Eduardo Tadeu Pereira, the mayor of a small Brazilian municipality, keeps his finger on the pulse of what residents of his town are saying and thinking by going on regular walkabouts, constantly stopping to chat.
“They call me Edu, my nickname, and tell me their problems. Sometimes they just want to chat and it is this community engagement that keeps me in contact with the people,” says Pereira, the mayor of Várzea Paulista, a small municipality close to Sao Paulo.
He is also president of the Brazilian Association of Mayor and heads the local Workers Party.
Pereira was the main speaker at a roundtable on “more accountable, responsive and people-centred government” organised by the Isandla Institute in Cape Town last week attended by academics, researchers, government and municipal officials and activists.
In the run-up to Mangaung it has become increasingly fashionable for politicians to speak of how South Africa is facing a “Lula Moment”, a reference to transformation successes in Brazil when Brazil’s former president, Lula da Silva, reduced poverty, created jobs, fought corruption and grew his country’s economy, while giving citizens a powerful voice in the running of the country.
And it was a “Lula Moment” for some of those who attended the roundtable, as Pereira explained how Brazil has been transformed by involving citizens in the decision-making process.
“In Brazil people look to local government if there are problems even though the problem might be with provincial or national governments. People knock on the door of the mayor when they want answers, or want to get something done,” he said, explaining that municipalities were responsible for delivering a wide variety of services.
“People learn to participate by participating, so our job is to create participation spaces, because without them nothing will happen,” he said.
Brazil had faced similar problems to South Africa, with municipalities plagued by low capacity and poor delivery.
Lula responded by giving municipalities more responsibility and raising their share of the budget from 15 to 20 percent.
This created a new model for the transfer of resources from national to municipal government based on specific projects and the building of skills, with enabling legislation being passed to create citizen participation, Pereira said.
Members of the community are elected to serve, on a voluntary basis, on “popular” committees, alongside officials, to control service providers and ensure there is delivery, said Pereira.
And, says Pereira, the “only way” to combat corruption is with transparency.
“What is done in the living room is hidden, so everything must be done out in the open where it is visible to everyone.”