Conclusions and Policy Implications
Results suggest that there is no systematic association between PB and water coverage and service quality. We find no statistically significant relationship between PB and our measures of coverage and service continuity, regardless of whether the outcome variables are measured in levels or in changes. This result contrasts with the one in Gonsalves (2009), which highlights the pro-poor results of PB in Brazil, such as lower infant mortality through greater spending in health and sanitation. It is more in line with Boulding and Wampler (2010), who find only small increases in spending in health and education associated with PB across Brazil’s largest 220 cities, and no evidence that these increases lead to measurable improvements in the lives of ordinary Brazilians. At the root of this lack of connection we find weaknesses both in the PB process itself and among the different actors in the process.
The PB law and implementing regulations are focused on the process and somehow expect the process to channel demands from the population, particularly those most needy, and increase pressure on local authorities to provide better infrastructure and services. In fact, the process has important limitations that may make it ineffective in channeling resources to areas such as water and sanitation, where much investment is needed. Further, it may also be inequitable as the poor may confront greater costs of participation. For their part, municipalities have limited technical capacities and resources vis-a-vis investment requirements in the water sector, while mayors may not find it in their best interest to support PB. Service providers are also weak, lack financial capacity, and sometimes may even lack the power to collect fees from consumers. Thus, though PB may have displaced “white elephant”-type of infrastructure investment (stadiums, bullfighting arenas, etc.) from many municipalities and contributed to guide investment toward projects more consistent with the people’s primary needs, it still needs to be strengthened considerably in order to play a significant role in the expansion of coverage and provision of better quality water services for the population and particularly for the poor. Water and sanitation projects that come from the PB process are in most cases very small (a few blocks) and basically of replacement type.
One variable that seems to make a difference, both for water coverage and service quality is women’s political participation. In municipalities where women are more politically involved, water service and coverage tend to be better. This should not be surprising since it is known that women are very concerned with access to drinking water (proven that they, and their children, are the ones affected by poor water service). Thus, in a decentralized context, in areas where women participate more, government officials and water providers are required to improve services.
Concerning policies to strengthen PB, a first line of action is information. It is critical to have a link between the PB database and SIAF as the basis for an information system to effectively monitor PB decisions. As part of this effort it is also necessary to develop a set of indicators in order to measure how responsive are investments by sub-national governments to local needs and how pro-poor they are.
Second, PB technical teams need to be strengthened both technically and in terms of greater independence from the municipal authorities. An autonomous technical team will be in a better position to negotiate with the municipality the incorporation of investment projects prioritized by PB. Thus, though local in origin, technical teams should be funded through central government monies. Women should be part of these technical teams, as it would encourage greater participation by this group of the population.
Third, regarding the participating agents, education and empowerment of social organizations are key for active enforcement of its auditing and monitoring capacities vis-a-vis the participatory budget process. Participating organizations should be provided resources, technical support, and guidance to achieve bigger, more complex projects with higher impact. Women should be a priority group for these education and empowerment activities.
Fourth, concerning the water sector, an effort to enhance the involvement of PB would require specific measures to strengthen both its technical capacities and access to resources. Since funds for investment in the sector are concentrated in the Water for All Program, preferential access to these funds by PB-prioritized investments would help. Uses for these funds could include from technical studies to the infrastructure investment itself. This would alleviate the main restrictions that we have identified for greater investment in the sector.