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Chapter Summary

Tendler, Judith. 1997.  Chapter 3 in Good Governance in the Tropics. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Among the states in the Northeast of Brazil, Cear is the most severely affected by drought.  These droughts routinely trigger relief in the form of employment-creating public works projects and supplies of food and drinking water.  Historically, the drought relief programs were administered through clientelism and benefited the regions large landowners, private contractors (drought industrialists) and suppliers of relief more than those needing jobs, food and water.  In 1987, Cear was hit by a drought that greatly damaged its rural agricultural economy and left a large part of the rural population without work, food, and drinking water.  This chapter focuses on the successful emergency relief program that was put in place after the 1987 drought.  This success hinges on its radical departure from prior programs in Cear and other states in that it was able to overcome the deeply entrenched tradition of clientelism in the allocation of works projects, jobs and relief supplies. 

How was de-clientelization and improved public performance of drought relief achieved?

Tendler identifies several factors that are not necessarily in congruence with dominant mainstream development paradigms as contributing to this success including:

The central state developed new projects and procedures that attempted to introduce decentralization and democratic decision-making while at the same time wresting control of the program from other local actors (such as mayors and local elites).

Agricultural extension field workers were key to this success.  The 1987 drought relief program gave direct responsibility in the field to the Extension Services rather than building agencies for supervising the large share of the construction.  Demands and rewards of this program and the managerial presence of the central government elicited strong commitment from these workers.

Contrary to previous programs, the 1987 program focused on smaller community-based and less equipment-based projects. 

State presence vis-a-vis the municipality was strengthened: the new director of the Department of Social Action made his presence felt at the local level in a way that made field workers feel appreciated and shielded them from local politics; the state governments directions regarding how the program should operate locally created conditions for a greater heterogeneity of opinion to emerge among local elites and for a more public-minded voice to develop among some elite actors; the state government surrounded rural communities and towns with public messages about the program that created some constraints on rent-seeking behavior by elites and government workers. 

With respect to these tactics, Tendler points out that, contrary to this program, Most current discussions of how to improve public service focus on increasing the power of local actors over service providersas consumers of these services. (64) While she believes this view is progressive, she states it has resulted in a neglect of the darker side of consumer sovereignty the side that wields influence in a way that undermines public-minded goals of equity and efficiency. (64)  Tendler sees that the focus on local actors has kept the development field from understanding the strong and innovative moves that central government must make if decentralized programs are to be successful.