Brazilian Public Administration: Shaping and Being Shaped by Governance and Development
Brazilian Public Administration: Shaping and Being Shaped by Governance and Development
Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira 0
0 Fundac ̧a ̃o Getulio Vargas (FGV), Sa ̃o Paulo School of Management (FGV/EAESP), Sa ̃o Paulo and the Brazilian School of Public and Business Management (FGV/EBAPE) , Rio de Janeiro , Brazil
This manuscript analyzes the changes in Brazilian public administration and its relation with governance and development trends in the country. The case of the environmental agencies is used to exemplify those changes in the last decades. There are three main modes in the Brazilian public administration: patrimonialism, bureaucratic, and managerial. Even though reforms have taken some effect along the decades, all three modes subsist in different forms in the public organizations. After the democratization of the country, there is a growing influence of civil society in public affairs, but accountability is low. Reforms were carried out by authoritarian and democratic governments from different political spectrums, but the quality of public administration and governance still suffers with components of ineffectiveness in the delivery of public services and patrimonialism, resulting in many recent cases of corruption and mismanagement, as well as the increasing discontent of the population, as shown in the recent protests in Brazil.
Brazil; BRICS; Governance; Development; Public administration; Administrative reform
1 Introduction: Emerging Challenges in Governance and Development
There is a lot of emphasis in academia and practice on capacity building and the
application of the best practices of public administration (PA) and management to
improve public organizations. Public managers and policymakers in Brazil and
other BRICS, like in other parts of the world, are continuously pushing for reforms
aiming at improvements in the performance, transparency, and accountability of
public administration to deliver quality public services. However, one area that is
missing is a critical analysis of the propagation means, the implementation and
‘‘impacts’’ (positive and negative) of Western and Non-Western theories of public
administration and management in practice (Gulrajani and Moloney 2012;
Ashworth et al. 2013). It is important to better understand the context and the
political economy of how and why ideas ‘‘travel’’ from one place to the other, and
are applied and changed. There are three dimensions of particular interest for
research in Brazil and BRICS in particular, as they are building their own public
administrations and at the same time influencing reforms in other countries.
First, one dimension concerns the general decline of trust in public institutions
everywhere, which also affects the West (Puppim et al. 2015). Brazil particularly
has witnessed a large number of corruption scandals in the last decade. With
democratization and reforms, institutions and organizations have been built both in
the public sector and civil society for increasing the transparency and accountability
of public organizations, but they have not been able to offset the problems of trust in
public administration and the political system. The BRICS success internationally
will depend how much their governments and public administrations can be trusted
Second, there is a growing interest in the topic of the influence of Western and
non-Western PA ideas in developing countries, particularly in Africa and parts of
Asia (Haque and Turner 2013). One of the last waves of Western ideas in public
administration being exported came under the propagation of New Public
Management (NPM) and its mutations. Decentralization has also been propagated
primarily by Western organizations (Smoke 2015). However, besides financial
resources, BRICS are now influencing and exporting their PA ideas or practices and
competing with traditional donors for soft-power. Brazil has been the cradle of
innovative ideas like the participatory budgeting and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
which have been adopted by hundreds of cities and countries around the world. At
the same time, the competition from China/BRICS and other donors (e.g., private
foundations, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) is influencing the way the traditional
donors and intellectual sources of PA knowledge work with governments and
academia as well.
Third, there is a rising consensus about the increasing interconnectedness of
countries, nations, and societies. New influential actors, such as the BRICS, bring
new dynamics to the global institutions. However, public administration and
management is still pretty much constrained to think about organizations that are
not connected or concerned about what goes on in other parts of the world (except
for international relations and development management). The impact of BRICS in
world affairs, such as human rights, international terrorism and climate change,
implies that changing their public administrations to respond to those issues can
make a worldwide difference. The question is then, with the increasing impacts of
global problems, will the domestic public administrations become more entrenched
in the domestic self-interest (to reach the first class Titanic solution, me first as the
safety boat cannot carry everyone)? Or there will be more openness and trust to
reform those institutions to think about the global collective interest together?
The dynamics of the public administration is directly connected to the conceptual
ideas that come from different actors. Governments are the main actors to influence
public administration in terms of ideas and their execution. However, international
organizations have also played a key role in the dissemination public
administration ideas using their influence to push for reforms (Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff
2015). Public administration systems also reflect what is happening in society.
Political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of the context, as well as their
changes, have significant impacts on shaping public administration. The political
system is particularly important as it shapes who is in control of the State and its
relation with society. For example, civil society groups in a democratic system can
push for changes on the streets or through the dissemination of ideas.
This paper examines the evolution of the Brazilian public administration along
the decades particularly in the last 30 years since the democratization of the country
followed by the case of environmental agencies to illustrate the developments in a
specific sector. This can bring learning lessons to the BRICS and other developing
countries more broadly.
2 A Short History of the Brazilian Public Administration
Brazilian public administration started with the organizations developed by the
Portuguese colonizers to manage the exploitation of the colony, but a radical change
and intensification in building public administration happened when the Portuguese
royal family moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1808, running away from the Napoleonic
threat in Europe. The Portuguese royals brought large part of their courts and Lisbon
public administration to Brazil (around 15,000 all together). Brazil, Rio de Janeiro,
in particular, moved from colony to be the center of the kingdom. The State and
public administration bureaucracy and processes created roots in the country and
continued to develop its own features after the king John VI returned to Portugal in
1821 and Brazil got independence in 1822.
The history of the Brazilian public administration and State could be summarized
in several stages described below (based on Lustosa da Costa and Lustosa da Costa
• 1808–1822: The roots of a public administration controlled by the Portuguese
and under the absolutism of the regime.
• 1822–1840: Building the national State and identity. The independence (Brazil
became a Kingdom/Empire by its own) and return of part of the bureaucracy to
Portugal brought a need to develop Brazil’s own public administration under an
absolute State controlled by the Emperor (de jure), but de facto controlled by
• 1840–1889: Development of a more representative State under the Emperor,
with some characteristics of the parliamentarian monarchy. Power over the
bureaucracy was decentralized among those taking part of the core political
system and public administration was spread beyond the capital (Rio de Janeiro
at that time).
• 1889–1930: The State in the ‘‘Old Republic’’. Brazil became a republic.
Patrimonialism as mode of public administration continued from the monarchy,
now controlled by a political elite. The public administration used to serve this
• 1930–1945: Building the bureaucratic public administration under the national
state controlled by a dictatorship. Getulio Vargas centralized and modernized
the state bringing in the main principles of the Weberian administration and
professionalization of the public administration, creating the Department of
Administration of the Public Service (DASP) and Getulio Vargas Foundation
(FGV) to lead the process, but roots of the patrimonialism continued in many
practices (Farah 2011, 2016). ‘National developmentalism’ was the
development mode with the creation of national public companies, such as the National
Steel Company (CSN).
• 1945–1964: The ‘‘national developmentalism’’ as the philosophy of the state
continued after the end of the ‘‘New State Era’’ of Getulio Vargas. State pushed
for rapid industrialization and economic development leading to urbanization
and the creation of several State companies, such as Petrobras. The capital was
moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia (1960).
• 1964–1985: Authoritarian modernization. National developmentalism remained
under the military government established in 1964 based on import substitution
and a private sector protected by the State. Modernization of public
administration continued under authoritarian rule with high degree of centralization.
• 1985–1992: Democratization, neoliberalism and dismantling of the national
developmentalism. Economic stagnation and high inflation led to the neoliberal
reforms in the public administration, particularly under Collor de Mello
government. Government tried to introduce some ideas of the New Public
Management reforms along with liberalization of the economy. The Constitution
of 1988 gave more responsibilities to states and municipalities leading to
political and administrative decentralization and the growth of the public
administration in those entities. Civil society organizations started to have more
influence in public policies and public administration.
• 1992–2002: The state in the era of the managerialism. The opening the economy
continued more gradually. Search for more efficiency and professionalism in the
public administration with the attempt of ‘‘debureaucratization’’. Gradual
reduction in the number of federal public employees (Nunberg and Pacheco
2016). Several managerial reforms introduced initially in the federal government
and later in some states and municipalities (Bresser-Pereira 2009, 2016).
• 2002–2017: National developmentalism returned to the agenda of the federal
government. Number of public employees gradually increased. Liberal trends
were reversed in the economy, but some of the managerial reforms continued in
the federal public administration. In 2016, the president Roussef was impeached
and a liberal government of Michel Temer took over the federal government
reversing the national developmentalism trends.
There are three main modes in the Brazilian public administration:
patrimonialism, bureaucratic, and managerial (Lustosa da Costa 2008). Despite efforts to
reform, all three continue to subsist together in a certain degree, more or less intense
depending on the administrative context. Until 1930, the public administration was
controlled by political elites. Public and private interests were mixed in the State
actions. Public employees were appointed by political leaders and other influential
authorities. The first Getulio Vargas government (1930–1945) made efforts to
introduce the bureaucratic and more professional form of public administration that
also grew under his dictatorship together with the role of the state in the economy
and society. The military dictatorship (1964–1985) consolidated some of the
reforms of Vargas, such as a huge state productive apparatus. In the 1980s, the
managerial reforms started to take roots and accelerated in the 1990s, but they are
still timid for the size of the state. Bureaucratic and patrimonialist forms still
dominate the Brazilian public administration.
3 Recent Reforms
The transition from military to a civil government in 1980s was fundamental to
shape current public administration. The constitution of 1988 devolved power and
responsibilities to the states and municipalities. Those started to build further their
own public administrations to manage the new responsibilities, such as primary
education and health. However, the chaotic economy plagued by hyperinflation in
the 1980s and the first half of 1990s (inflation reached almost 2000% in 1989 and
2500% in 1993) left little room for making more comprehensive public
administration reforms. The reforms pushed by the international organizations linked to the
Washington Consensus in 1980s and 1990s, such as privatization and deregulation
of public services, aggravated even further the economic situation. Most of the
efforts of the administration entities (Union, states, and municipalities) were
concentrated on controlling their finances to avoid that their money were eaten by
the inflation. The 1992 impeachment of the first president directly elected (Fernando
Collor) after the democratization of the country made the situation even more
difficult to manage as the political and economic situation was unstable.
Nevertheless, the public administrations never collapsed and showed certain degree
of resilience to keep up providing certain public services, despite the economic and
political problems in the country.
The inflation was controlled in 1994 by the Real Plan, and a new president,
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (who was the previous finance minister), was elected
giving certain political and economic stability. Under the principles of reducing the
role of the state in the economy and promoting the market economy, a series of
economic and administrative reforms were carried out mainly at the federal
bureaucracy starting in the second half of 1990s. Several state companies were
privatized. Cardoso created the Ministry of Federal Administration and Reform of
the State (MARE) in 1995 led by Minister Luiz Bresser-Pereira to execute the
administrative reforms aimed at improving the efficiency and accountability of the
federal bureaucracies. The core of the efforts was the managerial reforms based on
some of the principles of the New Public Management (NPM). Administrations
were also allowed to outsource certain services to ‘social organizations’ (NGOs).
The main impact was the reduction of the budget spent on personnel at the national
level. Expenditures with personnel in the federal government as percentage of
current net revenues dropped from 55 to 30% between 1995 and 2003 (Nunberg and
The pace of the reforms slowed down with the incorporation of MARE into the
Ministry of Planning in the end of 1990s and the change in the political group
governing the country in the end of 2002. The more statist Lula government
(2003–2010) halted some of the market reforms and embraced ‘developmentalism’,
promoting a larger role of the State in the economy. He prioritized state led
development with a larger role of state companies and scaled up a series of popular
social programs (e.g., ‘Bolsa Familia’, the most known) reducing poverty and
inequality in the short term. The number of employees of the federal administration
and weight of personnel in the budget increased gradually during Lula’s rule.
However, some of the previous trends continued, such as outsourcing of certain
services to ‘social organizations’, particularly those with close links to politicians
through personal or ideological connections. Nevertheless, managerial reforms
continued in some of the states and municipalities. They became common language
in the Brazilian administrative environment. Dilma Rouseff’s government
(2011–2016), who was appointed by Lula to run for president, and succeeded
him, kept some of the trends in the Lula’s reforms. She made some important
reforms in the public employees’ pension schemes (for new entrants) reducing
longterm budgetary impacts, but the state size continued to grow steadily. Her
impeachment in 2016 and the economic crisis in 2014–2015 brought another period
of economic and political instability. The new government led by Michel Temer
(who was Rouseff’s Vice-President) has taken drastic measures to reduce the
growing public deficit and new reforms were suggested to make further changes in
public employees’ pension schemes, alongside the changes in the general social
security system (INSS). The former group no longer will have special regime in
their pension systems, except for certain groups (e.g., military). Nevertheless, states
and municipalities’ tax revenues were heavily impacted by the economic crisis,
which also showed the problems faced by several subnational entities. Many were
not able to reform their public administrations timely and are facing huge
Together with the managerial administrative reforms, a set of reforms to bring
more transparency and accountability to public administrations has taken place in
the last two decades. Most of the public budgets are widely open to the public now,
including salaries of public employees and travel expenses, for example. Civil
society and the press have become more active in denouncing mismanagement and
misappropriation of public funds. Moreover, a set of public auditing organizations
and prosecutors have grown in scope and size alongside the transparency. More
independence of the justice and police has happened as well. Recently, federal and
state polices and public attorneys have dismantled several cases of corruption,
making accountability reaching all the way to the top of the administrative and
political hierarchy, even indicting or arresting some key figures that were
‘untouchables’ before (e.g., ministers, judges, senators, governors, and including
the former president Lula).
Nevertheless, despite the managerial reforms the bureaucratic and
patrimonialistic modes prevail in Brazilian public administration with pockets of managerial
modes, more in some organizations than others. In some places, the managerial
reforms have never taken effect, and patrimonialism has never left the core of the
bureaucracies, being some of the main posts in the public organizations chosen by
politics. Signs of meritocracy are still hard to find in some organizations, though, on
the other hand, some are completely professionalized.
In the following section, in order to illustrate with a concrete case, I will discuss
those issues using the case of the evolution of public administration and governance
in the environmental sector in Brazil. This sector is interesting to study public
administration and governance as it has evolved rapidly in the last decades and has a
strong international component.
4 The Case of Environmental Agencies
Over the last 70 years, the landscape of Brazil has undergone rapid transformation,
especially along the coast. Cities, ports, and huge industrial clusters have grown up.
Agricultural activities have also expanded along the coastal strip and the interior.
Logging has advanced toward the few remaining areas of the Atlantic Forest and the
Amazon. Cities have boomed in a disorderly fashion. Following infrastructure
improvements, the frontier for development has advanced towards the Amazon.
Many of these activities have taken place without proper environmental and
landuse planning, causing problems, such as air pollution and water contamination,
deforestation, and destruction of officially protected ecosystems,1 such as the Atlantic
Forest. This forest is thought to have the world’s highest tree biodiversity,2 but it is
located on the coastal areas where most of the population resides. The Atlantic Forest
has largely disappeared over the last few decades and just around 8.5% of its original
size is left (SOS Mata Atlantica 2016). Moreover, many traditional communities who
live in the forested areas—which house some of the poorest and most powerless
people—have been transformed both physically and culturally.
Industrialization, large-scale agricultural production and urbanization have also
taken place causing serious problems in terms of air and water pollution, as well as
emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). At the outset, unrestrained development
was not viewed as a problem, since it was occurring in isolated areas and many
times incentivized by the public sector, such as the migration to the Amazon or huge
industrial complexes. More recently, however, the impacts of this mode of
development have spread to larger areas and affected the population significantly,
such as the recent droughts in the State of Sa˜o Paulo in 2015, Brazilian economic
1 Many coastal ecosystems, such as dunes and mangroves, are officially protected under the Brazilian
federal constitution. However, due to the lack of proper enforcement mechanisms, developers and
squatters have occupied and destroyed part of these ecosystems.
2 In 1993, Brazilian scientists and researchers of the New York Botanical Garden announced that they
had found the highest tree biodiversity in the world during a field research in the Atlantic Forest in
Southern Bahia. More than 450 species of trees were found in one hectare (Conservation International
hub, which caused water rationing and electricity shortages; or the largest
environmental accident in Brazil caused by the collapse of a huge mining debri
dam in the state of Minas Gerais. Governmental agencies and some parts of civil
society have realized that weak environmental management is a potential threat to
the long-term viability of the country, though the public administration and
institutions in the environmental sector have not developed at the same pace as the
environmental degradation to offset it.
4.1 Building Public Administration to Address Environmental Matters
Even though there were a series of public environmental interventions along the
twentieth century, and some actions, such as the conservationist movement for the
creation of national parks started in 1930s, the first federal bureaucracy specialized in
environmental matters, the Special Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA), was only
created in 1974 during the military government. SEMA came along with the many
environmental ministries and agencies around the world established under the
influence of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in
Stockholm in 1972, the first of the large UN conferences on sustainable development
(Kraft and Vig 1994). SEMA was a small unit within the Ministry of Interior and had
limited organizational capacity. It had little leverage to countervail the developmental
pressures, such as the Amazon human occupation and rapid industrialization,
promoted by the ‘developmental state’ in the military regime. However, SEMA played
a strategic advisory role to build up the environmental institutions in Brazil. Thus, still
during the military rule, under the leadership of SEMA and a group of progressive
legislators, the congress approved the Law 6938/81 in 1981 establishing the National
Environmental Policy, which was the first comprehensive environmental law shaping
the institutions and organizations for managing the environment in the federation. The
law instituted the multi-stakeholder National Environmental Council (CONAMA),3
which specifies more detailed policy guidelines for implementing federal legislation.
The federal Constitution of 1988 consolidated some of the institutional and
organizational changes in the public administration in the environmental area along
with other sectors. It states that federal and state governments have the authority to
legislate environmental matters in a complementary manner.4 The federal
government established legislation stating general guidelines and consolidated the first
comprehensive federal environmental agency, IBAMA,5 by merging SEMA with
3 CONAMA (Conselho Nacional do Meio Ambiente) defines national environmental policies through a
series of resolutions that are based on federal laws or decrees (for example, CONAMA specifies the limits
allowed for air and water pollutants). It is formed by members of the federal government, NGOs and labor
and business representatives from the different parts of the country.
4 Article 26, Brazilian Federal Constitution (1988) (Brasil 1988).
5 IBAMA = Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renova´veis (Federal
Environmental Agency). IBAMA is the federal agency that was in charge of the protected areas under
federal jurisdiction. IBAMA was divided into two organizations to create the Instituto Chico Mendes for
the Conservation of the Biodiversity (ICMBio) in 2007. The latter is in charge of national protected areas
and the former enforcement of environmental legislation.
different agencies that dealt with environmental-related issues, like forest and
fisheries. Later on, the Ministry of the Environment was established to coordinate
the work of IBAMA and other agencies, as well as national policies in the
Even though some of the industrialized states, like Rio de Janeiro and Sa˜o Paulo,
had environmental agencies and councils by 1981, there was no comprehensive
institutional framework for addressing the problem and dividing the responsibilities
before the Law 6938/81. With the law, states then had to organize their own
environmental agencies and councils similar to CONAMA and create specific state
legislations according to their needs, but must always follow federal guidelines. For
example, Bahia State has the State Environmental Council (CEPRAM).6 It is a
multi-stakeholder advisory body formed by state sectoral agencies, civil society
groups, and business and labor unions with proportional membership. It specifies
policy guidelines to implement state legislation. CEPRAM exists since 1972 but
was consolidated into the state environmental institutions in the aftermath of the
Law 6938/81 and the 1988 constitution. CEPRAM members convene regularly to
screen important development projects and discuss the introduction of
environmental policies based on state laws and decrees. Modernized, with the public given
access to its processes, CEPRAM has analyzed an increasing number of projects and
polices. The public agency in charge of implementing environmental policies in
Bahia is the State Secretariat of the Environment (Secretaria do Meio Ambiente—
Although the federal constitution does not mention that municipalities can also
legislate on environmental matters, it does not stipulate the contrary, and many
municipalities have environmental agencies and councils (similar to Bahia). The
federal constitution authorizes municipalities to enact legislation to achieve local
interests, and these interests have been interpreted to include environmental
resource protection (Puppim de Oliveira and Ogata 1998).7 However, environmental
legislation at lower jurisdictional levels cannot contradict legislation passed at
higher levels; that is, municipal legislation cannot be less stringent than state
legislation, and state legislation cannot be less stringent than federal legislation.
Regarding land-use rules, which are key for environmental protection, the federal
constitution declares that municipalities should promote controlled land occupation
through planning, land-use control, land subdivisions, and urban land development
rules. The state and federal governments do not directly regulate land use, but they
can intervene in land-use rules when environmental protection is involved, such as
in the case of environmentally protected areas (APAs) in Bahia (Puppim de Oliveira
Environmental civil society groups have existed for long time, but the
democratization of the country in the 1980s stimulated the creation of several
groups (Puppim de Oliveira 2005), especially environmental NGOs. Many of these
6 CEPRAM = Conselho Estadual de Meio Ambiente (State Environmental Council).
7 The Article 30, Brazilian Federal Constitution (1988), states that municipalities can:
I—Legislate over any matter of local interest;
II—Supplement federal and state legislation if necessary.
groups were created with specific objectives, such as defending a certain ecosystem
or protesting against an environmental problem or disaster. For example, the
ProTamar Foundation was created to protect marine turtles, which were threatened
almost to extinction by rapid occupation of the seashore.8 The Movement for the
Defense of Sao Francisco River (MDSF) was established to mobilize the local
population regarding environmental problems in the river, such as pollution and
sedimentation. Most of these NGOs act regionally or locally. Only few have links to
NGOs in other states or countries, except the multinational NGOs, such as
Greenpeace or Conservation International. However, NGOs are also important in
environmental decision-making. Some of them regularly denounce environmental
degradation and actively participate in the decisions of the federal and state
environmental decision bodies, such as CONAMA and CEPRAM.
One interesting innovation in public administration for environmental protection
is the establishment of the environmental public prosecutors. Their job is to protect
collective and public interest, such as the environmental protection. Created by the
1988 constitution, public prosecutors have played a key role to start legal actions
against any person or organization, including public administrations, involved in
environmental degradation. They can sue a developer for forest clearing above the
law limits and the environmental agency for not enforcing the law. Their active
involvement in many states together with civil society has pushed for more
accountability and transparency in public administration.
Since the nation’s democratization in 1985, actors in civil society, such as
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community organizations, have
increasingly pressured governmental authorities to take greater responsibility for protecting
environmental resources and the well-being of communities. For example, in the
coastal village of Balbino in the state of Ceara, developers burned houses and
threatened villagers with death to force them from their land, which was partially
covered by mangroves. With the support of NGOs, communities highlighted these
issues in the mainstream media and pressured local and state authorities to take
action to protect local people and award them title to the land. In the end, state
government legalized local land titles and created an environmentally protected area
(APA) in the region to avoid land speculation. The participation of local
organizations has also been important to enforce the law and implement
environmental policies (Puppim de Oliveira 2005, 2002). In Bahia, local inhabitants
in Abaete APA denounced a construction project that violated APA guidelines and
tried to stop it in court, even though developers had a municipal construction permit
(Tarde 1998; Ministe´rio Pu´blico Federal 1997).
Global concerns, such as climate change and biodiversity, have also permeated
public administrations at the different levels. Brazil has ratified most of the
multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Different units of the Ministry of
the Environment deal with global environmental issues. The national congress
enacted the Law 12.187 in 2009 creating the National Policy on Climate Change
8 It has government support through links with the ICMBio and the Brazilian state oil company
(Petrobras). Pro-Tamar Foundation has successfully expanded its activities over the years. Today, it acts
in several coastal states.
(NPCC). States and some municipalities have also built their institutions and
organizations to manage climate change adaptation and mitigation. Some of them,
such as the State of Sao Paulo, have established their climate change policy laws
and institutions to deal with climate change even before the national government
(Puppim de Oliveira and Andrade 2016). State public administrations, like the
national government, also interact with each other and the international
organizations to exchange information and build up their capacity, even though there are
mismatches in the interests and implementation priorities among organizations
(Puppim de Oliveira 2014).
The mere identification of a problem is rarely sufficient to spur determined State
and public administration action. There have been several obstacles to expand state
government role in environmental protection. Like in other sectors, the
decentralization envisioned in the 1988 constitution and the National Environmental Policy
Law has been undermined by the lack of resources at the subnational level. Building
capacities in the public administration for environmental protection has been uneven
among states and municipalities. Some entities have built strong and effective
apparatus, but others have lacked behind (Puppim de Oliveira 2005). Although
municipalities control land use according to the federal constitution, many
municipalities have no institutional apparatus to implement land-use controls. In
Bahia, among more than 400 municipalities, only the capital Salvador had prepared
a master plan in 1999. Furthermore, federal and state governments issued
environmental legislation specifying land-use rules that municipalities were
supposed to follow, such as coastal management plans. However, many
municipalities had different land-use regulations or lack the institutional apparatus to
implement these upper-level regulations, so they rarely follow them.
Managerial reforms have not had significant impacts on the public
administrations in the environmental sector. Bureaucratic modes still predominates, as most of
the activities are regulated. In addition, corruption scandals and patrimonialism are
also common in the public administration in the environmental sector. There have
been many cases of unethical behavior of environmental officials involving illegal
logging and bribes to issue licenses. In a recent case, the head of the environmental
agency and ministry of fisheries in one state were arrested by the federal police as
they were trying to sell fishing licenses for fishing companies (O Globo 2015). The
head of the agency was appointed by a political party in power.
5 Trends and Challenges in the Brazilian Public Administration
There are a number of trends in the Brazilian public administration similar to those
shown in the case of the environmental sector. I will pinpoint some of the most
prominent ones. First, the Brazilian public administration has changed drastically in
the last two decades and has gradually interacted more with civil society. The shape
of public administrations and the way they implement public policies in Brazil is
largely affected by the regime and party in power, but some trends do not stop with
changes in governments. For example, since the democratization of the country in
1980s, civil society groups have gained political power and are gradually able to
influence public policies, both policy-making and implementation, such as in the
environmental area. NGOs and social movements are also influential in several
other areas of public policy, such as housing and agrarian reform. Innovative
participatory processes have taken place in several instances of decision-making
from consultation to direct decision vote. The participatory budgeting, which started
in Porto Alegre, is one of those innovations that have now been spread to several
countries (Cabannes 2004).
Second, there is an increasing concentration of financial and human resources at
the federal level, though the bulk of services is in the hands of states and
municipalities. The constitution of 1988 aimed at political and administrative
decentralization and gave autonomy and power to states and municipalities, but they
face increasing challenges to deliver quality public services. Even though the
constitution and other reforms aimed at decentralization, most of the public budget
stay at the federal level. In 2014, the federal, state, and municipal levels had,
respectively, 68.5, 25.3, and 6.2% of the total government taxes (Receita Federal
2015). States and municipalities now deliver the bulk of public services but are
strangled financially. Most of the municipalities do not have their own revenues and
depend largely from transfers form the federal and state governments. Moreover,
even though all municipalities have the same responsibilities, there is a huge
difference in administrative and financial resources among them (the same for the
states), both in terms of quality and quantity. There are very different municipalities,
like Sa˜o Paulo city (*12 million inhabitants) and Bora´ (825 inhabitants), both with
the same constitutional responsibilities. As their sizes and capacities vary
significantly, this leads to an unequal capacity to delivery public services
effectively, such as health and education (Avallaneda and Gomes 2015). There
are also some conflicts of jurisdiction over certain responsibilities (Puppim de
Third, the bureaucracy has several urgent problems to be addressed right away.
The size of the State has grown but not the quality of public services. Although the
number of employees at the federal level has not changed significantly in the last
decade, the amount of the revenues to cover personnel costs have steadily increased.
Moreover, the numbers of employees at the municipal and state level, and the costs
of public machines, have grown drastically since 1988. Tax revenues account for
34.4% of the Brazilian GDP (Higgins and Pereira 2014). Allied to the financial
mismanagement, the recent crises in public administration have shown evidence
that a urgent reform in the public administration is needed. Public services have
deteriorated. Many states are financially broken and cannot even pay their
employees, such as the case of the State of Rio de Janeiro, which had not paid its
employees’ October salary in December in 2016. Various other states have signaled
that they will face the same situation as Rio’s soon. Despite that mismanagement
and corruption were problematic in many cases, the core reasons for the financial
problems are the expansion of the activities of the state and municipalities without
proportional growth in revenues and reforms to improve the efficiency of the public
Finally, the issues of ethics in politics, government and public administration
have also continued to be a major problem in the Brazilian State. Despite all the
reforms to professionalize public administration, patrimonialism still rules many
public organizations and contracts. There are 350,000 jobs (out of 1.1 million public
employees in total) filled by political appointments at the federal level costing more
than US$ 1 billion per month (O Globo 2016). If you include states and
municipalities, this number can easily double. Most of the top managerial posts in
public administration in all three levels are filled by political appointments. Many
are appointed by political parties under their ‘quota’ in exchange for political
support for the government. Distribution of jobs by political appointments is key in
a fragmented political system, where the federal parliament has more than 25 parties
represented. Individual and political interests influence many of the administrative
decisions. Thus, it is not a surprise cases of corruption and mismanagement of state
companies and other organizations, almost always involving political appointees.
This has been routine in the Brazilian public administration, reducing the trust
among the population. Nevertheless, there is a growing institutional capacity in the
State and civil society to push for transparency and accountability in the last
decades, which has kept a system of check and balances of public officials, though
not enough to avoid many of the corruption scandals.
The organizational aspects of public administration are fundamental for its
effectiveness in providing the services to society. However, they are important
but not determinant to guarantee the good functioning of public administration
and the quality of public services, as public administration alone does not
control society or government, and vice versa. The interactions between the
public organizations and other actors are determinant of the way society
functions, and services and goods are delivered, such as in the case of Brazil.
These interactions happen through the formal political system or through
Reforms to strengthen the interaction of civil society and public administrations
can address some of the aspects mentioned in the introduction. Civil society
interests have grown in many developing countries, such as Brazil and BRICS in
general. They have also allies in the media and inside the governments that connect
them to the formal political and administrative system. They can help to improve
trust, to adapt external ideas to the local context, and address the increasing number
of global issues. Civil society groups have disseminated new values in society and
also bringing their interests and values to decision-making processes. They have
campaigned for and against many causes that can potentially affect the diffusion of
knowledge in society and the public administration, such as in the environmental
sector. In addition, many people who work for civil society organizations can later
work for governmental organizations, contributing for the introduction of their
values and ideas in these organizations.
Brazilian public administration has evolved rapidly in the last decades,
particularly since the democratization of the country in 1980s. Several reforms
have been introduced by different governments at the three levels of government
along the history. The size of the public sector has grown significantly, but the
situation of the provision of quality public services is still limited and cases of
corruption and mismanagement in the public sector pop up almost daily. On the
one hand, managerial and organizational reforms have room to enhance the
performance of the public sector. Areas, such as human resource and financial
management, are still problematic (Nunberg and Pacheco 2016). However,
reforms alone will not change much without significant improvements in the
political system and governance, though governance has improved to bring more
accountability to the public sector, but not enough to increase the quality of the
public services or trust in public organizations. Thus, international networks,
such as BRICS, can be an avenue for exchange of experiences and capacity
building, but also develop peer-to-peer accountability mechanisms to raise the
bar of governance in Brazil and the other countries to address the old and new
challenges of public administration.
Acknowledgements This research was supported by a grant from the Dr. Seaker Chan Center for
Comparative Political Development Studies at Fudan University.
Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira is a faculty member at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV/EAESP and
FGV/EBAPE). His research examines patterns of governance, institution building, and policy
implementation at different levels, looking at how global and national institutions are interlinked to
local governance and action.
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