by Matheus A. Botelho and Denise Cardozo

Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

In recent years, political scientists, public policy managers, and other bureaucrats at different levels dealt with incredibly contradictory processes in the formulation of public policies, especially in the federal government.

The government of Jair Messias Bolsonaro (2019-2022) reversed the logic of formulation and implementation of public policies that seemed to have been sedimented in recent decades, much of this due to the consolidation of democratic institutions after the enactment of the Federal Constitution of 1988, which solidified three assumptions for organizing the political and social sphere in Brazil: overcoming military authoritarianism by expanding social participation and electoral and party processes, expansion of political and social rights, in addition to establishing the division between the three powers and check mechanisms and balances (Avritzer, 2020).

We highlight another position regarding the concept and purpose of public policies by Saraiva (2006, p. 27), which he defines as “a flow of public decisions, aimed at maintaining social balance or introducing imbalances aimed at modifying this reality”. Saraiva’s definition seems more connected to the agreement established by the 1988 federal constitution and Latin American constitutionalism, particularly when establishing the “fundamental objectives of the republic”, in its art. 3, called by many jurists as a transforming clause (Bercovici, 2013).

Saraiva’s position seems to us to be very connected with the normative and axiological indications of the 1988 federal constitution. Maria Paula Dallari Bucci reminds us that the issue of public policies gained space in Brazil from the 1990s onwards, “aspiring to settle the social debt, for the realization of social rights, with the ambitious and generous treatment given to it by the Federal Constitution of 1988” (2021, p. 25).

What we assume for our considerations below, about the government of Jair Bolsonaro, is that, not always, or rarely, the decision-making agents or policy implementers were those who promoted alternatives to social problems that, in one way or another, enter the agenda-setting of the media, and also of the government ( policy agenda-setting ) since the various instances of the federal government were occupied by military personnel from the three armed forces, disproportionately, preferred to the detriment of scientists, specialists in public policies, technicians and so on. (Capella and Brasil, 2015; Avritzer, 2020).

Usually, formulators of alternatives, known as policy communities or members of the policy subsystem, make up ministerial offices, non-governmental organizations, unions, and universities, among other organizations, and participate in the political process in different ways (Capella and Brasil, 2015), however, what we observe during the years of government was the removal of these formulators of alternatives, whether in command positions [1]in different spheres of government, or the impracticability of the functioning of national councils for the formulation, evaluation, and social control of public policies [2].

The attempt by the then government was responsible for making it impossible for a dozen of these councils to function, including the Council to Combat Sexual Violence against Children and Adolescents, the Council for the Elderly, the Council to Combat LGBT+ Discrimination, among many others [3].

Several factors lead us to believe that in recent years the federal government has adopted an irrational logic and conditions contrary to the evidence, which seems to us to be the path to be adopted in consolidated democracies. The allocation of resources without technical criteria with what was called the “Secret Budget” generated budget disparities between different states and municipalities, the most urgent needs of each location or region were left aside to the detriment of the interests of parliamentarians according to its influence in the political field, indicating, therefore, that the irrationality and paradoxes in the decision-making process in public policies during the government of Jair Bolsonaro did not come only from the presidency of the republic and its ministerial team. The clientelistic logic is resumed as a political grammar at the federal level – if one day it ceased to be -, in the relationships established by members of the national congress and their respective voters, to the detriment of universalist procedures (Nunes, 2019).

In addition, the inhumanity in the conduct of governance at the federal level over the Covid-19 pandemic also points to the conduct in the opposite direction to scientific evidence, contrary to social indicators and the recommendations of experts at that time.

The reconstruction of the Democratic State of Law must be guided by a coalition between bureaucracy and politics ( politics ), uniting technique to political processes in the conduct of policies ( policy ) based on evidence, standardizing it whenever possible, since the concept of evidence is still not a consensus in the literature on the subject, therefore, it is necessary to deepen this debate (Pinheiro, 2020), without, however, fooling ourselves by imagining that the transposition of evidence to the normative sphere can solve problems since positive law does not is enough to improve decision-making processes in public policies, especially in implementation and in its conduction by bureaucracy at street level (Lotta, 2023)

The democratic setback in the Bolsonaro government was, in addition to threats to institutions, the removal of policies communities and the policy networks of decision-making processes in the formulation, evaluation, and social control of public policies, as already mentioned. This withdrawal, sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly, and radically [4], as in the extinction of FUNAI’s regional instances, which resulted in major losses in the implementation of policies.

The intersection between technique and politics, with bureaucrats in control of legality and elected officials in control of legitimacy, may be able to resume the interrupted construction (Furtado, 1992) and readjust the institutional order that was slowly consolidated between the promulgation of the Constitution, in 1988, and the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.

We reached the end of our contribution with three propositions, composing a premise to continue this debate on the democratic setbacks in the formulation, implementation, evaluation, and social control of public policies in the government of Jair Bolsonaro, between 2019 and 2022:

  1. Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2019 implied the adoption of an agenda of anti-scientific measures with little or no support in evidence;

  2. As a result of the first premise, experts, scientists, bureaucrats, and policy networks have naturally withdrawn or been withdrawn by the government from decision-making and social control;

  3. Finally, these measures led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Brazilians during the Covid-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022, a reduction in vaccination coverage rates for other diseases, the return of Brazil to the United Nations hunger map, the expansion of social inequalities, in addition to the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a series of adopted policies.

What we deduce is that the legal field and/or positive law must be able to curb the implementation of public policies that are out of line with the real needs of the population and that have dubious effectiveness or results, using it as a mechanism of fiscal responsibility, overcoming the stigma of fiscal responsiveness with austerity, but associating it with responsibility for the quality of public spending. This is the true need for intervention and judicial control of public policies.


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[1]As in the case of the resignation of Fernando Galvão from the presidency of the National Institute for Space Research, INPE, after disclosure by the agency about the rampant increase of approximately 88% of illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

[2]Decree 9,759, of April 16, 2019, reformulated the operating logic of federal government councils and collective deliberation bodies. The decree was revoked on January 1, 2023, by President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva.




* Matheus A. Botelho has a MA and is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Federal University of São Carlos (PPGPOL/UFSCar).
** Denise Cardozo has a MA in Political Science from the Federal University of São Carlos (PPGPOL/UFSCar).

Matheus A. Botelho and Denise Cardozo (2023) "Paradoxes of the decision-making process in public policies in the government of Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022)". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Editor's ChoicenameISSN 2701-4924nameVol. 3 Num. 1. available at:, accessed on: July 18, 2024.