7 September 2003

Design by Committee

From the Boston Review:

“During the nineties the PT built on earlier electoral successes by developing a strong record of administrative competence at the local level. Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, was the PT’s first great administrative acheivement. In 1990 the PT municipal government introduced ‘participatory budgeting,’ a form of public deliberation on budget priorities with more than 20,000 people participating annually, which quickly emerged as an effective approach to distributing basic public goods — roads, sewers, clean water — at the local level. Participatory budgeting was extended to 103 cities in 1997, and it has been adopted as policy by other political parties in Brazil. In 1994 Cristovam Buarque, the newly elected PT governor of the Federal District, introduced a program called Bolsa Escola, a sort of minimum-revenue policy for poor families with children who attend school. In 1996 participatory budgeting won the United Nations Habitat Award, and Bolsa Escola has also won several international awards.”


“Resource allocation through PB [participatory budgeting] is decided by community representatives, generally from low-income districts. Each city adopts different formats to define investment criteria, to select community representatives and deal with the city government, its bureaucracy and the city councilors. In general, community representatives get together to decide on priorities. There are distributive criteria to assure a progressive distribution of the resources so that poorer areas receive more funding than the well off ones, regardless of what the representatives want. PB affects mostly decisions on infrastructure investment, not the entire budget. Moreover, authorization of expenditure on priorities is a function of the executive; PB allocates budget to agreed priorities.”

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