making was first taken up by neighbourhood movements in the 1970s. Residents, 

mainly of irregular, poorer districts, rebelled against the government's lack of interest in acting 

for their benefit. Their primary demands were investments in urban infrastructure and services 

as well as the autonomy of neighbourhood initiatives. They criticized the city government and 

underscored their demands through spectacular actions, such as roadblocks. They linked their 

material demands to the discourse of rights. These initiatives were brought together through 

the active civil society and also by the Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT). 

Because of this background, these neighbourhood movements were already particularly well 

developed during the democratisation process in the 1980s. It was within this context that 

these movements collectively voiced the demand to democratise the budget (Fedozzi 2000), 

which was realized after Olívio Dutra, the PT's candidate for the mayor's office won the 

municipal elections in 1988. 

Since its initial phase, PB has never been understood as a completed finalised concept, but as 

one that was to develop through conflicts, as a step-by-step institutionalisation of popular 

participation in local politics, combined with ongoing participant-oriented evaluation and 

modification of the process. PB has been conceptualised as an experiment which divides 

power between the government and the people. PB takes place in an annual cycle. Instruments 

of direct democracy are combined with committees of representatives elected from amongst 

the participants. This expands and decisively strengthens democratic participation in the local 

state’s economic policymaking process. The unique feature of this model is its participatory 

decision-making processes. Therefore, the participants not only make suggestions but are also 

responsible for the ranking of the proposed projects that takes place in assemblies both on a 

regional and on a thematic basis. During this process, the participants of the direct democratic 

plenaries vote representatives from amongst themselves who will take care of further 

negotiations with the municipal government. The basic structure of participation also includes 

an annual review and any modification of the procedural rules for participatory budgeting. 



GOVERNANCE AND DEMOCRACY 

 KATARIS PROJECT



 

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This allows the committees to adapt constantly to new conditions and allows for an on-going 

learning process. Participatory budgeting is an instrument of decentralisation that successfully 

avoids spatial fragmentation. The city is the sole local authority in charge of local revenue 

collection.

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 It is, however, divided administratively into 16 areas which are the decentralised 



units of the PB. Central, transparent and publicly discussed indicators for the allocation of the 

local state’s resources among the areas are decisive instruments in ensuring distributive 

equality. In Porto Alegre, civic participants also contribute to making democratic decisions on 

distribution criteria. Because the distribution criteria are renegotiated each year, the system is 

flexibly adapted to changing needs. The decisions made within the framework of PB soon 

showed positive material effects. Particularly between 1989 and 1996, the city’s basic 

infrastructure markedly improved. The percentage of households with access to the sewage 

network rose from 46 per cent in 1989 to 85 per cent in 1996, and access to running water rose 

from 80 per cent to 98 per cent during the same period (UNDP 2002: 81). There were also 

noticeable improvements in education, as the number of children in public schools more than 

doubled between 1989 and 1999. Efforts to satisfy basic needs were reflected in Porto 

Alegre’s Human Development Index of 0.865, which was among the highest of all the 

Brazilian capital cities in 2000 (PNUD 2003). 

In a comprehensive study on the redistributive effects of participatory budgeting, Marquetti 

(Marquetti 2003) proves that a greater amount of public resources per person is invested in 

poorer areas than in richer areas, empirical studies have shown that social groups that have 

been largely excluded from public life – particularly the poor and women – have profited from 

the introduction of PB. Another important aspect of PB in Porto Alegre is that a majority of 

the participants are from the lower classes. In addition, there is above average participation 

from women and ethnic minorities (Baierle 2002). Therefore, the case of Porto Alegre is 

different from others, where the number of participants decreases during the process and only 

an elite holds on (e.g. in Denmark, c.f. Pløger 2007: 3). Discussions in the public sphere also 

served to broaden appreciation of the needs of others, thus building solidarity, as Roselaine, 

one of the participants, describes: 

 

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  The question of resources was very important in Porto Alegre. With only 3.2 per cent of the municipal budget available for investments 



and little experience in planning by the government, hardly any of the investments decided on in the first participatory budget were 

actually constructed. Frustration led to a decline in participation between 1989 and 1990. Threatened by these problems, the government 

began to introduce administrative reforms in order to be better prepared for the demands of participatory government. They worked on 

the co-operation of the different administrative departments as well as on an institutional setting. In 1988, a new constitution was 

approved which decentralised resources and responsibilities to the municipalities. A progressive tax reform further increased distributable 

resources leading to a boost in the share of investments in the municipal budget from 3.2 per cent in 1989 to 11.2 per cent in 1990 and 

17.5 per cent in 1991. After the PT-candidate lost the elections in 2004, resources for the PB got scarce again, which led to a decline in 

participation again and substantively threatens the continuation of the process (cf. Baierle 2005). 






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