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3. Contemporary issues in the government and administration of Latin American mega-cities

Emerging imperatives for the 1990s
Structures of city government
Structures of government in Latin America's major cities

Peter Ward


The purpose of this chapter is to go some way towards redressing an imbalance that exists in the current literature on mega-cities. The focus here is upon how mega-cities are administered and governed. All too often structures of city governance are taken as given or are ignored altogether. Scholars who have analysed mega-cities have usually done so through one or more of several optics. First, they have looked at the role of a mega-city within the global economy, usually from the point of view of its importance as a centre of production, control, or finance. Prime examples of this work are Friedmann and Wolff's (1982) originating hypothesis on "world cities" and, more recently, Sassen's (1991) work on New York, London, and Tokyo. A second approach has been to examine the restructuring of these cities, especially the development of so-called "control" functions to replace their earlier production role (O'Neill and Moss, 1991; Vogel, 1993). Some authors have also begun to look at the consequences of restructuring upon poverty and social organization within their urban areas (Sassen, 1991; Fainstein et al., 1992; Mollenkopf and Castells, 1991). A third focus has been to consider the extent to which these cities are becoming more or less similar over time. Particularly relevant here is whether cities in less developed countries, for example São Paulo and Mexico City, are changing physically and culturally in ways similar to their counterparts in advanced capitalist countries. Finally, the perspective adopted by most Latin American researchers during the past two decades has been more concerned with systematic aspects of a particular city's development (housing, health care, environmental problems, social movements, etc.), with little interest generally shown in the city's role in the global economy.

Whichever focus has been used to look at mega-cities, insufficient consideration has been given to the political-administrative structures through which such cities are governed and managed. In the rush to examine their economic bases and international roles, fundamental questions about their forms of administration and their govern ability have rarely been considered in a comparative perspective. How cities are governed tells us much about the nature of power relations and about the opportunities for citizen involvement in the management of the city.

Several important dimensions of city governance should be considered. First, what is the basis of legitimacy of the main government officers? Are they appointed or elected? If elected, is this according to partisan or nonpartisan criteria? As I will demonstrate below, some Latin American city governments are constructed on the basis of political party allegiance, whereas others are based on loyalty to individual politicians. The United States has a strong tradition of nonpartisanship in local government (Stanyer, 1976), particularly since the demise of traditional "machine politics" (Pohlmann, 1993). In the United Kingdom, most voters choose their councillors according to the political party each represents; they know or care little about the person they are electing. Thus, the legitimacy of government varies, as does the form of rationality which will govern an individual's behaviour once in office. Whether officers and councillors are appointed or elected, and how they are elected, may determine how they will perform, and will also affect the form of their expertise, their competence, and even their honesty or "softness" (Wade, 1989). The point here is that the structure of a city administration, and the terms under which it is expected to operate, help to shape the form of citizen involvement in city affairs.

A second issue relates to how activities and power are best organized when the urban area spreads into the jurisdiction of neighbouring authorities. This is almost uniformly the case for the mega cities considered in this volume, and is a feature of most large cities throughout the region. Most metropolitan areas in Latin America embrace a number of different administrative units, each of which is vested with a different local authority. These may include areas with special federal jurisdictions (such as the Federal Capital of Buenos Aires and Mexico City's Federal District), states and counties (for example, the Provinces of Buenos Aires and Lima, or the State Government of São Paulo), urban authorities (usually municipalities or their equivalent), and so on. The legitimacy and rationale of each will vary, and careful ordering and clarification of the various "tiers" of authority is required if metropolitan development is to be coordinated in a meaningful way. Equally important is that the nature of intergovernmental relations between one level of authority and another needs to be properly understood.

Related to the issue of administrative organization is a third consideration: what functions should each tier of administration perform (land-use planning, infrastructural development, transportation, social services, service provision, security, cleansing, etc.)? Specifically, how can these functions be "nested" hierarchically so as to maximize efficiency, equity, access, or whatever local goals happen to be?

A final dimension of analysis is to identify the opportunities for local self-governance. To what extent do the citizens of Latin America's mega-cities mobilize politically and how far are they empowered to take genuine responsibility for local issues? What is the dominant ideology governing citizenship in each city and how has this ideology been "constructed"? There are two important considerations here. First, the institutional structures whereby citizens are represented representational democracy; second, the structures and channels through which citizens participate in city governance participational democracy.

These key features of city administration and governance have been neglected in the Latin American literature and have rarely been examined in comparative perspective. Too often government structures have been considered to have evolved independently, responding only to local circumstances. From the local perspective there seems to be little point to comparison. Yet these structures demand more systematic study, since they are at the heart of what determines whether large cities will be decent places in which to live. For Latin American governments this means coming to terms with new sets of responsibilities which, all too often, are alien to them. This is one reason why so many key concepts in the public administration field, for example "devolution," "empowerment," and "accountability," cannot easily be expressed in either Spanish or Portuguese.

Emerging imperatives for the 1990s

Recent political changes, both in Latin America and beyond, demand that we examine structures of urban governance and administration. First, the democratization process in Latin America has required that governments take a fresh look at the way in which cities are managed. Also, the growing disenchantment that many Latin American populations feel towards their political leaders has led to a resurgence of interest in popular participation. This feeling has encouraged new ways of thinking about urban government. As democracy has been extended to formerly authoritarian or one-party regimes, new institutional forms have had to be created. Traditional state-society relations, whether patrimonial, corporatist, or dominated by party political machines, have had to be recast. Representational democracy has also invoked a need to consider how civic structures of participation can be created that will change the political culture of dependency, encourage the involvement of heterogenous socio-economic groups in developing greater consensus in government, and, where partisan politics is an important determinant of who gets elected, achieve a balance in accommodating general citizen needs with a partisan agenda.

A second political shift is towards greater decentralization and devolution. This process appears to be emerging strongly in a number of less developed countries and has found growing support among international agencies such as the World Bank (Silverman, 1991; Jones and Ward, 1994). The willingness of national governments to embrace decentralization and administrative reorganization has been encouraged by the austerity measures introduced during the 1980s (Rodríguez and Ward, 1992, 1994; Rodríguez, 1996). Throughout Latin America, urban authorities have had to confront cuts in public expenditure and often growing pressure to privatize public utilities. Economic restructuring and political reform have required local authorities to do more with less. As a consequence, greater fiscal responsibility is being placed at the local level and municipal and state governments are required to raise more of their own revenues. Not surprisingly, people have become more concerned about how their local taxes are spent.

Third, many countries are introducing greater transparency to city budgeting and increasing the efficiency with which urban services are delivered. This involves more technocratic forms of management but also more devolution and empowerment; city administrators today recognize the political benefits of accounting more openly to those they serve. Local groups, often poorly organized and overtly radical in the past, now demonstrate greater realism and pragmatism. They are seeking fewer grandiose changes and a "qualitatively new effect in power relations" (Castells, 1977). They now want greater opportunities for self-government, so that they can defend their local rights and can participate in the improvement of their neighbourhoods (Castells, 1983; Assies, 1994). New social movements are better led and more adept at winning favours from the bureaucracy. Non-government organizations, too, have demonstrated greater pragmatism and efficacy in their relations with local authorities and in their support for social movements and local communities.

These changes in the political environment should encourage us to reflect analytically upon past experiences and to think imaginatively about which structures of city administration and governance within a democratic system appear to work best. They also require us to examine how existing structures might best be modified in order to take account of the new experiences and imperatives that have emerged during the early 1990s.

Structures of city government

Before turning to the analysis of mega-city government structures in Latin America, it is interesting to examine the structures of local government in the United States and in the United Kingdom. There are important differences between the two systems, particularly in the role party politics plays in electoral competition for office. In the United States, most city elections are non-partisan; people elect their councillors and mayors without consideration of whether they are Republican or Democrat. In the United Kingdom, the opposite is true; voters choose between candidates almost entirely on the basis of their declared party affiliation. This means that national political parties dominate local government much more in the United Kingdom than in the United States.

City government in the United States

In the United States, four clear premises underpin local government. First, the people elect their representatives. Second, there is a strong system of checks and balances which protects city government from excessive interference by federal and state administrations. Third, cities have considerable autonomy over many of their own affairs, administering their own taxes, setting their own utility charges, running primary and secondary education, policing themselves, and operating their own planning departments. Finally, most local authorities have relatively small populations and may cover only a part or a suburb of a larger urban tract. Most large urban areas contain a number of city governments. 1

Within each city, the administrative structure normally fits one of the three basic models depicted in figure 3.1. In each case practices vary for the election of council members: in some cases council members represent individual districts of a city; elsewhere they may be elected from across the whole city. Some cities have a mixture of both, with key council positions (the mayor, for example) being elected by the whole city electorate.

Strong mayor- weak council: In cities such as Denver and Houston, the mayor has "strong" powers particularly over the selection of key officials (police chief, city attorney, treasurer, and department heads at city hall). These are important posts because they deal with sensitive areas such as personal security, civil rights, and financial management, which will determine whether the mayor is re-elected. The council is highly constrained in the extent to which it can overturn the mayor's decisions.

Weak mayor - strong council: In Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the mayor has much less power. The council hires and fires officials by majority vote and the mayor rarely has the right to veto a council decision. Sometimes, key officials are popularly elected, canvassing on the basis of their own mandate, independently of the council or mayor.

The city manager: Cities such as Austin or Dallas are run more like business enterprises. The elected council hires a city manager, who appoints the city's principal officers and carries full responsibility for running the city's affairs. The manager is accountable to the council and can be dismissed only by majority (or, in some places, by a two-thirds majority) vote. The city has a mayor, who often presides over council meetings, but day-to-day decisions are made by the manager. This structure is becoming increasingly common in the United States, particularly in cities with less than 250,000 inhabitants, where it predominates. Among the larger cities, around half have managers and of the largest ten cities, four have managers.

Figure 3.1 Forms of city administration in the United States (Source: Stanyer, 1976)

Figure 3.2 The United Kingdom "parliamentary" council structure

City government in the United Kingdom

Figure 3.2 shows that British cities are administered by councils. Councillors are elected as representatives of political parties, the vast majority from the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democratic parties. The largest party in the council determines policy; if there is no outright majority a coalition between parties is necessary. This "parliamentary" system is serviced by a hierarchy of civil service officers whose role it is to implement policy. Professional, non-partisan officials are appointed by the council and continue in post even when the council changes. These officials service all council committees and run the city on a daily basis. The key power broker is not the mayor, who presides over the council and whose duties are largely ceremonial, but the council leader. The latter is elected from among the councillors of the majority party. Councils exercise a range of powers at the borough or city level, but are bound by the national laws laid down by Parliament.

Until the 1980s, metropolitan councils existed in London and six other conurbations to manage city-wide issues such as strategic planning and public transport.2 They were abolished by the Thatcher government, which wished to break the Labour Party's hold over most of these councils. At that time most metropolitan government policies were almost diametrically opposed to those of the national government.

The principal weakness of local government in Britain is that it is so dependent on central government for its finance. Approximately 70 per cent of local government funding comes from central grants. In addition, the government currently places a series of controls over spending by local authorities. With councils being elected on the basis of political party affiliation, local policy hardly differs from area to area. When local priorities differ from national policy, local government is likely to come under attack.

This description of local government in the United States and Britain offers six basic principles by which metropolitan areas in Latin America might be administered. First, urban governments should be democratic. Whatever the administrative and management structure adopted, those serving in a policymaking capacity should be elected. There is no need for the officers in charge of implementing policy to be elected, provided that they are responsible and accountable to the council. Second, city government procedures and decisions should be transparent and all officers and councillors should be publicly accountable. Third, one authority should exist with responsibility for the whole of the city. Such a body should have power over certain metropolitan wide concerns such as strategic planning, land-use zoning, transport policy, and responsibility for major infrastructure programmes and services. Fourth, all other responsibilities should be decentralized to lower-level bodies. Fifth, public participation should be maximized and, wherever possible, power should be devolved to local communities and neighbourhoods. Finally, metropolitan authorities should have considerable fiscal autonomy. This is important if mandated authorities are to act without interference from higher levels of government.

Structures of government in Latin America's major cities

The following discussion examines the principal features of government structure and administrative practice in Latin America's major cities and judges them against the above-mentioned criteria. The discussion focuses on the four existing mega-cities, as well as drawing upon the experience of smaller capital cities such as Lima, Caracas, Bogotá, and Santiago.

1 The lack of a metropolitan authority

No major city in Latin America has a single authority which administers the whole urban area. Most cities are divided between a number of political-administrative units, and, although one municipality may be dominant, none has much wish or incentive to collaborate. This pattern is particularly marked in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, which consists of 39 separate municipalities, and in Greater Santiago, which is made up of 34 separate communes. Whereas São Paulo developed this structure by chance, failing to reform the administrative structure as the metropolitan area grew and absorbed one contiguous municipality after another, Santiago made a conscious decision to adopt it. An administrative reform in 1982 "balkanized" administration in Santiago, giving considerable responsibility to local government over a wide range of municipal matters.

If these two cities represent the extreme in terms of the number of municipal units, several other cities have similar structures. Rio de Janeiro consists of 13 separate municipalities, Buenos Aires has 20 local government units, and Mexico City falls under the jurisdiction both of the 16 delegated areas of the Federal District and of 27 municipalities. The exception is Lima, which does have the equivalent of a metropolitan government because the Province of Lima corresponds broadly with the mega-city's built-up area and is located within the a single state, the Department of Lima.

What makes administration particularly complicated is that many of these municipalities are themselves managed by separate higher level administrative units. Mexico City is divided administratively between the Federal District and the State of Mexico. Administration in Buenos Aires is split between the Federal Capital and the surrounding State of Buenos Aires, the latter having its capital based in La Plata. Administration in Bogotá is split between the Federal Capital and the Department of Cundinamarca, and local government in Caracas between the Federal District and the State of Miranda. Indeed, among the largest eight cities of the region, only Lima, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo fall within a single second-tier authority (i.e. a state or a province).3

The division of authority between different second-tier authorities often causes conflict. In Mexico City, for example, the governor of the State of Mexico may be drawn from a different political party, or from a different faction of the same party, from the presidential nominee who runs the Federal District. As a result, there is minimal integration between agencies in the State of Mexico (responsible to the governor) and those of the Federal District (responsible to the regente or mayor). For example, until recently the metro system operated only in the Federal District; transportation in the State of Mexico was someone else's problem! In Buenos Aires, the national government provides electricity, water, and gas in the Federal Capital but the Province of Buenos Aires is responsible for infrastructure in the rest of the city (Pírez, 1993; see also chapter 6).

The multiplicity of municipal governments combined with different second-tier authorities makes coordinated action across the metropolitan area very difficult. In so far as there is any form of coordination it comes from three sources. The first is that one form of authority in most of these cities is much more powerful than the rest. For example, in Buenos Aires the administration of the Federal Capital (which contains 27 per cent of the total city population) has far greater influence with central government than the individual municipalities of the Province of Buenos Aires. The intendente of the Federal Capital holds a national cabinet post and formally runs the "municipality" on behalf of the central government. Similarly, in Mexico, the mayor of the Federal District holds a cabinet position and has much more political clout than the governor of the State of Mexico, let alone the mayors of the individual municipalities within the State.

A second source of coordination, at least in theory, comes from the consultative bodies which have been established in all four mega-cities to improve communication between the different administrative units. In practice, however, these bodies achieve little because they threaten existing power structures within each administrative area. As a result, they are little more than "letterhead" bodies with little in the way of effective power.

Finally, specific functions are occasionally managed at a metropolitan level because they are administered by larger-scale government agencies, although, as will be described below, these are often undergoing privatization. Thus, electricity provision for the whole of Mexico City is run by a federal agency. In Lima, the whole metropolitan area is supplied with water and electricity by two public companies (SEDAPAL and ElectroLima respectively). In Bogotá, a different mechanism operates: water services in some neighbouring municipalities are run under contract by the Bogotá water and sewerage company; elsewhere the company sells water in bulk to the municipality. Sometimes, too, utilities may be provided by a single private company, as is the case with CHILECTRA, which provides electricity to the whole of Santiago. In Buenos Aires, two private telephone companies compete for business across the metropolitan area.

2 Strong mayors and weak councils

A common feature of local government in most large Latin American cities is the power of the executive relative to the legislature. Much of the problem relates to the weakness of the councils. Unlike some of the mayors, who sometimes hold national cabinet office and often have considerable personal influence, the councils are very weak.

Frequently, councils have only nominal powers. In the Federal District of Mexico, although recent reforms have increased the role of the Asamblea de Representantes (Representative Assembly) from a consultative to that of a legislative body it remains relatively weak. In the Federal Capital of Argentina, the Consejo Deliberante (Deliberating Council) performs a similarly restricted role. In both cities, the mayor is the dominant actor and is appointed by the national president. Elsewhere councils have more responsibility but have few real controls over the power of the mayor. The mayor appoints the key department heads, and if the council has committees to monitor their actions, they do little more than act as public "watchdogs." Whether it is a municipal president in relation to the cabildo in Mexican municipalities in the State of Mexico, the prefeito in relation to the Câmara de Vereadores in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, or the mayor before the Deliberating Councils in the municipalities of the Province of Buenos Aires, it is the mayor who holds most of the reins of power.

Only in Santiago de Chile do the municipal councils wield real power. Administration in the city is decentralized and each of the 34 communes directly elects a council for four years. A member of the council is elected as mayor, unless a single councillor has managed to obtain more than 35 per cent of the electoral vote, in which case he or she is appointed automatically. The mayor presides over the council but has limited powers to appoint executive officers. Local officials are civil servants, and even department heads continue from one administration to the next. This structure weakens the power of the mayor relative to the council and to the executive.

3 The dominant role of partisanship

Unlike the United States, where it is the individual rather than any allegiance to a political group that matters, in Latin America party membership is critical. It is certainly much more important than a candidate's individual qualities or his or her ability to do the job. This is clearly the case where higher political authorities appoint the chief executive, as in the Federal District of Mexico.

Of course, nomination by the party is not inevitable. In Brazil, recent elections seem to have reduced the power of the political parties. Indeed, while some candidates have won power through their allegiance to a particular party (the case in 1988 of Luiza Erundina's election for the Workers" Party in São Paulo being a good example), individual qualities appear to count more. Generally, indeed, party allegiance seems to be fickle and electors are not surprised to find candidates switching parties between elections, or forming splinter groups in loose coalitions. Leonel Brizola is perhaps the classic case of such behaviour. He has twice been elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro and once governor of the State, on each occasion representing a small minority party in coalition with other small parties.

Moreover, as local democracy spreads and electorates become more discerning, political bosses will need to select candidates for office who have some personal credibility and capacity to carry out the job. Also, the growing sense of citizenship and demands for transparency and accountability in Latin American cities are likely to intensify the emerging tension between partybased policy-making and the need to develop sound administrative practices that are less coloured by partisan considerations.4 An individual's qualities, together with a proven capacity to govern effectively and to develop some level of consensus among hetereogenous social, economic, and political groups, will be crucial in getting that individual or party reselected power. While political parties may be expected increasingly to develop specific urban policy platforms and manifestos at election time, and while party affiliation is likely to continue to be an important determinant in elections and appointment to public office throughout Latin America, overt partisanship in the actual practice of city governance is likely to be eschewed, and is certainly in decline.

4 Overlapping, not interlocking bureaucracies

One of the principal impediments to effective administration in Latin American cities is the lack of an overall planning authority to coordinate the functions of different sector agencies (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992; Ward, 1990). This is particularly important in so far as there is sometimes a multiplicity of agencies with competing or parallel responsibilities. This problem is aggravated by the way that the individual agencies ignore one another's needs and programmes and, at worst, actually compete with one another. At times, strong rivalries emerge between departments which seek to develop their programmes in maverick fashion. Where decentralized organizations form an important element of national and municipal government, they tend to act independently and make little effort to collaborate (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992). In Bogotá, ICT, the now-defunct national housing agency, frequently built homes in areas that the local planning and servicing agencies did not want developed. The housing agency was forced to develop cheap land in the periphery of the city even though the public utilities did not want to provide infrastructure in such areas. In one notorious instance, a housing estate went without water for three years when the municipal company refused to supply it (Gilbert and Ward, 1985).

5 Privatization or municipalization?

One way of cutting through public inefficiency is to privatize state agencies. Privatization also has other virtues. It releases the public sector from the responsibility of investing in expensive infrastructure and of replacing and maintaining deteriorating service networks. It also offers governments a means of cutting their budget deficits by bringing in windfall revenues. For these reasons, privatization is flavour of the decade in Latin America and among the international development banks (Roth, 1987; World Bank, 1994). Privatization may be achieved in degrees, ranging from contracting out, through private supplements, to full privatization (Pohlmann, 1993: 284-5).

Several mega-cities have privatized or are in the process of privatizing public utilities. In Buenos Aires, the gas company has been sold off, electricity provision and telephones are in private hands, water and sanitation have been privatized through concessions, and even the metro and the suburban railways are candidates for sale. In Lima, the telephone company has been sold off and steps are being taken to reprivatize the water and electricity companies (supported by a US$300 million loan from the World Bank). In Caracas, the electricity and telephone companies are privately run. And in Santiago, the provision of electricity, telephones, and cleaning is now in private hands, although water and the metro are still the responsibility of public companies.

Progress towards the privatization of public services has been much slower in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo; indeed, the tendency is almost in the other direction. In Rio de Janeiro, the electricity and telephone companies have recently reverted to public ownership. In Mexico City, despite active privatization at the national level, there has been little divestment of public services. Garbage collection and street cleaning are being opened up to private competition and the telephone system has been privatized. To date, however, no moves have been made to sell off the major public utilities or the metro. One of the city's largest and most important municipalities privatized garbage collection in 1993, only to revoke the concession four months later owing to public dissatisfaction with the private service. One of the few major successes of the Workers' Party administration in São Paulo was its takeover of the private transport system in 1991 (Jacobi, 1995: 158). Governments in these three cities are subcontracting some activities to the private sector, but they are reluctant to embrace full privatization.

6 Fiscal responsibility: Doing more with less

All mega-cities depend heavily upon transfers of funds from central government and/or from state government. Sometimes, these transfers constitute the lion's share of recurrent expenditure. In addition, urban administrations may seek federal government assistance for special projects, particularly capital investment programmes for urban infrastructure. A common feature of Latin American local finance, therefore, is its heavy dependence upon central government.

In addition, urban governments seek major loans from institutions such as the World Bank, although this may dramatically raise their indebtedness and can sometimes undermine the city budget. In Bogotá, for example, major infrastructural improvements undertaken during the 1980s raised the proportion of recurrent expenditure allocated to debt servicing from 14 per cent to 41 per cent between 1980 and 1990 (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992). In 1990, the city was running a deficit almost half of its annual recurrent expenditure. The incoming administration to São Paulo in 1988 found that it faced a billion-dollar external debt requiring a total overhaul of the city's finances.

Cities have different sources of independent local revenues: fees, taxes on production, fines and surcharges, consumption charges, property and title transfer taxes, and so on. Usually the most important source of local revenue is taxation of local property. Of course, revenues depend upon the quality, coverage, and regular updating of the property cadaster and most major cities are busy improving their cadasters. Often, indeed, they are privatizing or subcontracting property registration and assessment levies, one way of depoliticizing the collection process.

Faced by recurrent deficits and mounting debts, many governments have made a concerted effort to increase their revenues. While locally generated income still represents a small proportion of total income, many local authorities have managed to increase their local tax yield. They have raised local property taxes, transfers and sales taxes, taxes or charges on regulatory permissions authorized, and other taxes. For the first time in many years there are signs of a political will to introduce realistic levels of taxation and an improving capacity to administer tax collection.

Every government in Latin America now recognizes the need to cut expenditure and to reduce subsidies. Most governments are reducing subsidies on public transport, infrastructure, and services. Private bus companies are receiving fewer subsidies and even public transport companies are being forced to raise fares. In Mexico, the cost of travelling on the metro and the city-run bus system has risen progressively in recent years, although both still remain heavily subsidized. Throughout Latin America charges for water and electricity are increasingly set to cover the full cost of the service. In Santiago, charges for electricity are so high that disconnection for non-payment is common in low-income settlements. Elsewhere, poorer households are protected through subsidies, the income being recovered either through imposing higher charges on the rich (as in Bogotá) or through general taxation.

7 Marginalization of the public from mega-city governance

Public participation in government is very limited in Latin America. The extreme is reached in Mexico City, where the population of the Federal District is effectively disenfranchised (Ward, 1990). As noted above, the mayor (regente) of Mexico City is appointed by the national president and in turn selects the local mayors who head the sixteen delegaciones. Only recently have the citizens of the Federal District been given the right to elect any representatives; they now vote for the Representative Assembly, formerly a consultative body which now has some legislative powers, and which will in effect become a local congress in 1997. At least the Mexican government has announced reforms in the Federal District; the next mayor will be appointed by the president from among the members of the majority party in the elected Representative Assembly.

Fortunately, in most other major cities, both the principal executive and the legislature are elected. Even here, however, participational democracy is severely constrained by the limited effective powers of the local authority. Several cities have some sort of arrangement for local sub-councils but these are weakly linked to the centre. Residents' associations are weak and have little impact on decision-making. There is little clear understanding about how to move from a structure of active social movements and non-government organizations to one of citizen participation in the process of government. To date, there has been a distinct reluctance to empower citizens in Latin America's mega-cities.


None of the six principles of good administration listed earlier (pp. 61-2) is met in any of the Latin American cases analysed here. The city which comes nearest to matching these principles is Santiago de Chile, which has developed democratic, decentralized, and autonomous municipal authorities. It lacks a metropolitan tier of authority, but this is less problematic given that so many basic services are run privately. Its main problem is the lack of resources available to the communes containing large numbers of poor people.

Nevertheless, most mega-cities are wrestling positively with the issues of more effective public administration and more democratic and open government. Today, there is greater transparency and accountability, and more governments are beginning to balance their books. Invariably, however, they remain saddled with cumbersome bureaucracies, which lack any real coordination between the different administrative levels and jurisdictions. Most large Latin American cities clearly need greater financial and political autonomy. They need greater freedom from interference by higher levels of government so that they can get on with doing the job of running the city. If the party and executive do not comply with their electoral mandate, then they should lose office. There is also a need to create a metropolitan-level authority with responsibility for strategic functions such as physical and economic planning, transportation, and primary service provision. Such a body would resemble the former metropolitan councils in Britain. The Thatcher government abolished these councils because they were too independent. The existence of an elected authority exercising autonomy and implementing policy not of its liking was anathema to Conservative central government. However, in my view, it is precisely that level of vision and control that is required if Latin American cities are to develop in a more ordered and democratic way.

Clearly, metropolitan governments should be under the control of political parties. The non-partisan city-manager arrangement, so common in the United States, would not work in Latin America. City governments in Latin America will do best if they embrace party politics, rather than be excluded from them. Once elected, however, party representatives must demonstrate even-handedness in the disbursement of resources and eschew blatant partisanship. A clear separation must be maintained between party and government if cities are to be governed successfully.

Finally, the question of city size as an independent variable is questioned. This chapter has dealt exclusively with seven city cases, only four of which reach the size threshold of "mega-cities." It is necessary to ask whether these mega-cities confront challenges and issues that are fundamentally different from those faced by smaller metropolitan areas or even middle-sized cities. The short answer is no. Although mega-cities are more complex and invariably transcend several jurisdictions, the challenge is in essence the same: how to administer urban space in a way that is efficient, participatory, accountable, and democratic. For the reasons outlined at the beginning of this essay, cities of all sizes are beginning to confront these challenges. Overcoming these problems is a major problem everywhere, not just in the giant cities.


I am grateful to Luis Ainstein, Henry Dietz, Oscar Figueroa, Alan Gilbert, Milton Santos, Martim Smolka, Hamilton Tolosa, and Vilma Faria for their help in preparing the case study materials upon which this discussion is based. Each was asked to complete a template about "their" mega-city covering: political-administrative organization; bases of governmental legitimacy; government structure; principal activities undertaken by various levels of government; trends towards privatization; city financial arrangements and revenue-sharing; and so on. Maria Elena Ducci and Manuel Perló are also thanked for kindly providing additional information about Santiago and Mexico City respectively, and Terrell Blodgett for his insights on the operation of city governments in the United States.


1. This gives residents in those sub-areas (also called cities") considerable local autonomy. Its weakness is that it favours the creation and maintenance of affluent sub-units and discriminates against those that are poor. It may lead to a "balkanization" of the larger urban area, dividing the population into homogeneous areas according to income.

2. London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, and Tyneside.

3. Even Rio used to be divided into two separate states, Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro (see chapter 9).

4. As was clearly demonstrated in São Paulo by the Workers' Party's attempts to influence the direction of the Luiza Erundina administration (Jacobi, 1995).

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