“How would you like to distribute 200 million dollars to your fellow citizens? That’s the amount of money the city of Porto Alegre spends in an average year for construction and services—money not committed to fixed expenses like debt service and pensions.
Fifty thousand residents of Porto Alegre—poor and middle class, women and men, leftist and centrist—now take part in the participatory budgeting process for this city of a million and a half people, and the numbers involved have grown each year since its start in 1989. Then, only 75 percent of homes had running water.”
Read the rest at Yes Magazine.
A World Bank paper suggests that participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre. For example, sewer and water connections increased from 75% of households in 1988 to 98% in 1997. The number of schools quadrupled since 1986.
The high number of participants, after more than a decade, suggests that participatory budgeting encourages increasing citizen involvement, according to the paper. Also, Porto Alegre’s health and education budget increased from 13% (1985) to almost 40% (1996), and the share of the participatory budget in the total budget increased from 17% (1992) to 21% (1999).
The paper concludes that participatory budgeting can lead to improved conditions for the poor. Although it cannot overcome wider problems such as unemployment, it leads to “noticeable improvement in the accessibility and quality of various public welfare amenities”.
Based on the success in Porto Alegre, more than 140 (about 2.5%) of the 5,571 municipalities in Brazil have adopted participatory budgeting.
JourneyMan Pictures has a short doc. on Youtube which mainly deals with the subject. By the way, POA is shorthand for Porto Alegre.
The great thing about this is that its democracy in action. Someone wise once told me that if the average person can’t understand the goings-on of a particular activity or idea, then that activity or idea is most likely BS. I don’t believe the US is a true democracy and therefore I don’t believe one’s vote really counts. In a true democracy, the government fears its people…not the other way around. What Porto Alegre has done is nothing short of amazing as far as both what they have accomplished and the empowerment created within its people. As a whole, Brazil could use this method to change the entire country for the better.