Accountability in Public Expenditures in Latin America and the Caribbean: Revitalizing Reforms in Financial Management and Procurement; Participatory Innovation and Representative Democracy in Latin America
Omowunmi Lapido, Alfonso Sanchez, and Jamil Sopher, Edited by Andrew D. Selee and Enrique Peruzzotti Reviewed by Richard Feinberg
Now that democracy is the only legitimate game in town, how can Latin American societies fashion public institutions that are at once representative, participatory, and capable of delivering the goods? Here are two compact, smart books that address these critical challenges. Accountability in Public Expenditures in Latin America and the Caribbean begins with the credible premise that the nitty-gritty of public finance can enhance countries' democratic legitimacy and make them more competitive internationally. Drawing on World Bank surveys of ten countries, the authors find that the areas in which governments have made the most progress are achieving fiscal discipline and introducing computerized information-sharing systems. But the list of remaining challenges is long and includes a lack of trained professionals, mazes of incoherent regulations, and an excessive focus on legal procedures as opposed to outcomes. Fortunately, answers are readily available: countries can adopt global standards (as advanced, for example, by international professional associations and multilateral institutions) and follow the best practices of regional leaders (notably, Chile). The authors also call for independent oversight of the budgetary process -- whether through external audits, civil-society watchdogs, or capable legislative bodies.
Participatory Innovation and Representative Democracy in Latin America assesses with expert eyes fascinating experiments -- some more successful and sustainable than others -- in giving citizens a greater voice in local government. Its editors are clear: the issue is not whether to choose between participation and representation but rather to ask what forms of institutionalized participation most enhance representation. In a particularly strong chapter, Roberto Laserna explains the failure of sweeping local reforms in Bolivia to stem the populist counterreformist tide led by President Evo Morales. Marcus André Melo, in his contribution, pokes holes in Brazil's famous participatory budgeting and instead finds value in the public auditing institutions that give voters the information they need to dismiss corrupt officials.
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