Social Control in Public Policies: practice that is very far from theory


Francisco César Pinto da Fonseca, Alvaro Escrivão, Ana Sílvia Puppim e Carolina Lopes Zanatta



Research in focus: Information, accountability and social control – an analysis of the contradictions between democracy and public policies for the Billings and Guarapiranga reservoirs.

Acquiring information about investment projects for improving the environmental and social quality of water source areas proved to be nearly impossible, which prevents the population from demanding that resources be better employed.

Objective: To compare the applicability of democratic assumptions to actual public policies in the Billings and Guarapiranga reservoirs regions of São Paulo.


• Research based on the PAC [Growth Acceleration Program] Public Resources Monitoring Center, a project coordinated by the Studies Center in Public Administration and Government (CEAPG) of the FGV/Eaesp. The Monitoring Center was established to monitor applications of an investment of approximately R$ 1 billion (in an agreement among the federal government and the state and municipal governments of São Paulo), destined for sanitation and housing projects in the water source areas that feed the Guarapiranga and Billings reservoirs.

• Examination of the PAC investments in the region.

• Analysis of the region’s social and health indicators.


• The Monitoring Center was unable to obtain the desired information from any sphere of government (at the municipal level, which is closest to people from the city of Sao Paulo, attempts continued until the Gilberto Kassab administration).

• The work performed by the company that won the public bid to develop social work with the population (such as meetings with local residents, mapping out the families that would be removed, the land regularization process) was ineffective and reached just 5% of the population affected.

• As the water source area implies the need for both social and environmental protection, the Monitoring Center became a tripartite action area, with the participation of the university (FGV/EAESP), of politically organized society and of the local population. It also led to partnerships with the Sao Paulo Public Prosecution Office and the local Public Defense Attorney’s Office. No legal action, however, was taken as a result of this dialogue.

• Instead of societal participation, arbitrary acts occurred. In 2008, the environmental police monocratically collected signatures from the region’s residents, which served as the basis for making it a criminal offense to live in areas with water sources.

What's new

• This study, which links theoretical and empirical aspects, showed that despite the progress that resulted from the post- 1988 democratic state, there is still considerable opacity with regard to information that should be in the public domain, which makes it difficult to exercise social control over socio-environmental policies.

• Information, accountability and social control are still vague concepts.

• Politically organized society needs to pressure the state permanently so that democratic concepts become a reality.

Contact the author Francisco César Pinto da Fonseca.

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