Articles

Thu 5th May 2005

Participatory Budgets

Our era has been marked by an increasing disbelief in politics. It is necessary to overcome the distance between governors and the governed, to try to go beyond citizens being passive objects of policy and have them become active subjects of political decision-making, and to build a new kind of democracy.

We need to address the way the society is going, whereby the rich get richer and the poor get much poorer. The struggle against social exclusion demands public policies that change the distribution of income and power in SVG, including forms of direct participation by the population in the administration of public affairs. SVG Green Party's vision of social inclusion is centred on the idea that people have the ability to organise themselves to generate jobs and income without depending on the whims of capital.

SVG Green Party will encourage the formation of cooperatives and promote popular organisations that are autonomous and have decision-making powers. We are looking at ways of building an alternative structure of power within the existing society. It is possible for civil society to control the state.

The main areas of priority of public policy should be popular participation, policies to promote social inclusion, and a more efficient and transparent delivery of services to the population. It is possible to apply measures of efficiency and technology, which at the same time promote popular interests. Popular participation has two main aspects, Participatory Budgets (PBs) and Local Councils (LCs).

PB is a process of direct, voluntary and universal democracy, where the population can discuss and decide on public policies and the public budget. The citizens participation is not limited to the act of voting every 5 years; it goes much further, including deciding on controlling key aspects of public administration.

The PB combines direct democracy with representative democracy and develops peoples collective strength and will bring the existing structure of society in to question. It has been functioning and popular in Brazil for 20 years and The United Nations, World Bank, European Union and UNESCO have praised the PB as a truly democratic way to manage society's funds. For the PB to happen the government needs to devolve some of the national budget to a local budget.

How it works

Through a series of regional assemblies the population gets to discuss what the issues are that need urgent attention. Local government departments go to regional meetings to attend to the people directly to enable community's to develop their LCs. The aim is to offer in the regions the kinds of services and activities that are only available in Kingstown. The government would have to do what the LC says are the priorities for their area, as voted for by the people of that area.

The population chooses four priority things from a list. These are things they want done in their community within the PB year. An example list may be housing, education, paving, social services, health, sewers and drains, water supply, economic development, leisure areas, economic development, sports and leisure, street lighting, transport, culture, environmental improvement and creches.

The PB decides where money is invested in a community and has decision-making powers over 100 per cent of local investment budget. People must take part to put their needs at the top of the priority list. People quickly learn that power is something that they can begin to exercise themselves. PBs and LCs politicise people and gets them involved in politics and developing their community. People are educated via these processes and get to learn and use many new skills. This naturally leads to the poorer people of society taking political initiatives that naturally will help redress the imbalance between the rich and the poor. In the PB, citizens participate directly in decision-making and control of the public budget; they are not represented indirectly by other bodies. This in turn leads to greater self-esteem and self-confidence, often amongst the people from the most marginalized and oppressed sections of society. It gets more people involved to vote in the general election too.

The PB supervises the financing and execution of works and assures transparency about who is doing the works, how much they are being paid, and how this relates to the overall budget. Overseeing public works breaks down the cosy relations between public administration and private contractors, and exposes and curtails possibilities of endemic corruption within the present state system. It demystifies the notion that the budget is something technical and out of reach, and only manageable by MPs. The budget is only about what money comes in and where it goes. That is something that people can supervise and control. It is necessary to open up the PB entirely, including personnel costs, public debt, basic services and investments. In this way the population gradually takes charge of public spending and policies. Decisions taken by the population and government need to be well documented, published and available to the population. This enables the population to follow up and oversee the implementation of the works and services decided upon.

The PB must be autonomous from the state. The government participates in the PB, but does not have a vote. The government has to share information, organise the planning process, use its technical information and political staff to analyse the problems and formulate proposals, and be in permanent dialogue with the community's own knowledge and expertise. This means understanding that in this process all of us on the government side and community side are both educators and educated. It means understanding that we are breaking with the traditional authoritarian idea of planning that gives primacy to 'experts', who impose their priorities. Instead we are asserting a new idea of 'democratic horizontal planning', in which technical expertise is indispensable, but goes hand in hand with the knowledge of the people, in a dialectical relationship.

Ivan O'Neal BSc(Hons), MSc, MBA
Leader and co-founder of SVG Green Party.

HOW THE PARTICIPATORY BUDGET WORKS

Mar - apr

Preparatory meetings

In regions, micro-regions, streets, groups of streets and thematic areas

Open to the public

Balance sheet of previous year. Present this year's investment plan. Presentation of rules and criteria for next year's budget. Discussion of priorities

 

mid apr - may

Single round of regional and thematic assemblies

In geographic regions and thematic areas

Open to the public

Vote to choose priorities for next years spending.

Election of councillors to serve on incoming PB council.

Decide number of delegates elected to regional and thematic forums.

Regional assemblies select top 4 priorities from list of 14.

Two full councillors and two substitutes elected for each region and thematic area. Number depends on number of people from each neighbourhood attending this main assembly. 1 per 10 of those present.

May - jul

Regional and thematic forums

Variety of meetings in regions, micro-regions, streets, groups of streets and thematic areas

Some open to the public, in general others for delegates and councillors elected by public

Elections of delegates from neighbourhoods, etc., to regional and thematic delegate forums. Selection of works and services demanded in each thematic area and region and organisation in order of preference.

Government departments provide technical info needed by communities in their discussions. Demands submitted by internet discussed by elected delegates of that region or thematic area. Delegates visit site of demand.

These delegates form the delegate forum for that region and thematic area.

Each community organises its own meetings to discuss and decide the investment it wants in its area, in line with the 4 overall priorities decided at the main assembly.

Before hierarchy of demands is finalised the delegates visit the site of each proposed project to better understand need and feasibility.

mid jul

Municipal assembly

One large city wide meeting

Open to the public

Newly elected councillors take up positions on PB.

Hierarchy of demands delivered to government.

General discussion of budget.

44 councillors from regions and thematic areas. Two reps from government with voice but no vote. The regions deliver to planning department a form with details of each work or service demanded. Thematic areas deliver a single form with priority guidelines.

Jul - sep

Preparing the budget framework

Series of meetings between government departments and PB council.

Involving government staff and elected councillors.

Government prepares draft budget proposal.

PB council discusses, alters and finalises budget proposal. Final budget proposal sent to government for approval. Government does not adjust it.

Planning department looks at demands and priorities for regions and thematic areas and draws up budget framework. Government departments draw up departmental spending plans on basis of initial budget framework. Planning department adjusts departmental plans to ensure they reflect priorities decided by population, then sends to PB council. Elected councillors have the power to change any part or all of budget if they believe it better reflects population's priorities.

Oct - dec

Preparing the investment plan.

Series of meetings in government, regions and thematic areas

Involving government staff, public and elected delegates.

Government prepares draft investment and service plan.

Regions and thematic areas discuss proposed investment plan. Regional and thematic delegates forum discuss and decide final investment plan, which is then approved by PB council.

This is drawn up on the basis of the agreed budget proposal and the various weighting criteria.

Planning department takes part in these discussions.

Nov - jan

Discussing and changing the rules.

Series of meetings regions and thematic areas, then in PB council.

Open to public then just PB council.

Decentralised meetings in neighbourhoods to discuss and propose changes to the way the PB operates. PB council considers proposals and decides any rule change for the next PB cycle.

 

 

< Back to Articles