Viorel Girbu, Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova, NALAS – Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe
Participatory budgeting is a relatively new experience for Moldova. This tool that provides ground for a greater involvement of the citizens in the administration of the local public affairs was introduced in Chisinau municipality in 2016 with the participation of activists from the Urban Civic Network, the Information Center for Local Authorities, the Polish Solidarity Fund, the European Endowment for Democracy and the representatives of the European People’s Party of Moldova. About the same time this experience was implemented in the Balti municipality. Fast enough this experience was taken over by many other municipalities and rural localities in Moldova and equally represented an area for involvement as a result of communication and capacity building campaigns of the nationwide relevant civil society organizations.
In this sense participatory budgeting is an example of urban/rural differences, specifically among big municipalities, the capital City of Chisinau and Balti municipality that dispose of the highest human and economic potential in the country, and the rest of the country, that brought improvements in the consultation processes and direct popular participation in local decision-making in many smaller communities. In this respect participatory budgeting improved implementation of the core principles of good governance (accountability, rule of law, transparency, equality and non-discrimination, responsiveness) in both urban and rural local governments in Moldova.
The participatory budgeting practice in Moldova is therefore a new dimension that holds the promise to decrease discrepancies among local communities in Moldova, specifically between Chisinau municipality and rest of the country, in part related to civil society involvement in decision-making, being a tool with the potential to improve in many ways civil society involvement in the management of local public affairs.
Legal norms on Public Finances and Budgetary-Fiscal Responsibility require public budgets to be transparent, meaning that the drafts of normative acts in the field of public finances are subject to public consultation; the budgets shall be elaborated, approved and administered in a transparent manner; and the approved budgets and the reports on their execution shall be made public. Participatory budgeting is implemented as an initiative that is often promoted by civil society organizations and that is supported by the local authorities. Participatory budgeting is not yet a common practice in local public authorities (LPAs) in Moldova.
The rules and principles of participatory budgeting, although similar, differ from city to city as these rules are approved by the local regulations. It is generally valid that the participatory budgeting model is co-created by the municipal public authority together with the citizens who are mainly represented by well informed and highly motivated citizens, in a formal framework created by a dedicated project. Citizens that participate in the process are the ones who approve the final form of participatory budget and all the changes that have occurred along the way.
The participatory budgeting practice in Chisinau municipality was designed to follow few major steps:
- the municipality is divided into regions to facilitate meetings with the community and the distribution of resources;
- meetings sponsored by the municipal authority are held regularly throughout the year to cover various aspects of the project development cycle: distribution of information, proposed projects, debates of proposals, selection of projects, supervision of implementation of selected projects;
- an index of quality of life is developed by the authority to serve as a basis for the distribution of resources. Regions with a higher poverty rate, a denser population, lacking the necessary infrastructure or services benefit from a higher proportion of resources than more prosperous neighborhoods. Each municipality creates its own model for the equitable distribution of resources;
- citizens who are willing to participate in the process map the neighborhood and the community in the neighborhood, identify the problems it faces and propose solutions to apply in the participatory budgeting program;
- public discussions and debates are organized about projects and resources both between participants who are interested to participate in the process and between these participants and authorities;
- projects are exposed to (informal) community voting. Residents of the region in which the project is to be implemented are eligible to vote;
- from each region two councilors are delegated who will form the municipal council of participatory budgeting. They analyze the final projects and intervene with recommendations regarding the budget;
- projects voted as important by the community are carried out by the municipal authority, even though the authority is not bound by the list of selected projects;
- participatory budgeting participants monitor the implementation of the project;
- an annual report is published in which the stages of project implementation are presented.
A large group of stakeholders is involved in the participatory budgeting process, including local administration, citizens, civil society and entrepreneurs. Local administration informs citizens on the process, organizes public meetings and ensures inclusion of the proposed projects in the budgetary process. Citizens choose projects for the implementation by the LPAs and participate in their implementation.
The process of participatory budgeting is more or less similar across the country in the localities where it is present. Active citizens come up with ideas and projects, and, within their budget constraints, LPAs come up with the money. Yet, the level of resources provided by local authorities, available technical requirements to facilitate the process – for instance the web page of the local administration for a smaller community, but also the level of professional preparedness of the local authorities and awareness of citizens in the part related to budgetary issues differ, especially among small and rural localities and municipalities.
According to the opinions of those who were involved from the beginning in the participatory budgeting in Chisinau municipality, not everything is so favorable. Currently this practice implementation is hindered in the municipality for several reasons:
- absence of additional financial resources to promote the project (information, development of explanatory guides and training);
- lack of a dedicated online platform (a participation site) to present, in an accessible form, the projects and to allow their discussion;
- participatory budgeting is almost entirely devoid of an offline infrastructure. In other words, activities related to the participatory budgeting process take place in an online format, using a suitable platform, with participation of a limited number but well informed and motivated citizens of the locality.
For better development, participatory budgeting would have needed a special law or adjustments to the legal framework in the field of budgetary planning. Most of the time, completing the whole process in one year is difficult or impossible with the available human and financial resources. Information and voting campaigns must last long enough (at least a few months) so that citizens can participate fully. At their conclusion, the projects are assigned to municipal departments that must implement them. Some projects require new acquisitions which, as it is public money, must be made through tenders. These can last from a few weeks to several months.
The participatory budgeting practice aims at securing a better usage of public funds in order to fulfil urgent needs and priorities of citizens according to their own perception. Although the expected results of the practice are simple, achieving the anticipated impact is not so straightforward. As a rule, this instrument proves to be functional when democratic processes, from both authorities and citizens are maintained at a high level. As the practice shows, willingness of a large part of the population to get involved in a deeper way into the management of public affairs at the local level is limited. This is also influenced by the fact that quite often local administrations show a lack of interest to increase the degree of involvement of citizens in the administrative processes at the local level. Positive involvement of other stakeholders such as members of the local council, political parties or civil society organizations is important to inforce the practice.
Willingness, but also capacity of local authorities to provide a meaningful amount of funds are important success factors. For many authorities, the level of funding is very limited. It is also important to have active participation of the local decision-makers in the implementation of the participatory budgeting process from its onset, as at the end of the process, the approved proposals need formal approval by the local constituency, which often is a political issue.
Law no 181/2014 on Public Finances and Budgetary-Fiscal Responsibility
Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:
— — ‘Procesul de bugetare participativă în Chișinău’ (RCU, undated) <https://urbana.md/bugetare-participativa/> Vitalie Sprînceană, ‘When the Mayor’s Office does not Want and Therefore Cannot: About Participatory Budgeting in Chisinau’ (Platzforma, 20 February 2020) <http://www.platzforma.md/arhive/388508>
 This approach relates exclusively to problem formulation and aims at allowing LPAs to potentially improve budget allocation and systemic planning. The participatory budget is in fact covering a small amount of available resources.