I watched an interesting TV-program today, about the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Its a project that has been going on since 1989 in Brazil, and has shown such promise that the Brazilian labor party is saying they will expand the program to the whole country.
I am sure I am not alone in thinking that the democracy as it is today is failing. Less people are voting every election in most of the developed countries, in fact I would go as far as saying we are approaching a voter participation so low that we have to say the democracy as it was intended has failed. And why? I think it is because people don’t feel like their vote has any influence on the day-to-day running of the country, county and city they live in.
The solution might be in letting people participate to a higher degree in what used to be political processes, where the elected politicians used to rule based on the mandate they got from the voters. That is what is happening in Brazil with the Porto Alegre “Participative Budget” project, where the people are allowed to participate directly in the budgets of their communities. And its going on not only in Porto Alegre – but also in more than 70 other cities all over Brazil.
There has been some very nice effects of the program, in some communities people that used to be living in slums are now able to live in good houses with all the comforts most of the developed world take for granted. And it is being paid for by commercial developers that agreed to develop houses in return for land. Something which would have been much harder before, when people didn’t have the same amount of say over what was going on in their local areas. The most profound effect in Brazil has been the development of infrastructure and the citizens being able to feel like they can have an input on how the money is spent on development of their local areas.
This is a great model to use in developing countries, but I also think that it would work to revitalize the democracy in developed countries. It would be a way for people to start feeling like they really could be able to participate in the decisions affecting their communities. Another nice effect of Participative Democracy in Brazil has been that the whole political process has become a lot more transperant, and the before all to common corruption has almost gone away. There are a lot of other countries that could have benifited from a more transperant process, for instance – it would have made it much harder for special interest groups to use money to influence the political process.
- The Experience of the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre (Brazil)
- Marianne L. Wiesebron: Participative Democracy in Brazil
- Le Monde diplomatique: Anatomy of an experiment in people’s power
- Brazilian city where neighbourhood groups allocate budget
- More links to articles about the Porto Alegre project