The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Delivering Social Services to Brazil’s Poor

Wed, September 25, 2013

Professor Wendy Hunter and 2007 alumna Natasha Borges Sugiyama have published an article in the October issue of Comparative Politics. “Whither Clientelism? Good Governance and Brazil’s Bolsa Família Program,” tackles a fundamental challenge of political economy in the developing world: how can governments deliver social services free of political interference? How do governments provide poor people social services along a model of rights-based bureaucratic principles as opposed to trading goods and services for votes?

Brazil’s Bolsa Família (Family Grant) program has succeeded in escaping the patron-client networks typical of social provisioning in the developing world. This is especially noteworthy because the program operates in a context where we would be least likely to expect divergence from the norm, namely in cities where clientelism and vote-buying are prevalent and documented. But the Bolsa Família program has managed to operate outside these networks. Hunter and Sugiyama identified three factors crucial to program success: solid ministerial commitment, thoughtful policy design, and strong technocratic capacity.

Decisive for the Bolsa Família program has been that ordinary citizens perceive limits on the scope of local political interference. Integral to this has been the central role for national authorities in maintaining tight control over the terms of enrollment, providing direct transfer of resources to recipients, instituting bureaucratic channels for problem solving, and making available citizen oversight mechanisms to detect and report wrongdoing.

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