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When the inhabitants really manage their town

Experience of the participatory budget of Porto Alegre in Brazil in relation to Senegal

By DAFF, Sidiki Abdoul (March 1999)

During the World Summit on Human Establishments ('Habitat 2') in Istanbul in 1996, which studied the implications of uncontrolled urbanisation, the UN praised the Participatory Budget (PB) running in Porto Alegre, Brazil since 1988 as one of the best practices of urban management in the world. This experience marked the beginning of a period of reflection on management of local communities during a seminar organised by the 'Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Populaires pour l'Action Citoyenne' (CERPAC) in Dakar, February 1999.

Between direct democracy and representativeness

The participatory budget is a process of direct democracy where the population and the town hall discuss and decide together the receipts and expenses of the parish, opening the door to a democratisation of relations between the municipality and society. In practice, officials, once elected, often escape the control of electors who can only sanction them in terms of their mandate. Therefore to renew the dialogue between electors and the elected, it was necessary to invent and combine several forms of direct democracy where the citizen could not only participate in public management but also control the officials.

In the PB, there is instituted, not only a process of co-management between the population and the municipality, but equally a mechanism of social control of officials. The participatory budget Council set up by the population, manages, together with municipal executive (the mayor and deputy mayor), all the detailed procedure of the project budget which will be submitted to the municipal legislature for adoption. The population organises itself in one of two ways:

  • On a geographical basis by dividing the town into 16 sectors (from 5000 to 300000 inhabitants). These sectors were set up in agreement with the population and its organisations following affinity criteria that could be political, social, etc.;

  • The thematic base is another form of grouping which implicates the population on transverse questions through 5 commissions :  - transport and traffic flow; health and social work; education, culture and leisure; economic and fiscal development; town planning and urban development.

It is a question here of thwarting a tendency to divide into sectors by permitting them to decide with the municipality, not only on investment in the sector or district but also on initial or large-scale work at the whole town level.

The procedure is open to all citizens independently of his or her political, associative or religious affiliations.

So that the popular participation is not only a consultative process, the decisions defined and taken together by the population and the municipality are explained, informed and published through documents issued each year and widely distributed (Rules and requirements of the Investment Plan) Municipal agents as well as the mayor are required to provide all relevant information by participating in the sector and thematic assemblies.

Another important mechanism is budgetary control. The mayor is obliged to provide the material necessary for an evaluation of the budget carried out. Transparency is therefore at the heart of the process.

The Brazilian participatory budget viewed from Senegal

It is this experiment that the Cabinet Director for Municipal Planning in Porto Alegre, described to 80 officials, representatives of Senegalese local associations and non-governmental organisations, during the seminar in Dakar. The experiment was seen as a way which should be explored under Senegalese conditions where the local authorities do not want any of this participation, notably in management of the budget. In fact, municipal politics are marked by a total opacity in the matter of management of public finances and by a personalization of power with an omnipotent mayor who distributes jobs and prebends. There is however, at the same time, a very active associative movement taking over power in local authorities which are incapable of responding to popular demand. If the Participatory Budget results from the political will of municipal executives in Porto Alegre, in Senegal, participation could come from the bottom up through local associations whose actions could take the form of: a refusal to pay tax

es, a partial takeover of public services (for example, waste management) or, on the contrary, a deterioration of public works ( digging up the roads to force traffic to slow down, modification of traffic circulation, etc.). A merger of the associative movements and the municipalities is inescapable if one wants to avoid implosion in the towns burdened with conflict. This joint action will be the result of popular pressure on local power until a balance of power emerges, favourable to negotiation. At this level, the determining force is the associative movement representing the people and local officials (municipal councillors and directors of local associations) who could relay the popular pressure to the municipal council.

Notes

This file was based on the proceedings of a seminar organised by CERPAC and the "Citizen empowerment" Network (Senegal, France and Brazil) on the 15th February 1999 at Dakar.