Dario Runtic, NALAS Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe
This practice is an example of a contemporary participatory budgeting process that directly involves citizens in the decision-making process, improves communication and builds trust between policy actors and citizens, eliminates sectoral disparities and encourages citizens to take an active role in decision-making processes in society. The process involves local decision-makers, town services and citizens in a transparent, open process aimed at effective management of limited resources, increased accountability and transparency of local governments.
The main goals of the practice are to institutionalize harmonized development of urban and rural settlements, improve quality of life of inhabitants and reduce perceived disparities between urban and rural settlements.
The City of Pazin is located at the heart of the peninsula of Istria. The County of Istria covers the whole peninsula and the seat of the county is in Pazin. The City of Pazin has a total of 8,638 inhabitants equally divided between an urban settlement of 4,386 inhabitants and 17 rural settlements of 4,252 inhabitants dispersed among 135km2 of total area.
Due to its status of the seat of the county, the City of Pazin has broader competencies than other towns with a larger number of inhabitants which do not have such status or status of a large city (e.g. construction permitting, management of all public roads, etc.). These additional competencies were decentralized from higher level government onto select local and regional governments. Temporary funding was provided for construction permitting and limited funding is allocated for road management. These competencies therefore put additional strain on the town’s resources, which in turn caused frustration and mistrust when the small municipal budget couldn’t meet all expectations.
The City of Pazin therefore decided to directly involve citizens in the 2014 budgeting process and carried on with the practice ever since. Citizens participate in a structured process to submit investments proposals to the city administration which should be carried out the following year. Citizens also participate in sectoral discussions to address any sectoral disparities or issues in sectoral policies in the area of social welfare and health, economy and tourism, culture and tourism, education and sport. This is done through a participatory budgeting process, a democratic deliberative and decision-making process, which enables citizens to directly propose, discuss and prioritize budgetary spending. Most importantly, the process empowers the citizens by conducting an open forum in each rural settlement and providing them the right to vote which citizens’ investment proposals will become part of the towns budget and executed during the following fiscal year. The process further motivates citizens to closely monitor the actual implementation of the city budget and broader policies in the long run.
The process contributes to the targeted and efficient spending of available financial resources, by investing in the real pressing needs of the citizens, decided by the citizens. Each neighborhood was allocated a lump-sum funding for investment priorities depending on the size of a neighborhood. Additionally, sectoral discussions were used to present draft sectoral policies to the citizens and collect their feedback on the policies and priority spending within the sector. The implementation of citizens’ investment proposals raises the quality of life and work in local communities, which indirectly results in economic development, employment increase and reduction of poverty.
Each year the city administration kicks-off the process by announcing the commencement of the participatory budgeting process through local media and other information outlets. Following the announcement, a citizens’ public meeting is held at which the city administration lays out more details about the implementation of previous year’s investment proposals and details of current participatory budgeting. In addition, city representatives present citizens the most important determinants of the city budget and the budget process by which citizens are well informed, familiar with the limits of the city budget and have more realistic expectations.
Following the public meeting, citizens submit their investment proposals to the city administration for the eligibility and costing review. The eligibility review process makes sure that (i) the proposal is within total budgetary allocation for citizens’ investments (1 per cent of the overall city budget), (ii) the proposal deals with public property owned by the town, and (iii) the city has the authority to act on the proposal.
Cost and Eligibility
The costing review calls for the city administration to review each proposal and estimate the costs of implementation based on similar prior spending and market prices for goods and services needed. Should the proposal require funding greater than allocated for participatory spending, but meets the other criteria, the city administration will take it under review for the traditional budgeting process. Proposals complying with funding limits are passed forward for participatory budgeting process.
Sometimes citizens propose projects which call for action on private property, public property owned by other levels of government or public operators or require actions which are under competencies of other levels of government, public agencies or companies. In such cases the city administration forwards the proposal to the competent authority with request for action. It also notifies the citizens about this and provides them with contact information of competent authority should the citizens decide to follow up on the proposal.
Deliberation and Decision-Making
Following the eligibility and costing review, local public hearings are organized in 12 neighborhood councils. During a local public hearing the city administration will present received proposals, results of eligibility and cost review, actions taken regarding ineligible projects and list of projects eligible for funding pending citizens’ vote. Within the public debates in local boards, there is a time scheduled to open discussion, questions and dialogue between the representatives of the City of Pazin and its citizens. In this way, citizens get firsthand information and answers, and the city administration has an opportunity to identify problems and offer clarifications. That increases citizens’ satisfaction and confidence in the work of the city administration.
During the local public hearing citizens cast a vote for investment proposals of their choice. Voting is limited to investment proposals within the neighborhood council area. Budgetary allocation for each neighborhood council is limited and may be insufficient for all investment proposals, much like the city budgets. Citizens knew up front budgetary limitations and had to vote for projects within the given limitations. Budgets were decided up front in equal terms for each neighborhood so that available funds are equally distributed among rural/urban neighborhoods. Therefore, citizens are encouraged to discuss their spending priorities in order to maximize the use of available funds for their community. Finally, top voted proposals adding up to the amount of the allocated budget are included in the city budget proposal. Although the final decision for approval of the city budget, which includes the neighborhood council spending proposal, lies with the city council, the council had not amended neighborhood spending proposals since inception of the process. The city council was involved in the process from the very inception and briefed on every step and overarching plan of participatory budgeting. Council members were invited to participate in public events and citizen voting sessions.
Sectoral Discussion and Priority Setting
During the first year of the project sectoral discussions were held parallel to project submission in order to address any sectoral disparities or issues in sectoral policies in the area of social welfare and health, economy and tourism, culture and tourism, education and sport. One of the issues that came up during these discussions was inadequate street lighting, a rather surprising find according to the mayor who expected that a priority might be related to inequalities in broadband access or similar. The city developed the Street Lighting Master Plan and resorted towards public-private partnership to address an issue.
In 2016 a priority setting discussion took place along participatory budgeting. Four major capital investments were presented (bus station, elderly home, elementary school and river protection project) and discussed with citizens in order to determine priority investments due to the scarcity of funding available.
Reinventing the Practice
From 2014 to 2018 a number of small investments were implemented at the request of citizens and, seemingly, having minor issues resolved citizens begun requesting the resolution of financially more intensive issues. In 2018 the practice was ‘reinvented’ to address citizens’ demands and further develop dialogue with citizens. Since 2018 citizens can propose projects directly at the public hearing and elaborate it in detail to representatives of the city administration. The city administration and the citizens are also given an opportunity to address how to efficiently use available funds to implement proposed projects. The neighborhood budget for 2018 doubled compared to 2014. The budgetary cycle was extended into two years, meaning that 6 neighborhood councils can propose and decide on projects in the first budgetary year while the remaining 6 neighborhood councils take their turn in the second year. This allows detailed discussion with a smaller group of citizens about financially more demanding projects which may not be completed within one budgetary year framework.
Since the beginning of the project in 2014 until 2019, 1,411 citizens have proposed 666 projects and selected 178 projects for implementation total worth EUR 420,000.
|Year||Participants||Budget (EUR)||Projects proposed||Projects selected|
Like the City of Pazin, other cities probably face similar problems. The limited budgetary resources, the large number of requests for infrastructure interventions and the impossibility of implementation of all necessary communal actions cause frustration and dissatisfaction amongst the citizens. In addition, some citizens believe that the budget is a purely political procedure which they can’t influence.
Regardless of their social and political status, this process was extensively publicly communicated via traditional and electronic means and a kick-off event and allowed all interested citizens to send in their proposals, participate in public debates and vote for the most important investments. Furthermore, it allows the citizens to ask questions, express their opinion, provide suggestions to the city administration and obtain instant direct feedback which in turn increase trust in institutions and governance. An opportunity to draft and submit budgetary proposals, discuss priority spending and vote to maximize effects of public spending provides a very important educational component to the citizens and the administration. Citizens were educated on the budgetary process, sources of revenues, spending levels and limiting factors for the implementation of some of the citizens’ demanded projects (ownership issues, managing authorities, planning and approval procedures, budgetary constraints, etc). On the other hand, the city administration benefitted from unique insight into citizens’ priorities and expectations.
Finally, the multiple benefits of including citizens can be summarized as follows – involvement in decision-making and active participation in the political process leads to an improved relationship between the city and its citizens, promotes transparency and responsibility, strengthens the public trust in the institutions and their representatives and increases the level of political culture.
—— ‘Pazi(n) proracun! project brochure’, (GONG) <http://proracun.pazin.hr/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/pazin-BROSURA-A5-web.pdf> accessed 23 May 2020
Zulicek M, ‘Kako je Pazin uključivanjem građana u donošenje proračuna razvio uzajamno povjerenje’ (URBACT, March 7 2019) <https://urbact.eu/kako-je-pazin-uklju%C4%8Divanjem-gra%C4%91ana-u-dono%C5%A1enje-prora%C4%8Duna-razvio-uzajamno-povjerenje> accessed 23 May 2020
 Participants include all citizens present in the public events, which were extensively communicated via traditional outlets (kick off event, radio, posters, flyers etc) and via electronic means, creating an opportunity for all interested parties to be present.