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FEATURE STORY

Participatory Budgeting: An Experience in Good Governance

September 10, 2012

A bridge that was once incomplete and dangerous to cross, is now sturdy and safe for school children.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Citizen involvement in the government budget process has strengthened governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo, through increased dialogue and transparency
  • Through the Participatory Budgeting Project, citizens voted for projects they wanted to see completed, such as the rehabilitation of volleyball and basketball courts
  • Success of the project has led to its extension to other provinces, particularly Katanga and the city–province of Kinshasa

SOUTH KIVU, September 10, 2012 – Rural and urban citizen’s recent participation in the formulation and management of local budgets has helped to strengthen governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

People living in the communities of Kadutu, Ibanda, Bagira, Ngweshe, Wamuzimu, Kabare, Luhwinja and Bafuliro have been among the first to benefit from the early results of this initiative, which is now in its second year. They have played an active role in developing and approving their communities’ local budgets for 2012, helping to promote tax compliance and enhance dialogue and transparency. Supported by the World Bank, participatory budgeting has strengthened dialogue between the public, local stakeholders (provincial government, decentralized territorial entities, civil society and the public and private sectors) and local authorities, and thus fostered a climate of mutual trust and social peace. South Kivu is already reaping the benefits of this experience.

The Participatory Budgeting Project has yielded fairly encouraging results in several communities in the province of South Kivu. Following its successful outcome, the initiative is to be extended to other provinces, particularly Katanga and the city–province of Kinshasa.

How does participatory budgeting work in practice? The local authority presents its budget to the public, specifying the share of the budget to be allocated to local investment. Through a process of dialogue, community members are able to choose for themselves which priorities should be addressed and funded under the local budget. The population is also involved in monitoring the implementation of the activities selected through this participatory process.

The innovative aspect of this project is that citizen participation takes place mainly via SMS or text messages. Using mobile phones, which most Congolese now own, stakeholders in the Participatory Budgeting Project can easily obtain, from wherever they happen to be, useful information on the date, time, and place of meetings. They can also find out what was decided at meetings, vote by SMS (short message service) and, importantly, monitor and evaluate the decisions made through voting – all while going about their daily lives. The communication system being piloted in the province of South Kivu is called “mSurvey.”

The initiative is currently under way in the community of Kadutu, which has begun rehabilitating volleyball and basketball courts located at Buholo 4. Resident Jean de Dieu Rukeba wanted to see the vacant lot rehabilitated, because some used it as a garbage dump.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a bulldozer leveling our volleyball and basketball courts,” Rukeba said. “During the participatory budgeting consultations, I voted to rehabilitate our volleyball and basketball courts, but I never thought it would happen. It just seemed too good to be true. But look, it is happening!”

Musole Bekao, mayor of Kadutu, said that the Congolese government has never built a volleyball or basketball court of its own in South Kitvu.

“Ours will be the first,” he said. “I am proud of that and happy for the people of Buholo 4, who voted for this investment.”

Bringing government closer to citizens

For Bekao, participatory budgeting is a new approach that reminds local authorities of their commitment to the people with whom they worked to develop the investment portion of the 2012 budget.

“Unlike in the past, we are now expected to routinely consult the public about our budgets in order to decide on allocations,” he said. “We work with civil society. The Kadutu budget is no longer a secret. As a Kadutu native, I am proud of my accomplishments for the first half of 2012.”

The 2012 budgets of the various communities have focused on activities with a direct impact on the immediate environment of the beneficiary populations, including the construction of 54 classrooms and the repair of a bridge in Luhwinja, the construction of a health center in Bagira, and the construction of public toilets in the Nyawera market and the supply of drinking water in Ibanda. All these priorities were identified by the people through consultations with the provincial government.

A life-saving bridge

Young Joëlle Nsimire, a 12-year-old in the sixth grade at Chahi Primary School, is thrilled that, thanks to a new bridge, she can now cross a river she’d thought she’d never be able to cross.

“It’s a really good thing for us that the town built this bridge, because there is a very large, very deep canal running between our school and where we live,” she said. “Sometimes students used to fall in trying to get across. This bridge, which has handrails, solves all our problems. We can cross even with our eyes closed.”

Overall, the process in South Kivu has yielded good results. The regional project coordinator, Sabiti Kalindula, was initially apprehensive because of a post-election crisis that had threatened to disrupt political life since late November 2011. But having seen the results, he now has a more positive view.

“This participatory approach has enabled the decentralized territorial entities involved in the pilot project to improve local governance through social accountability, effective participation of citizens in the management of public affairs and citizen monitoring of public investments,” he says.

This positive outcome is the result of a participatory approach that benefits both the population and the local authorities in the province of South Kivu. It has enabled effective citizen participation in the development and implementation of budgets and contributed to greater social accountability and peace, more efficient mobilization of local revenues, the extension of participatory budgeting to all 27 decentralized territorial entities in South Kivu and, finally, a climate of greater trust between government and citizens.

From South Kivu to Kinshasa

Through the ICT4Gov programs of the World Bank Institute and the Enhancing Governance Capacity Project (PRCG), the World Bank has introduced the participatory budgeting approach in South Kivu and facilitated its implementation. The province of South Kivu having seen the results achieved on the ground, has mandated participatory budgeting for all local governments (municipalities and districts) and has enacted legislation officially institutionalizing the practice. These results, coupled with requests from civil society, have led the World Bank to extend the project to the city-province of Kinshasa and the province of Katanga.

In the opinion of Robert Yungu, Senior Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank, “Participatory budgeting is a powerful tool,” said Robert Yungu, senior public sector specialist at the World Bank. “Indeed, this is the first time that we have evaluated a project where civil society and the authorities are all happy and speaking the same language. It’s truly a win–win.”

In Kinshasa, the World Bank has begun to raise awareness among provincial authorities about the merits of this new tool for managing community resources with stakeholder participation. Encouraged by the project, the provincial minister responsible for population, security and decentralization has pledged his support for its implementation in the 24 districts of the city of Kinshasa.

“We can only encourage such initiatives,” he said, “highlighting the major determinants of good outcomes, namely trust between government and citizens, dialogue and transparency, promotion of taxpayer compliance and of course good governance.”