Page 1523 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . .

practiced participatory budgeting for some time. I also spent time in and had meetings in Sao Paulo, which is the second biggest city in the world. I think its population is about 20 million officially but probably 26 million otherwise, and it has had four years of participatory budgeting. It is a political process, and when the Workers Party was kicked out of office in Sao Paulo, participatory budgeting went with them.

Portalegre, however, had a Workers Party administration for 16 years. The more right-wing party that is currently in power tried twice to get elected, but as long as it repudiated participatory budgeting, it did not have a chance of being elected. At the last election four years ago, it espoused participatory budgeting and it was elected. Participatory budgeting is now so important in that democratic state because of its successes that there is no party that could win power now without practising it.

What is participatory budgeting and how does it work? I have to say that I was very lucky that, while I was there, I was able to attend two thematic assemblies, and I will explain where they fit in when I get there. The budget here has a year cycle, and I believe that is one of the challenges of the process. A year is actually a very short time to perform all these processes and to implement the decisions made through them. We all know—we saw it in this budget—how much money gets rolled over and how many things are recycled and promised again. My own advice is that while a participatory budget year cycle is essential for the way the budget works, there needs to be a longer term cycle to set more strategic objectives so that the participatory budget can deal with more than immediate demands.

In March and April there are preparatory meetings in the sections of these municipalities. What we find is that there are popular meetings, sometimes of hundreds of people. In April and May there is a round of assemblies in the sections—that is the geographical area—on the themes. Sixteen themes have been identified, and these are the themes that communities decide how they would like their money spent. A number of plenaries are formed at first, and they then work out those areas that they see as being most important to their community. The meetings that we attended were where those themes—the priorities that had been decided by those meetings—are voted on to see which three will go forward from that geographical area to the broader councils and so on that are formed to make decisions.

These themes have consistently over the years included such things as housing, pavement or road building and so on. Members should remember that we are talking about cities where roads are often made out of dirt and where playgrounds and footpaths are dirt. We are talking about pretty basic stuff here. Other issues raised include health, social assistance, education, culture, transport, young people and people with a disability. There are all these categories, and it is really a little unfair that they have to compete for priority when only 12 per cent of the budget is dedicated to participatory democracy.

At the thematic assembly that I attended, the first priority that was voted on was habitation—housing. That is not surprising. We saw a lot of people sleeping in the streets. We visited a number of villas, which are the Portalegre equivalent of the favellas of Rio de Janeiro.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . .