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Artigo de rebecca abers em congresso do abcp 2007

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Artigo de rebecca abers em congresso do abcp 2007

  1. 1. 6º Encontro da ABCP 29/07 a 01/08/2007, Unicamp, Campinas, SP Área Temática: Estado e Políticas Públicas Práticas Deliberativas: A construção de poder decisório nos comitês de bacia hidrográfica Rebecca Abers Instituto de Ciência Política, Universidade de Brasília Margaret Keck Political Science Department Johns Hopkins University
  2. 2. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 1 The Political Construction of Decision-Making Power in River Basin Committees1 Over the last twenty years, we have seen a worldwide trend towards inclusion of participatory deliberative bodies in the process of public decision-making. Such forums are created for a variety of purposes, including democratization of access to decision-making, enhanced public sector accountability, pooling information and resources, reducing transaction costs, and solving problems. Responding to Constitutional mandates, demands from social movements, and the international diffusion of the idea that governance mechanisms can supplement (or replace) state capacity, tens of thousands of deliberative councils have been set up throughout Brazil. A main focus of institutional reform in the water management sector, the focus of this paper, has been the creation of new deliberative bodies at the River Basin level, called River Basin Committees. These bodies bring together actors from local, state and (when applicable) federal government, civil society, and large water users ranging from sanitation companies, to industries, to farmers. Many proponents hoped that these new arenas would transform decision-making in the water sector, guaranteeing that multiple interests and viewpoints be considered in management decisions and building commitment among the vast diversity of private and public actors who have a stake in how water is managed. Simply put, our research makes it very clear that the existence of a participatory deliberative body does not ensure that it can actually deliberate, make decisions, and have those decisions recognized and implemented. Its formal creation does not give it political authority in practice. For that to occur, it must become a political space within which conflicts can be expressed and examined, and 1 The authors benefited from financial support from the following at some point during the research for this article: Grants to the Watermark Project / Projeto Marca d’Água from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and the Fundo Setorial de Recursos Hídricos / Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology; Grants to the authors from the National Science Foundation (International Post-Doctoral Fellowship GRANT # 0107314) to Abers; and from the MacArthur Program on Global Security and Sustainability, Research and Writing Competition to Abers and Keck. .
  3. 3. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 2 where deliberations influence public decisions and state action.2 Among the 14 river basin committees whose evolution we have followed closely for the last eight years, some have not gotten off the ground, and others have developed considerable capacity to mobilize resources and implement actions. Some have gained public visibility and influence. Some have had spurts of positive action, only to fall back into relative stasis. Only a very few have ever managed to exercise the statutory powers they supposedly possess. How can we account for these differences? How do novel institutional actors construct political authority? In the case of water policy, the answer to this question is particularly tricky, because “management” occurs through the complex interactions of a remarkable number of public and private activities conducted by thirsty individuals, sanitation companies, dam operators, farmers, industries, tourist enterprises, tree planters and tree cutters, municipal planners, residents of squatter settlements, golf course planners, environmental agencies at all levels, energy companies and agencies, and on and on. However much everyone might agree on the goal of ample quantities of clean water for all users and uses, in fact there are highly divergent sets of rules and norms of behavior governing the different kinds of interests involved. Despite considerable institutional reorganization in the interest of rationalizing and making more integrated the management of water in Brazil, there are still myriad systems of institutions, organizations, and rules, with no clear hierarchy among them. Following the work of Raustiala and Victor (2004), we conceive of this arrangement as a "regime complex", or an institutional system characterized by a "horizontal, overlapping structure and the presence of divergent rules and norms" (305). Creating a new decision-making body within a regime complex raises particular challenges because authority not only can be vetoed by but also must be recognized by a multiplicity of actors who likely understand the role of that body in different ways. In our eight year study of river basin committees, we initially expected that differences in socioeconomic and political variables on the one hand and in the characteristic types of water problems of the region on the other would predict the success or failure of participatory water management bodies. Thus, more developed regions with greater institutional capacity should produce more successful 2 Much of the literature on collaborative governance institutions focuses exclusively on their capacity to produce cooperation, and avoids the problem of political authority and power. For a recent critique, see Moe 2005.
  4. 4. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 3 committees; water problems whose solutions provided tangible, selective benefits were more conducive to successful shared governance than those with high likely incidence of free riding (diffuse pollution, for example). While not irrelevant, these explanations did not prove robust. Socioeconomic development and institutional capacity did not tell us why governments in some states showed no interest in managing water at all, nor could it explain why committee mobilization and effectiveness seemed to vary so dramatically within states. Our next set of explanations focused on the internal processes of committees. We hypothesized that in some committees, dedicated leaders or core groups made creative use of resources available to committee members themselves, built social capital through concrete practices and problem solving, and could then invest that social capital in larger undertakings. This proved to be quite a robust finding, but still an insufficient one. It could not show how a movement from essentially voluntary activity to political authority – and the power to have decisions implemented even in the face of opposition – could possibly take place. For the committees to occupy the public role they were set up to play, cooperation among members did not suffice: there had to be active and reciprocal engagement with other parts of the water management system, most especially with the state. The members of these bodies had not only to expand their social capital by collaborating among themselves but also to develop political capital that could garner them influence over political decision-making. This, according to Sorenson and Torfing (2003:610), who are among an emerging group of authors to use this term, requires gaining 1) “access” to the decision-making processes, 2) “the capability to make a difference in these processes”, and 3) “the perception of themselves as political actors” (see also Birner and Wittmer 2003). In this paper, we explore how local actors built (or failed to build) both social and political capital in three river basins that we have been studying since 2001, where the political outcomes of participatory water management differ greatly. In none of them did the organizing process begin with strong governmental support or significant resources. In the Paranoá Lake basin, which lies in the central part of Brazil’s Federal District (Brasília), a group of actors started a movement in 2000 that successfully brought about new water legislation and a commission to create a river basin committee. However, lacking both government support and sustained civic mobilizing, the process stalled and the committee has yet to start functioning. In the
  5. 5. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 4 Itajaí river basin, in Santa Catarina State, the state government’s neglect of flood control precipitated the mobilization of a group of non-state actors. This group became the catalyst for formation of a basin committee, gradually building the organizational strength and autonomous fundraising capacity to carry out projects in all of the basin’s 47 municipalities. Nonetheless, the committee still cannot attract investment and support from the state government, preventing the kind of large scale planning and management of water that committees were initially expected to do. The Velhas river basin committee, in Minas Gerais State, underwent the most surprising transformation. Hastily created only “on paper” to fulfill the state government’s commitment to an international lender, it was transformed after being taken over by an environmentalist civic organization that had built a network of state and non-state actors throughout the basin.. The state government adopted the committee’s project of cleaning up the Velhas River and has made major investments to that end. 3 We proceed as follows. First, we situate our approach theoretically in relation to scholarship on participatory governance, power and political authority, and regime complexes. We then describe the reorganization of Brazil’s water resources management system and the configuration of its components as a “regime complex,” and place river basin committees within that context. Third, we discuss the evolution of above three committees, referring occasionally to others. Finally, we attempt to specify some of the variables whose interaction appear to us crucially important, if not causally determinant, for explaining the construction of political authority by new public entities. Political Authority and Regime Complexes Most scholarship on participatory deliberative bodies locates them in a kind of public space in construction, expecting inclusive or collaborative aspects to make a 3 The research was conducted through interviews and document collection over an eight year period, largely in the context of the Watermark Project. The Watermark Project is a network of researchers at Brazilian and US Universities that has been accompanying the evolution of river basin institutions since the beginning of the decade – see www.marcadagua.org.br. In 2001, the Watermark Project conducted interview and document collection and analysis in 23 river basins, under the coordination of Abers. In 2004, a sample survey was conducted among members of 14 river basin committees and 4 river basin consortia. The project supported as well the elaboration of 19 master´s and doctoral dissertations on river basin politics. In depth, semi-strucutred interviews were conducted by Abers, Keck, and research assistant, Ana Karine Pereira in the Velhas, Itajai, Litoral Norte, and Paranoá committees in 2001, 2003, and 2007.
  6. 6. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 5 political system more democratic, accountable, and publicly minded. The [democratic] political system, in this view, is heterogeneous, with room for majoritarian decisional and executive structures, occasions for direct democracy, and deliberative spaces in which participants attempt to achieve consensus or negotiate agreements among a wider range of interests and views than would be accurately reflected in legislatures or state agencies – albeit regarding a limited range of issues. For many authors, the possibility of greater inclusion, or more effective harmonization of stakeholder interests, renders instances of direct and/or deliberative democracy more interesting and in some respects “more democratic” than the more traditional representative and electoral arenas. An expanding literature on new deliberative arrangements in Brazil and elsewhere4 has made it clear, however, that their formal creation does not lead immediately to a transformation of government decision-making processes. Where deliberation fails to affect outcomes, it tends to lose legitimacy (Lubell et al. 2005: 280-85), and many erstwhile proponents of stakeholder councils today worry that they mainly function to legitimate the status-quo. Where this occurs, it seems likely that societal actors will lose interest. If a potential participant does not think that the structured public deliberations of participatory governance bodies will produce results, she will most likely take her energies elsewhere – to an NGO, for example -- unless participating has other benefits, such as affording her an unusually good platform for voice or for networking. Volunteerism in the service of the public good must either develop resonance with public authority, or find other, usually private, resources with which to carry out projects and programs.5 This means that somehow, what goes on in deliberative arenas must affect the configuration and exercise of power. We understand power in the three- dimensional sense proposed by Steven Lukes (2005[1974]). With the Pluralists, he locates power’s first dimension in the ability of those who have it to control the outcomes of decisions to their benefit; it can be measured by effects. However, Lukes argued that this view fails to recognize two other important dimensions of 4 See, for example, Abers (2000); Avritzer (2002, 2003); Dagnino (2002); Santos (2002); Santos Jr., Queiroz & Azevedo, (2004); and Tatagiba (2002) 5 One of the rather extraordinary threads running throughout our study of river basin committees is the remarkable and sustained level of activism by people who, committed to sustainable water management, continue to try to harness their energies to a public project – despite the continued lack of commitment from state authorities.
  7. 7. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 6 power. A second form is present in the ways that the position of actors in social structures allows them to control what issues come onto the agenda. This power laden process of agenda formation predates the kinds of political competitions that result in winners and losers. This version of power was proposed by elite theorists such as C.Wright Mills (1956) and Bachrach and Baratz (1970). Finally, Lukes notes, the ability to shape which issues are to be understood as political issues at all is also a form of power. Such a version of power incorporates a Gramscian understanding of the role of ideology. Thus power involves outcomes, positions, and cognitive framing. For a new decision-making institution to actually have political authority, it must be able to influence outcomes, to define agendas, and to become a source or arena for defining which issues are politically relevant. New political arenas may lack power for two reasons. On the one hand, they may lack internal resources: their members may not have what Sorenson and Torfing (2003) call political capital – or the political rights, resources and competencies that allow them to gain influence over political decisions. On the other hand, such arenas are inserted in political spaces that may fail to recognize them or that may even veto their attempt to influence the actions other actors – making decisions, for example, about the projects and programs state agencies that should be allowed to implement or the rules about private behavior that state agencies should enforce. This problem is typically discussed in the literature on participation as related to the political will6 or political interests7 of the state agency that are supposed to devolve power to participatory arenas. Our research on water politics suggest that the problem can be much more complicated than one of devolution from one power holding body to another, because in many policy arenas, power is not concentrated in the hands of a single public agency (Abers, 2007; Abers and Keck, 2008,forthcoming). Although participatory governance bodies are frequently studied on their own, they are almost always part of much larger sets of inter-institutional relations. Water resource management takes place (or fails to) within a remarkably complex issue area, in which institutional interactions occur at multiple levels of the political system, both horizontally and vertically, and moreover include among their principal actors powerful private interests. Coordination problems abound: the definition of the 6 Avritzer (2003), for example, suggests that a key factor in the success of Participatory Budget policies is the existence of a participatory political project in the local government. 7 Abers (2000, 2003), for example, suggests that participatory policies are only likely to be implemented if doing so is understood by state actors as in their own political interest.
  8. 8. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 7 system itself is contested both actively and passively; different components of the system operate according to different definitions, play by different rules, and have different interests and goals; and the practical coordination of decisions involved in resolving any given dispute normally require the interaction of multiple components. This kind of complexity is constitutive of what Raustiala and Victor call a regime complex: “an array of partially overlapping and nonhierarchical institutions governing a particular issue area”(2004: 279). This conception seems to describe well those political projects that seek to integrate previously distinct institutions, actors, and policy arenas. Such configurations combine distinct fora, in each of which different sets of actors act according to expectations drawn from different legal stipulations and institutional arrangements. Although clearly interconnected, agreements reached in one forum do not necessarily extend to another, nor is there a well-defined hierarchy according to which one set of decisions trumps another (Ibid.). 8 Raustiala and Victor propose that the evolutionary dynamics of regime complexes differ in a variety of ways from those of institutional arrangements with more established definitions and boundaries. “In a regime complex…negotiations over most substantive rules commence with an elaborate and dispersed institutional framework already in place. The institutional slate is not clean. Ideas, interests, and expectations frequently are already aligned around some set of existing rules and concepts, though these rules and concepts can and do contradict one another - especially when underlying interests are contested and in flux. Consequently, power, interests, and ideas do not directly map onto the norms that become enshrined in the agreements at the core of the regime; the content and evolution of rules does not trace neatly back to changes in the underlying driving forces (Ibid., 296).” Several characteristics of regime complexes raise challenges for the proposal that one component within them should be transformed into a central source of decision-making. First, Raustiala and Victor note that ambiguity about the roles and rules of different institutions favors powerful actors in a position to shop around for the most favorable venue through which to advance their interests (Ibid., 299-300) Second, change is more likely to result from the working out of problems arising 8 Although Raustiala and Victor develop the concept of “regime complexes” in a study of international interactions around plant genetic resources, their formulation draws upon the work of scholars of domestic public policy, in particular Helen Ingram’s work on water politics in the United States; however well these insights may have traveled into the international arena, we find that they continue to illuminate highly interdependent domestic policy arenas as well.
  9. 9. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 8 between components of the system than from reform decisions at the level of any single component or the system’s coordinating architecture (Ibid:300-302) . Third, the myriad inconsistencies in a complex institutional arrangement are more likely to be reconciled in practice, through the implementation of projects and programs, than through overarching harmonization attempts (Ibid:302-305). Thus although the norms and rules embedded in the system’s design are clearly important and worthy of our attention, much of the system’s evolutionary impulse will work through incremental changes, from the bottom up. This suggests that even when new institutions are created with ambiguous roles in a regime complex, actors within them can develop strategies to try to enhance their political authority. Indeed, it would seem very unlikely in such contexts that an overarching power would ever “devolve” power to any component – power needs to be created. Our examination of river basin committees suggests that this is an arduous but necessary task: only where local actors within new deliberative institutions struggled to build their own social and political capital were they able to redefine the political authority of those institutions. Where they waited for the state to devolve power to them, it rarely happened on its own. Water Resource Management as Regime Complex Up to the 1990s, such water “management” as took place in Brazil was scattered, inconsistent, and specific to particular sectors or uses (dams, irrigation, sanitation, etc.), and to wealthier regions. Water in Brazil can be in either state or federal domain,9 and at both levels, dozens of specialized agencies implemented their own agendas with little coordination. Municipalities, largely responsible for land use, were rarely consulted by any of these state or federal agencies. Taking advantage of the relative abundance of freshwater in some parts of the country, private firms and public agencies encouraged the development of a highly sophisticated hydrology and civil engineering capacity. Large dams fueled developmentalist visions, and the focus on water for energy crowded out other perspectives for most of the 20th century. For a long time, problems were addressed from the narrow perspective of a particular sector, agency, or set of users. Private users in a largely unregulated environment had little incentive to avoid pollution, 9 Bodies of water that run along or across state or international borders belong to the Union.
  10. 10. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 9 conserve water, or rationalize use. Environmental agencies and NGOs had few instruments to ensure that as multiple uses competed for water, biodiversity was not threatened. Although some effort was made to develop a more integrated approach in some parts of the country, what few successes there were did not generate multiplier effects. By the mid-1980s, however, competition over water for drinking and household use, waste dilution, hydroelectric power, and irrigation was evident in some regions. Challengers to traditional engineering approaches to flood control and drought drew sustenance from the repeated ravages of both. Water experts explored new ideas, and many began to believe that a different, more holistic approach was required. Proponents of reform drew upon ideas developed over the course of decades of international meetings on water issues; some of them were active participants in these debates. The emerging model, sometimes known as Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) (see Conca, 2005), comprised a set of principles that included management of water for multiple uses, planning decisions to be made at the river basin level where possible, participation of affected actors, and (most controversially) recognition of water as a resource with economic value, for whose use and maintenance users should pay (Barth, 1998: 1).10 Beginning with São Paulo in 1991, most states outside Amazonia promulgated legislation incorporating these principles over the next decade or so, and a Federal Water law along these lines passed in 1997. The statutes provided for integrated management of water supply and quality, identified the river basin as the appropriate territorial unit for water resources planning and decision-making, and defined organizational mechanisms for stakeholder participation in decisions at federal, state and river basin levels. The system was to generate its own revenues through the imposition of bulk water charges (cobrança) on major water users (industries, sanitation companies, electric companies and irrigators) for the amount of water they use, as well as for polluting discharges. Unlike taxes, however, these revenues were to remain in the river basin where they were collected. Further, because representatives of bulk water users would have seats on basin committees, they 10 Ascribing economic value to water resources does not mean fully commodifying them; it does mean that the cost of the resource itself, and not just its delivery and disposal, must be incorporated into the planning and budgeting of both public and private actors. The Brazilian government rejected recommendations from institutions like the World Bank that it adopt a system of water markets on the Chilean model.
  11. 11. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 10 could influence the uses to which these revenues were put, transforming the water charges into a form of investment. River basin committees were expected to set guidelines and priorities, determine pricing criteria for water charges, establish spending priorities for revenues, and approve or set up executive “basin agencies” to carry out these decisions. Still, virtually any planning for water management required the cooperation of myriad municipal and state government agencies and a state level deliberative council on water resources, each of which had its own agenda, resources, and powers. More than 140 river basin committees have been created under a variety of state laws, in addition to seven committees in federal river basins.11 In the context of a system comprising institutions with radically divergent capacities, resources, and histories, the decision to establish a system of integrated water management by river basin cannot really be called a case of decentralization by devolution. River basin committees could not simply “take over” responsibility for planning and decisions that previously, when made at all, had been scattered among a multitude of different agencies and jurisdictions, at municipal, state, and federal levels (and often remain among the attributions of these agencies to this day). Very few state governments had either the information or the human capacity to monitor water use, let alone enforce directives to guide its development. Further, despite the fanfare with which many water committees were established, resources essential to their functioning were scarce, late, or nonexistent. Implementation of cobrança ran into a plethora of legal and political obstacles; further, it soon became clear that only in a small number of wealthy river basins would it produce enough revenue to be worth the cost of implementing it. The new system is replete with jurisdictional ambiguities. In this unlikely context, it is not surprising that the general view of river basin committees amongst water experts is pessimistic. Lacking effective incentives or sanctions, committees have no recourse when state governments simply ignore their plans and priorities, or bypass them altogether on water management decisions.12 They seem like little more than the weakest link in an extraordinarily weak system, doomed to failure from the start. Yet not all committees fail, and some of them start 11 http://www.cnrh-srh.gov.br/, accessed on 11/06/08 12 Neves (2004) demonstrates that the vast majority of river basin plans are never implemented.
  12. 12. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 11 badly, yet somehow find their footing. As a formally created institution that has space for a variety of different actors, even toothless committees can sometimes become arenas for generating and mobilizing resources and eventually even for transforming what the state does and can do (Abers and Keck, 2008 forthcoming). Of all of the components of the new water management regime complex, river basin committees probably elicit the most diverse range of expectations both from their members and from other actors in the system. Although state and federal water laws speak to their legal domain of activity and attributions, they are only as vital and as powerful as they are made to be by their members, and as their interlocutors in other parts of the system recognize them as being. Unlike institutional components of the regime complex with specialized jurisdictions, the river basin committees are charged with oversight of the big picture in their territorial domain. Their job is to plan and establish priorities for other private and public actors. They were not really intended to propose and carry out projects of their own – this was to be the task of their executive agencies, few of which have been established. Moreover, part of the justification for assigning the planning and priority-setting function to the basin committees was the fact that their makeup was designed to reproduce in microcosm, the range of public and private components in the regime complex that were present in the river basin. Thus at the same time as they exemplify an arena that brings together, theoretically, all the organizations - public agencies, private stakeholders and representatives of diffuse interests (civil society organizations) – involved in and affected by water management, they are also public entities that must coordinate with other organizations in the water management system. This dual nature of the river basin committees – in which they are both pieces of a complex system and microcosms of the whole – underpins paradoxically both the committees’ weaknesses and their strengths. Members of the committee representing state agencies and private sector actors can rarely make major decisions binding upon the organization they represent. On the other hand, precisely because they bring together actors from throughout the system, when committees do gain influence, that influence can have ripple effects throughout the system. The newness of the committees, and the ambiguity and variation in expectations about them, probably makes them the main terrain of experimentation within the regime complex. But their ability to transform water management more broadly – for example, by promoting integrated water management among diverse organizations
  13. 13. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 12 in the system -- depends on the degree to which these “bottom-up” impulses can energize the coordination and implementation capacity of other actors in the system with the power and resources to pursue their goals. In the following sections, we discuss the political evolution of three river basin committees in Brazil in order to look at how actors within the committees dealt with this paradoxical position within the regime complex for the construction of political authority. We chose these three cases because they demonstrate the diversity of trajectories that new decision-making arenas can undergo when examined over a reasonably long period of time (both the Itajai and Velhas committees were created more than a decade ago). In particular they suggest caution in labeling an organization a “success” or a “failure”: it seems that a set of factors can recombine in different ways over time resulting in different and changing results. The Itajai River Basin Committee The Itajai River Basin Committee is the only one of the three that began with civil society organization. The Itajaí River flows from the interior of Santa Catarina state in the south of Brazil to the sea, about a hundred kilometers north of the state capital, Florianópolis. With an economy of middle-sized farming, artisanship and small industry, the region is characterized by much lower levels of social inequality and poverty than in most of Brazil. The total population of the basin is about one million (Projeto Marca d’Água, 2003). Devastating floods have long plagued the region, and efforts in the 1970s-80s by the National Department of Sanitation Works (DNOS- Departamento Nacional de Obras de Saneamento) to control them with contention dams proved inadequate. In the 1980s, work by a group of professors at the FURB (Fundação Universidade Regional de Blumenau), spurred a group of local organizations to contest DNOS’s approach, arguing that engineering solutions needed to be complemented with reforestation and other soft measures throughout the drainage area. This required an approach to water management from the perspective of the entire river basin. In the 1990s, a series of events created opened a window of opportunity for basin-wide organizing.13 In 1992, two years after the government had abolished DNOS, a devastating flood demonstrated the urgent need for investment in flood 13 On political opportunity structure, see McAdam 1982; Tarrow 1994.
  14. 14. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 13 control. In 1994, following the example of São Paulo, the Santa Catarina State Assembly passed a water law, which called for creation of Basin Committees. Two years later, participants in a meeting of civic and university groups called by Blumenau’s Commercial and Industrial Association concluded that the new law afforded them an opportunity to undertake the kind of basin-wide organizing which some had long proposed. The water specialists at FURB immediately took a leadership role (Mais, 2001). Within a few months, the group had put together an informal Basin Committee, made official by government decree a year later. The Committee had 65 members, representing water users, civic organizations, universities, municipal governments and state agencies. It started by convening organizations from around the basin to come up with plans to solving specific problems, and then working together to seek state or federal support to get the plans implemented. The first years of the committee´s existence were dedicated largely to the organization of workshops bringing committee members together to discuss and eventually consolidate a vision of water management based on a series of “soft” measures (such as reforestation) that contested the state government’s traditional approach to flood control, based on heavy infrastructure in the river channel (Mais, 2001). With no funding proffered for this alternative approach, in 2001, committee members decided to move forward by pooling the resources of the local organizations - the university (which also housed and bankrolled the committee’s secretariat), the commercial association, and the municipalities in the basin (though most of these were severely underfunded themselves). The resulting “Riverbank Reforestation Program” involved forestry research, training courses for municipal employees, and partnerships with 10 municipal governments for reforestation projects.14 The Committee also organized an environmental education campaign, a yearly program called “Water Week” (Semana da Água), in which schools, community associations and other civic groups planned a variety of actions. Once again, the Committee worked primarily as a coordinator of other organizations, with few outside resources. Water Week involved 76,000 people in the first year, organized in almost 500 local groups. In subsequent years participants have numbered around 200,000 (including school children), representing about one fifth of 14 http://www.comiteitajai.org.br, accessed on Sept. 4, 2004.
  15. 15. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 14 the basin’s total population. Besides its educational purposes, the Water Week greatly raised the Committee’s public profile, and its capacity to mobilize resources in the following years. In 2004, a major injection of resources allowed the committee to take its activities to a new level. By that time, the committee had created an “executive branch”, called a Water Agency. The agency won a national competition for environmental projects promoted by the state owned Petroleum Company, PETROBRAS. The resulting grant made it possible to build upon existing work in environmental education and reforestation, and to add a major component designed to help municipal governments create their own local environmental councils and implement reforestation activities, for which the project provided training and some investment. The presence of more than twenty paid organizers, backed by the weight of the PETROBRAS name, who worked with municipal officials and could provide money (albeit small amounts) for local projects, vastly expanded the committee’s reputation and reach. This new phase of the committee represents an important step forward in terms of resource mobilization: if in the early phase, the committee moved forward by getting the members of the committee themselves to donate their own resources to the cause, now the group has developed substantial fundraising capacities, allowing it to generate resources from outside the membership, indeed, from outside the region. Yet, although individuals interviewed in 2007 were generally satisfied that the committee had gained in public recognition and legitimacy acquired as a result of the PETROBRAS project, most remained frustrated by the lack of state support for the endeavor. The committee was still operating overwhelmingly on the basis of voluntary civic action – it was, for all intents and purposes, playing the role of an NGO. Even though several state employees do dedicate time to committee activities, most do so as “committed individuals”- they do not bring with them state resources, policies or programs. In late 2007, in an attempt to move forward in this regard, Committee leadership proposed a partnership with the state government to establish a water user registry. Such registries, the first step in any broad based effort at planning and regulation, still do not exist in a great many Brazilian states and, according to Itajai leadership, state water official doubted that they could to create one without resources. The committee proposal was to start with a volunteer, on-line registry. The
  16. 16. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 15 government provided some personnel, the software, and an official decree calling for users to sign up. The Committee members did the mobilization on the ground, disseminating information about the registry and encouraging users to sign up. In the end, more than 8500 users voluntarily registered. Finally, after a decade of struggle, the committee now had access to the most basic instrument for planning water use: a data base on who uses water, how much and where. The Velhas Committee The Rio das Velhas Basin Committee started out on a completely different track from the one just described. The kinds of nongovernmental actors that animated the Itajaí process were barely in evidence in the process of creating the committee. Yet, from its inauspicious beginnings as a committee in name only, it developed into one of the system’s most effective – again with a central role for university-based environmentalists. The Rio das Velhas river basin in Minas Gerais has an estimated population of about four million people, concentrated in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third largest city. After flowing north through Belo Horizonte, the river passes through a poor and sparsely populated region of extensive agriculture and ranching, finally meeting the São Francisco river 761 kilometers from its source. Until 2001, there was no sewage treatment in the Belo Horizonte metropolitan region, and the city’s waste left downstream stretches of the river significantly degraded. In the early 1990s the state government proposed to address this problem by means of a World Bank loan to build two sewage treatment plants and other sanitation infrastructure in Belo Horizonte. The loan agreement stipulated that a small portion of funds be dedicated to improving water management more generally, including the creation of a Basin Agency. With the project in its final stages in 1997, the state government needed to fulfill the water management component of its contract. Since the state’s 1994 water law required that a Basin Committee be created before a Basin Agency could be established, the Rio das Velhas Committee was quickly cobbled together in late 1997. Little more than a “paper Committee,” for several years its meetings could not attract a quorum even to approve bylaws and elect an executive board. Setting up a Basin Agency thus proved to be far beyond its capacities and the sanitation works ended up going forward without one.
  17. 17. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 16 Around the same time, a new civic group called Projeto Manuelzao began a series of watershed restoration initiatives, whose importance soon eclipsed the official River Basin committee. This group began when professors in charge of a rural internship program at the Medical School of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, led by Apolo Heringer, a doctor with a history of political organizing, decided to use the program to promote a more environmental perspective on health. Interns showed community groups the connection between water conditions and disease, and helped organize river clean-ups and popular education efforts. This experience rapidly expanded into the largest civil society program for river conservation in the state. Within a few years, the Manuelzão Project (named after a legendary twentieth- century figure who traveled the region’s hinterlands) comprised 14 sub-projects, ranging from research to eco-tourism to environmental education in schools. Part of this effort included the creation of a network of local government officials, civic organizers, business owners and other local leaders throughout the river basin through formation of community or municipal-level Comitês Manuelzão or Manuelzão Committees (Sousa, 2004: 108). The project provided the committees with professionals to analyze water problems, legal assistance to support public exposés of abusive practices, transportation and other help organizing events, and so on. Today there are over 80 Manuelzão Committees in the basin’s 51 municipalities. Alongside this highly decentralized organizing effort, the Manuelzão Project formed dozens of higher-level partnerships, mostly with public institutions such as the state forestry agency and the state sanitation company. These partnerships usually provided support to projects the agencies had already initiated, involving activities ranging from technical studies of a particular water problem, to visits to schools and community projects. In effect, the Project connected under one “umbrella” a multitude of activities, producing a degree of integration that might not have existed otherwise. It took several years before people involved in the Manuelzão Project began to get seriously involved in the Velhas River Basin Committee. The committee slowly began to get off the ground in 2000, when Belo Horizonte’s municipal environmental secretary, Paulo Maciel, a water specialist, became its president. Under his leadership, the Committee took the first steps towards creating a Basin Agency, by installing a Technical Office to support planning and data collection. The committee also began to exercise one of the most powerful attributions accorded basin
  18. 18. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 17 committees by Minas Gerais state water law,15 that is, to analyze and pass judgment on permits for water uses with high pollution potential. The chance to influence water permitting attracted the interest of the Manuelzão leadership. In 2001, when open assemblies were held for organizations in each category16 to elect new representatives to the Committee, Manuelzão sought to get enough of its own affiliates onto the Committee to be able to elect Apolo Heringer as president. Although Maciel retained his office in that election, Heringer won a majority in 2003 and was reelected in 2005. In early 2004, Heringer brought the Manuelzão Project’s latest campaign to the Committee, effectively providing it with an agenda and a deadline around which different sets of activities could be organized. Meta 2010, or Target 2010 promotes collaboration of state government, the legislature, municipal governments and water users in a major partnership to make it possible to ‘navigate, fish and swim’ in the Velhas River by the end of the decade. In March 2004, Minas Governor Aécio Neves signed an agreement committing the state government to the program, and numerous state deputies and private businesses declared their support as well. On December 10, 2004 the Velhas basin committee approved a water resources plan geared towards meeting the target (Jornal Manuelzão, 2004). The Minas governor’s espousal of the 2010 target meant that the planning process undertaken in the basin committee would have resonance in actual policy. This was a major commitment, involving the construction of waste treatment plants and sewage interceptors in the major sub-basins of the Belo Horizonte metropolitan area, as well as watershed restoration, environmental education and extension services, and the establishment of a network of monitoring stations to keep track of water quality. As part of this process, the Committee began to create operational subgroups, including subcommittees (beginning with Ribeirão da Onça, one of the most polluted sections of the river, and followed by five others in 2006 and more thereafter), and specialized commissions on water charges and permits, legal and institutional affairs, 15 Minas Gerais is the only Brazilian state where basin committees must authorize large water permits. Such permits are a prerequisite for obtaining authorization for any economic activity that will use substantial amounts directly from water sources. 16 The 28 seats on the Velhas committee are allocated to representatives of state government, municipal governments, water users, and civil society, of which categories has 7 seats or 25% of the total.
  19. 19. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 18 planning and projects, and communication. In March 2007, the committee’s proposal that the Associação Executiva de Apoio à Gestão de Bacias Hidrográficas Peixe Vivo (AGB-Peixe Vivo) be authorized to serve as its Basin Agency was approved by the State Water Resource Council. Nonetheless, it was clear that even with a developing capacity to initiate water charging and an executive agency to do the job, the potential cobrança revenues (estimated at around 50 million reais) remained vastly inferior to the kind of spending necessary to meet the targets established in the plan (estimated at around a billion reais) (Jasper e Alkmin 2007: 6). Most of the costs for basin cleanup have to be borne by the state government – a responsibility that at least for the moment, it remains formally ready to assume, in marked contrast to the government of Santa Caterina discussed above. The Paranoá Lake Basin Our third case is a counter example to both the Itajai and the Velhas cases. In both of those river basins, significant and sustained civic activism moved a water agenda forward and associated it with river basin committees, despite absent or lukewarm state support in the initial phases. In the Paranoá case, by contrast, an initially enthusiastic mobilization of civil society actors fizzled in the face of government disinterest. The Paranoá basin lies in the center of the Federal District of Brasília, whose construction included the damming of the Paranoá river to create a lake in a region notably short of water resources. The Lake’s purpose was a combination of humidity control and sewage dilution for what was intended as a city of no more than 500,000. The area of the lake’s drainage basin corresponds to almost the entirety of the planned portion of the Federal District17 . Indeed, original plans considered the boundaries of the basin to also be the boundaries of planned urbanization. Brasília’s population quickly spilled over its planned boundaries; shanty towns gradually became “satellite cities”. Brasília’s population now approaches 2 million, about six hundred thousand of which live within the Paranoá Basin. The shantytowns are not the only irregular settlements in the region; others are middle class gated communities (condomínios) for the tens of thousands of public 17 Since the lake was dammed close to where it flows into the São Bartolomeu, the drainage area of the lack is only a little smaller than that of the river. This is the only river in the small Federal District that does not cross over into neighboring states, making it the only one fully under the Federal District’s dominion.
  20. 20. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 19 employees who can no longer afford to live in the center city. This growth threatens the ability of the Paranoá basin system to keep up with the needs for sewage treatment – despite the existence of some of the most advanced treatment plants in the country. By now, most of the water consumed in the basin is imported from neighboring rivers. Unique institutional aspects of the Federal District, whose government combines attributions of state and municipal jurisdictions, also bring land use issues in closer contact with water issues. Historically, the Federal District has had fairly strong institutions in the area of sanitation, but politically weak environmental organizations. The District Water Company, CAESB, with a well-qualified bureaucracy and significant resources, controlled water management issues. The Federal District was quick to enact a water law, along the lines of the São Paulo example and revised in 2000 to make it consistent with the 1997 Federal statute. The sponsoring deputy, Rodrigo Rollemberg, was an important member of the opposition to the conservative governor Joaquim Roriz, who had dominated Brasilia’s politics since the Federal District gained political autonomy in the late 1980s.18 After this initial success, Gustavo Souto Maior, a well-known environmentalist, and Paulo Salles, a biology professor at the Federal University of Brasilia, both of whom were advisors to Rollemberg, set out to mobilize support for creating the first River Basin Committee in the District. In 2000-2001, a politically diverse array of people from local universities, environmentalist NGOs, community organizations, sports groups, industries, along with a few state government employees working for the most part on their own time, held regular meetings and collected more than 50 letters of support from public and private water institutions, especially large water users. In November 2001, the Commission to Create the Paranoá Committee was officially created, reserving a third of the seats each for representatives of government, civil society and users. To allay the governor’s concerns that the opposition would dominate the committee, a high-level official of his environmental secretariat was made Executive Secretary of the Commission, and the government announced that the committee would be inaugurated by the following April. In fact, it took five more years, and although the committee’s creation was announced in 2006, only recently has the mobilization process begun for elections to 18 Before this period, the Federal District was under the control of the federal government.
  21. 21. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 20 the seats. Participants in the 2000-2001 process blame the district government for stalling, accepting the initiative in word, but in not in deed. Legal complications made this relatively easy. However, the 2000 statutory revision had also complicated matters by giving power to create river basin committees to the District Water Council – which was not formed until late 2002. During this period of impasse, the original group dissipated. Because its goal had been to create a water committee rather than to address particular problems of water management, it had no agenda of its own. In this respect, it differed from the groups that animated the activities of the Itajaí and Velhas committees. Oddly enough, the group rarely discussed substantive issues related to water; instead, the focus was on the desirability of an arena where non- state actors could have a voice in environmental decision-making. Some participants, interviewed recently by Luiza Alencastro (2008, personal communication), attribute this to the fact that the federal district’s water related problems do not yet seem urgent. The government has kept up with the need for infrastructure investment, both with regard to sanitation and drinking water. Other specialists disagree, predicting that huge, impoverished settlements in the basin are depleting the supply of well water at alarming rates, raising the possibility that problems might appear much sooner than expected. From Social Capital to Political Capital? Despite much fanfare in the late 1990s, the odds seemed to be against the emergence of river basin committees as vibrant arenas where politically important decisions would get made and actions taken. For the many who expected that the prominent role granted these committees in new legislation would soon make them central actors in a system of water management by governance, the fact that so many committees spent years getting off the ground was profoundly disillusioning (Abers and Dino, 2005). Certainly the expectation was exaggerated in the first place. Water committees were only one component of a complex system, many of whose other components either did not exist or did not perform in the ways intended by the system’s designers. Further, the “integrated management” of water resources involves the adjudication of powerful state, private sector, and civic interests; it is therefore a thoroughly political proposition. Yet, the legislation and the new institutional arrangements required to make this integration happen were put into place with very little attention to the political support that would be necessary to make
  22. 22. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 21 them real (Abers and Keck, 2005). In fact, for many of the water engineers endorsing the new system, the whole idea was to insulate decision-making on water management from politics, understood as unabashedly self-interested partisan behavior by politicians. But the very notion of managing water in the public interest requires the political construction of the public concerned. Unexpectedly, we believe, it is precisely this job in which many of the water committees we have been studying have been engaged. The Watermark Project has accompanied the development of fourteen river basin committees over the last eight years, along with shorter case studies of others (see Formiga-Johnsson and Lopes, 2003; and Fidelman, 2008). The comparison of these cases demonstrates a tremendous variety of starting points, trajectories and results – suggesting at the very least that we should abandon the idea that just because committees are born with few resources and little power, they are doomed to irrelevance. Although many committees have progressed well beyond the mere formal installation that the Paranoá Lake committee has barely achieved, few have become central site in which important government decisions are negotiated and through which resources for implementation are mobilized, as occurred -- eventually - - in the Velhas River Basin. Most are somewhere in the middle, in that a committee became an important political actor in the field of water management, but not a central decision-making forum for the state. Generally, the problem is not that state governments oppose basin committees’ performing such a role; it is that most give so little priority to water management that no there is no publicly recognized role for such a body to play. Even though the committees in this middle group do not look like the authoritative “Parliament of the Waters” that their proponents imagined, they may still be the most relevant regional or state actors in the field of water management, if only by elimination, as the only organizations that consistently struggle to keep water management on the political agenda. This anomalous situation raises a number of interesting political questions. What keeps them going in the absence of support from the other components of the “regime complex” of which they were supposed to be apart? What kinds of resources and strategies are available to them to influence that context, in the hope of gaining the political relevance and authority they were supposed to have?
  23. 23. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 22 Our research suggests that those committees that moved forward did so by mobilizing the social capital and other resources (technical capability, money) available to them and using it to build political capital. How does this occur? In a variety of cases, we find that the groups involved started small, with concrete projects supported by the resources of the people involved. In the Itajai Basin these were a series of workshops to define solutions to problems and eventually the creation of a project to promote that solution (based largely on the reforestation of river banks), funded by the university and civic groups. In the Velhas basin, the Manuelzão project branched out from a university internship project to mobilize dozens of local groups around problems specific to each place: domestic waste from an impoverished riverside settlement, erosion caused by sand mining, risk of overflowing residue tanks of an iron mine, chronic dysentery in an urban shantytown. These kinds of practical actions seem to be essential for building trust among actors, demonstrating capacity for action, and creating a public name and legitimacy. In the Paranoá Lake basin, where leadership failed to establish such a practical mission, and where, in the absence of legal recognition, nothing else remained to bring people together, the initial mobilization effort dissipated.19 What transpires through this kind of practical, collaborative action? We believe that working together on small projects affords the opportunity to build and strengthen networks among committee members and those they attract to their activities. Broadening these networks in turn amplifies the committee’s resource base, and eventually, we argue, its power. Networks in this case are structures comprising linkages among individuals and/or groups, through which flow ideas, information, and material resources. Nan Lin (2001a,2001b) argues that they are closely related to social capital. Robert Putnam famously defined social capital as “features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated action” (1993: 167). Lin contends that the concept of social capital involves more than of the trust and reciprocity on 19 These examples are not unique. We have observed the mobilizing effect of such concrete practices in a substantial number of river basins studied by the watermark project: The Rio dos Sinos basin committee developed an environmental education project with local schools. In the Araçuaí basin (Minas Gerais), committee activities have revolved around designing and monitoring a World Bank funded basic sanitation project. In São Paulo, deliberated over the allocation of monies from FEHIDRO, a state fund for water management projects, has helped mobilize actors and creating a starting point from which to move on to more ambitious projects.
  24. 24. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 23 which Putnam focuses. Social capital for Lin is investible, defined as “resources embedded in a social structure which are accessed and/or mobilized in purposive actions” (Lin 2001b: 12). That is, through networks, people can call upon different kinds of resources held by other network members to make collective action more powerful and effective. By approaching social capital in this way, we can understand political practices as navigating the ground between agency and structure. The structural position of different actors affects their access to resources (Sewell, 1992). But actors can deal with that structural endowment in a multiplicity of ways. When people with different resources begin to work together, they discover ways to combine those resources in new ways and transform their resources as a group. When actors from very different networks begin to interact, this potential is particularly strong (though by no means inevitable). The multiplexity of networks, product of the variety of experiences and affiliations of each network member, facilitates access to different kinds of resources and structures (Sewell 1992). River basin committees – along with other similar deliberative arenas – may be fertile ground for such network building possibilities. Although as organizations, they have little formal power and few external resources, they do bring together a wide variety of actors connected to a multiplicity of networks: industries, local political groups, environmentalist, university researchers, and so on. This potential, however, must be activated. As long as those multiple actors see no reason to act together, it is unlikely that networks be connected and new resources generated. That is why initial, small scale practices seem to be so important: by demonstrating that the group has a capacity to act, they help build credibility and confidence for more ambitious projects. This sort of resource-pooling can help build internal trust and capacity, but does not necessarily build political capital. Political capital is accrued insofar as the activities of a committee extend beyond its members to mobilize parts of the public in support of its goals, and influence the ideas and behavior of politicians and public officials. This requires the development of projects that demand concrete, credible commitments – which are only likely insofar as the projects can be made politically meaningful to those whose support was needed. One key source of political capital is visibility and public credibility, promoted by certain types of activities more than others. The Manuelzão project invested
  25. 25. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 24 heavily in public communication, with a widely disseminated newsletter and regular appearances in the news media, with careful attention to the message being presented. For example, in calling upon Governor Neves to speed up the implementation of Target 2010, Heringer publically reminded him of the state’s renowned history of meeting targets, from the challenge of moving the capital from Ouro Preto to Belo Horizonte in 4 years, to Juscelino Kubitschek’s race to build Brasilia and develop Brazil (Lisboa 2008:4) The Itajai committee was much less successful in this respect, but nonetheless has worked hard to involve municipal governments in its projects. Efforts such as Water Week mobilized huge numbers of people at a relatively low cost (by working through schools) and disseminated the Committee´s name in the early period. Like Manuelzão, by involving large numbers of ordinary citizens in watershed restoration activities the committee helped it gain public visibility. Outside recognition also seems to provide credibility and legitimacy that strengthens a committee´s claim to political authority. Interviewees in the Itajai basin repeatedly noted that the support from PETROBRAS for the committee made local people see that it was a “serious” organization. Similarly, the existence of legislation creating committees and giving them formal attributions, however vague or weak it may be, remains a source of political capital. In the Itajai basin, university researchers and other local people had been trying for over a decade to organize people in the basin around the problem of flood control to no avail. But when in 1994, the state followed São Paulo in the passage of a water law that created River Basin Committees, the group had a new organizing tool. Local actors believed that an officially recognized committee would have a greater ability to pressure the state. Although the state government has remained resistant, the committee’s official status is still a political asset allowing it to make claims for political authority. The leaders of the Projeto Manuelzão group, by contrast, initially saw no reason to expect that the rather feeble basin committee being set up at the same time as it was forming could provide them with more credibility or legitimacy than they could build on their own. But at a key point in the Project´s development, attachment to an organization that had formal political authority seemed politically useful. By transforming the Target 2010 into a legally approved plan, the Committee was able to demand that it be implemented in a way that was not available to the Manuelzão Project. Like the Itajai activists, the
  26. 26. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 25 Manuelzão leaders wanted to be more than just an NGO: they used the formal status of the committee to give greater political legitimacy to their actions. Not surprisingly, the ability of actors participating in these new arenas to gain political capital is also strongly related to party politics. The contrast between the Paranoá basin and the Velhas basin makes this clear. In Paranoá, the effort to promote the committee was spearheaded by advisors to an opposition politician. In this situation, there was little reason for the local government administration to support the project. In Velhas, on the other hand, the leadership of the Manuelzão project had political connections. Interviews repeatedly cited the close connections between Apolo Heringer Lisboa and high level political officials in the state government, especially the state secretary of the environment and Aecio Neves, the governor. The predominance of progressive (PT, PSB, PSDB) state and city governments for most of the period under consideration here provided opportunities that were not available to the Itajai activists, who faced a much less congenial set of governors. Party politics seems especially important in river basins in close proximity to state capitals. In Minas Gerais, the fact that the Velhas basin included the state capital Belo Horizonte amplified the importance of political networks linking Projeto Manuelzão leaders and state government officials.20 The Itajai activists did not have the same kinds of political assets, but did have strong social ties in the region around Blumenau, and were well connected both with regional environmentalist networks and the national technical networks of water engineers. It may be that for them, location outside the capital made developing high levels of local visibility and capacity less problematic for state political elites than it might otherwise have been. Different kinds of resources and trajectories, then, can be mobilized for different purposes. Figure 1 is an attempt to visually summarize the complex interrelationship of variables discussed here. As Raustiala and Victor (2004) suggest, in regime complexes change is likely to occur at least as much through bottom-up experiments with policy implementation as through policy coordination from the top. River basin committees and similar deliberative arenas seem to be ideal for such 20 Apolo Heringer Lisboa was a founding member of the Workers’ Party, had been a well-known student radical, and vice president of the National Student Union (UNE) in 1966. One of his more notable acts of the period was, upon receiving his diploma in medicine in December 1967, to dedicate it to the memory of Che Guevara, who had been killed in Bolivia just two months earlier. Exiled in 1973, he returned to Brazil (and Belo Horizonte) with the 1979 amnesty (Machado 2003).
  27. 27. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 26 External Support Party Support Concrete practices People, Organizations,Resources Political capital Social Capital (mobilized resources, trust, internal credibility) Visibility, (Public Credibility) More ambitious projects Legal Recog- nition POLITICAL AUTHORITY Figure 1: Building Political Authority experimentation, because they bring together groups with a wide array of resources. In the more successful cases presented here, leaders in the river basin started small, with concrete projects that helped build social capital – an ability among members to pool and use their own resources through networks, which resulted in trust among members and increased confidence in the capacity to carry out more ambitious projects. When those broader projects allowed the organization to gain public visibility and credibility, they began to transform their social capital into political capital. If the former is associated with an ability to carry out projects with their own resources, the latter has to do with being able to influence other organizations, especially the state. The ability to transform social capital into political capital is limited, however, by the political context in which it occurs. Where the new organization gains formal recognition (legal status) and political support from more
  28. 28. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 27 powerful, higher level institutions, they can move much further in the quest to influence policy. Such direct political support seems to be particularly rare At the same time as they illustrate the development of political capital in and by the basin committees, the examples presented in this paper suggest that committees may play an important mobilizational role for the system and idea of water resource management more generally. Instead of being essentially normative bodies involved in planning and establishing priorities that would be enacted by other components of the system, the committees have had to ensure that the prospective enacters were present and willing to do their job. Much more than “decision-making arenas”, those river basin committees that gain some political authority are activist organizations that promote concrete visions of water management and seek to transform the system within which they work. This activist role seems quite far removed from the theoretical debates about governance and participation in public decision-making in which political science discussion of this kind of organ usually occurs. Yet without a view of deliberation that links it to action, the idea of participatory and/or collaborative governance remains a sterile conception. By focusing on their actions, and not just on their [in]ability to perform the formal roles attributed to them in water management legislation, we discover in the stories of these committees unexpected agency. An assessment of whether their role in decision-making democratizes public policy or not seems premature, in that the first step has to be making the policy public in the first place. And this is fundamental for building what Lukes (2005[1974]) called the third dimension of power: the power to define what issues should be considered political. Bibliografia Abers, Rebecca, 2000. Inventing Local Democracy, Boulder, Lynne Rienner. Abers, Rebecca N. 2007, “Organizing for Governance: Building Collaboration in Brazilian River Basins”. World Development. , v.35, p.1450 - 1463, 2007. Abers, Rebecca N. and Dino, Karina Jorge. “Descentralização da Gestão da Água: Por que os Comitês de Bacia Estão Sendo Criados?” Ambiente e Sociedade, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2005. Abers, Rebecca and Keck, Margaret. 2005. “Águas Turbulentas: Instituições e Práticas Políticas na Reforma do Sistema de Gestão da Água no Brasil” IN: MELO, M. A.; LUBAMBO, C. W. & COELHO, D. B. (orgs.) Desenho
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