POLC99 Lecture 10 – March 15
Capturing Local Level Power: Municipal Governing Strategies
The Decentralization Debate
Decentralization : the transfer of resources or responsibilities for public services or
decision-making power away from the central government to state or municipal
governments. The lower level governments are closer to the people and hence can be
held more accountable. There are different types of decentralization.
Deconcentration : the transfer of responsibilities to the local level, but not
resources or decision-making power. It doesn’t have the depth that it should have.
World Bank tend to promote this sort of decentralization.
Devolution : the transfer of resources, responsibilities, and decision-making power
to the local level. True decentralization.
Technical / Neoliberal Approach: narrow emphasis on the technical problems of
program design, implementation to improve service provision. Institutional design:
it consults citizens in order to make the service delivery more efficient.
Political / Alternative Approach: views decentralization as a means to challenge
existing power relations and the established distribution of economic and social
resources. It’s about inclusion and empowerment, trying to create more avenues for
popular participation in politics. Bringing the government right there and making it
more accessible, forcing the government to be more transparent. It looks at local
elites and the power structure, economics and local context.
Debate Question: “Is decentralizing a tool of neoliberalism or an instrument of
empowerment for the dispossessed?”
Trap of Neoliberalism Argument: downloads central government’s
responsibilities, co-opts resistance against neoliberalism.
Empowerment Argument: decentralization promotes active participation in local
politics, but doesn’t have to remain there. In many cases what starts out local,
jumps to the national level. It’s also an important space for experiments for
alternative forms of governing. Even though the intention was to make service
provision better, new models of governance can emerge. Look at the outcome; it can
be a means to an end.
The Case of Brazil’s PT (Workers’ Party)
POLC99 Lecture 10 – March 15
Became a very disciplined party, working together, voting in a block, and expelling
members who were corrupt. The origin of the party was the new union movement of
Sao Paulo’s industrial poor in the 1970s. One of the founders and now Brazil’s
president is Luiz Ignacio da Silva (Lula). PT was very flexible; they realized that
they needed to reach out to indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, women’s
movements, rather than a metallurgic union.
1985: Mayoral elections PT won a number of key municipal races.
1989: they ran for the presidency, lost presidential race by only 6 percentage points.
2002: They ran again and won. Lula wins presidential office.
Keys to success:
•Governing track record, they were so good at the local level. They were able
to showcase their talent and how left-leaning groups could govern
successfully in a transparent fashion.
•Popular councils were introduced as the first experiment in governance:
citizens could tell PT mayors what their grievances were. They got a lot of
complaints at first, while having little resources to solve them. At that time
Brazil was not that decentralized.
•1988: Brazil underwent decentralization reforms, World Bank inspired.
Filtered money and resources and decision-making power to the local level.
Right time, right place.
•1990s: PT implemented participatory budgets, not just popular councils. It
became a model used around the world. PT used assemblies to discuss and
lay out municipal’s budgets throughout the year, where the money is being
spent and they allocated 10–20% of municipal revenues for local investments.
PT emphasized small-scale investment in communities, which had a greater
impact on the poor, rather than big flashy projects, which benefits future
•Side effects: Porto Alegre a popular campaign to increase and collect taxes in
the community. Tax reform to try and get more money for the local
government to work with.
Challenges of Representation:
•Overrepresentation of better organized communities
•Localized project demands, but what bout other communities, which have
•Each budgeting council had to come with one priority for the community and
one priority for the city as a whole.
•Redistributed resources in favour of the poor.