Participatory democracy in place of the secret budget

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Designed to overcome the understanding of democracy that restricts people's participation in public life to voting in elections

At the last annual conference of the International Organization for Participatory Democracy (OIDP), held in December, in the city of Grenoble, Brazil was once again hailed as the country where the most advanced experience of democratizing the application of the public budget was invented, the “Budget”. Participatory” (OP).

Thirty-two years after its inception, in the city of Porto Alegre, it soon became a hallmark of governments in the democratic field and provided countless demonstrations of its social and economic effectiveness.

Conceived to overcome the understanding of democracy that restricts people's participation in public life to voting in elections, the success of the Participatory Budget is such that it has already reached more than 1700 cities in all continents, including cities like Paris and Barcelona and has advanced to the point having already had experiences at a national level, such as in Portugal and Mozambique.

All these experiences show that applying public resources based on priorities built with the participation of citizens – the main stakeholders – guarantees more economy and efficiency in investments. Among other reasons, because they are made using criteria that resist the light of day.

Well, imagine everyone's surprise when they learned that the experience of Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, as well as that of the National System of Social Participation, built during the Lula and Dilma Rousseff governments in Brazil, was replaced by the secret budget of Jair Bolsonaro and Artur Lira.

My argument in the debates was that there is a direct relationship between the return of Brazil to the Hunger Map and the acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon, with the dismantling of all forms of participation and social control in the public policy deliberation process, to quote just two examples of the step back that this democratic step back means.

After the governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff managed to remove Brazil from the United Nations Hunger Map and reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 67% in the period from 2002 to 2016, around 40 million Brazilians went back to experiencing hunger and deforestation of the Amazon grew 73%, just in the first three years of the current (mis)government.

It is no coincidence that these civilizing setbacks occurred after the emptying of spaces for participation and the dismantling of inspection and environmental control mechanisms, which were the successful results of participatory processes in Councils, Conferences and National Negotiation Tables, among other democratic arrangements that were created.

The 74 National Conferences held between 2003 and 2010 directly mobilized more than five million people in their municipal, state and national stages; and the 18 new Thematic Councils bequeathed programs and projects of great impact to reduce the immense inequalities that exist in Brazil.

The deliberations of this broad participatory mobilization are responsible for the creation of the National Popular Housing Program, the National Social Assistance System, the National Youth Program, the National Program of Policies for Women, the National Program for the Promotion of Racial Equality, the National Congress on Climate Change, among many others.

Now, that the STF has prevented the naturalization of secret practices and without any social control in the application of budget resources, there is a great opportunity for the democratic field to once again recover the capacity for innovation in democratic practices and not only recover what was dismantled, but advances in ways of expanding social participation in public policy deliberation processes and in the definition of priorities in the application of resources.

Thus, the budget may again be called public.

*Gerson Almeida, master in sociology at UFRGS, was secretary of the environment of Porto Alegre and National Secretary of Social Participation in the Lula government.

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