Since 1996, the Pasto municipality of Colombia introduced a successful new system of participatory budgeting called "Cabildo Abierto" ("open council") whose aims are to discuss issues and find effective solutions by working together as a community.
Problems and Purpose
In early 2012, Mayor Harold Guerrero Lopez did an evaluation program between 1995 and 2011, whose aim was to analyse the impact, deliberations and efficiency of "Cabildo Abierto " in the community as well as identify obstacles and deficiencies in order to improve. The surveys shows that during 2001-2004, some of the projects were not linked with a specific plan and they were not regulated by the budget. At the same time, there were some weaknesses in the structure and the formulation, deliberation, and decisions; the projects were affected drastically as a consequence of this, meaning that the projects could not end with a successful result. Another problem was the "Cabildo Abierto", or "open council meetings" were used for elections rather than political participation and some of the senior officlas would send delegates who did not have the power to make decicions without the high functioning delegates. This made progress slow in the meetings and outcomes were not decided on. At the same time, as the slow decision making grinding progress to a halt, 55% of the population argued that the methodology used was not succesful (Salgado et al., 2015).
For instance, in 2004, according to the Evaluation Form, only 241 out of 739 projects were accomplished (Salgado et al., 2015, p. 18). This represented 32.6% which is a small percentage. As a consequence of this, the participation substantially declined because civilians distrusted the goverment. In contrast, during the last few years, this changed completely with the government working towards and accomplishing all the goals, providing a better life for the civilians.
The purpose of the Cabildo Abierto is to encourage the population to participate in the projects and express their needs, giving decision making power to civilians in the hopes that it would benefit society as a whole. The methodology of community and social engagement are designed as a vehicle to improve the communication between the civilians, the mayors, and those who work in the government. This, in turn, creates a close relationship and space whereby all participants can listen to, propose different projects and enforce effective adminsitration. The feasibility of budgets, and distribution of them is easily tackled and ensures communities find effective solutions together (Colombian Constitution, 1991, Law 134, Art. 81-89).
Background History and Context
Historically speaking, the "Cabildo abierto" or "open council meetings" are defined as a mechanism of citizen participation that consists of a public meeting of district, municipal or local administration parish councils, in which the inhabitants are able to participate directly, aiming to discuss issues of interest for the community (Colombian Political Constitution, 1991, Article 98).
This mechanism was established by the Constitution of 1991 in Colombia which aimed to extend the representative democracy limits and re-evaluate the role of citizens, making it a social state under the rule of law. This was significant to the participatory democracy because it gave equality between men and women, and an active sovereign citizenship that allows all the right to participate in a public life.
In the memorable period, indigenous people did several meetings and worked together in order to improve their standards of life. This democratic action was called "Minga de Pensamiento". The word Minga means collective agriculture work that benefits the tribe. This is a remarkable period that influenced the participatory budgeting in Pasto that today is called "Cabildo Abierto". This is an effective instrument that creates strength via democracy and improves the relationship between the government and civilians as it encourages active participation from both sides.
In 1996 under the Government of Antonio Navarro Wolf, the participatory budgeting at Pasto was organised for the first time. He organised the first town meetings, which began in the rural sector as well as a development plan called "Everything for Pasto." Open council meetings in the municipality of Pasto have a particular characteristic where they are an an ongoing project that has passed through seven different administrations. Following the rural beginnings, the second phase was in 2001 with the administration of Eduardo Alvarado Santander, whose aim was to expand the Open House. He expanded to include ten townships and twelve communes with a new theoretical process and more advanced methodology. This brought positive effects involving more civilians.
Elected in 2004, Mayor Raùl Delagado Guerra continued the process by significantly advancing the process and quality of participation between civilians and the structure of the meetings. Emphasising and strengthening the methodological route, he created better standards for all.
Subsequently, the fourth phase was between 2008 and 2011 by Eduardo Alvarado; he emphasized the importance of social inclusión, with his government improving the structure and methodology that was already in place.
The last administration began in 2012 until present, with Mayor Harold Guerrero Lopez assuming the challenge to legitimize the participation as a part of the country's cultural history. This administration is creating a new methodology to improve the efficiency of open house doing surveys ,evaluations and listening to the petitions of the people.
All in all, Pasto have a relevant historical culture that directly influenced the open council meetings by increased the percentages of participation. Today, it is well known that Pasto pioneered this democratic innovation, which was taken as a model and implemented in others regions of Colombia.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Of the three main entities, the first was the Municipal Register of Pasto whose aim is to check the amount of the signatures that was collected for discussing and tackling a specific issue in the meetings, as well as to regulate the sessions of the Cabildo Abierto.
Secondly, the Town hall is an entity whose aim is to regulate the projects and investments that the Local Adminsitrative Councils have been doing. Thus, the Local Administrative Councils' mision is to present investment proposals to the authorities in order to distribute global payments from the municipal budget and the municipalities under their juridiction.
Lastly, the National Council for Participation is one of the organs that provides advice to the national government on the definition, promotion, conception, follow up and evaluation of government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Cabildo Abierto in Pasto is integrated by the Mayor that is elected by the population. The Mayor and the population work together with a municipal programme which the Mayor is responsible for; the mayor ensures the political feasibility and effectiveness of the projects. The second component is the communal actions which are essential for the Cabildos because it gives the opportunity to each local to think about the projects, budgets and the Development Plan; thus, it positively affects the public sector as the neighbour and the municipal administration. The third group of spokesmen are the leaders of the civilians that represent the commune or township; they select five for Micro Territorial Unit whose mission is to select by voting the priority projects in the assemblies by participating in the meetings and writting up reports to distribute to the community. The fourth is NGOs, which give support to the leaders and assistance to the planning system and participatory budget.
Finally, open council meetings are supported by a group of professionals of the municipal sector or volunteers that are integrated into the municipal administration. The main role is to introduce an effective methodology in both financial and judicial aspects in allowing effective order of the projects.
In terms of the mechanism of participation, meetings were and still are open to everyone; anyone could be able to propose a project to the specific secretary within 15 days before the session begins (Colombia Constitution, Article 48).
Methods and Tools Used
These open council meetings used an original method known as Cabildo Abierto , where the public was given a chance to vote on various issues that were important in their city and state, after meeting with public officials. These issues involved elections, defense and security issues, and the allocation of funds, which suggests an element of participatory budgeting. There have been accusations of ineffectiveness regarding the budgeting given allegations of corruption in the Pasto government.
Cabildos Abiertos were akin to reunions, where community members met with their neighbours to discuss issues and decide what was most relevant . Until the 16th century, these open council meetings were used to elect political officials; later, the meetings became more like a town hall, where people would show up to deliberate and participate in discussions about important topics with neighbors such as defense, budgeting, and keep the government honest and in check .
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
In general, "Cabildo Abierto" in Pasto created an impact for the civilians because the number of participation has increased, increasing public trust in the government. The statistics show that approximately 16 million civilians participate and the young population represent the biggest percentage. In the most recent years, more people have been participating in the commercial meetings; specifically, 44% of people with 110 leaders representing the community have taken part (Montufar, 2012, p. 19).
Cabildo Abierto transfer power to the community, providing opportunities for free speech and the ability to make their own decisions. One of the major steps forward of this democratic innovation is that civilians are getting more involved, working together to have a better standard of life, while building strong relationships between civilians and mayors; thus, transparency, inclusivity, and efficiency are improving.
According to Scholars, Roberto Bobbio and Robert Dahl it is arguable that democratic innovations need to provide conditions that guarantee the Freedom of Speech otherwise they are not going to be achieved without exclusion or effective administration (Bobbio, 1999, p. 16). In this case, it was shown that in an attempt to satisfy all criteria and have efficient deliberation and communication to tackle the issues it was vital to recognise the need to gather people in the smaller towns and more isolated regions.
It is important to note that over the years, there is evidence that show some difficulties in accomplishing all the projects, but the government is continuously working on implementing new practices.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Over the years some scholars have criticised the participatory budgeting, arguing that is not effective because there is large corruption within the government making it difficult to complete all the projects and offer solutions to all issues raised. However, cabildo abierto may have brought to the civilians the opportunity to be involved with the political and economic sphere, allowing the people power to make decisions and ensuring the transparency of the process. This in itself would be an advantage to the community as they would know where the money was being invested.
For example, in 2003 the government invested in the constructions of schools and sports buildings, thus benefitting children in teh community (City Municipality of Pasto, Cabildo Team 2008-2011).
At the same time the Mayor Harold Guerrero and government officials have been improving the structure of Cabildo Abierto, creating new programs such as a new School of Leadership and Democratic Participation, which aimed to prepare and give more knowledge to civilians through courses supported by the Nariño University, Sena and San Martin University. Some of the projects that have been proposed by the civilians include:
- The construction of a Health Centre of Santa Monica with a price of US $1,210,344,515.36 whose aim is to cover all the needs of the civilians who do not have adequate resources.
- The construction of platforms for people with disabilities and the maintenance needed at a price of USD $341,664,540.60.
- Investing in the improvement of education for children, in the municipality Ecano with a price of £71,956.80 (Salgado et al., 2015).
All in all, Cabildo Abierto in Pasto is a successful example of a democratic liberation which was influenced by the indigenous. Today this is a useful instrument for communities working together to solve problems and is a good exercise example of democracy working well. Democracy notCalbildos only makes citizens more aware of their community but ensures they work together as they argue for a better Pasto.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
This case of study is interesting as it shows how "Cabildo Abierto" in Pasto worked as a democratic innovation and the impact on other collective spheres and institutions. It successfully encouraged people of different ages to work together and allowed decisions to be made by those who would be directly affected. This area of innovation, the participatory budgeting, started in the 1990’s in Latin America such as Brazil (Porto Alegre ) and Colombia, with the common aim to make representative democracy open to more active participation by the civilians. This innovative idea encouraged programmes that persuaded the minds of different people to move away from individualism and towards community solidarity, working together to improve standards of life (Amaya and Leon, 2004).
Although the two examples mentioned above use instruments to achieve the same aim, there are some differences in the structure and mechanism. On the one hand, participatory budgeting in Brazil led the citizens to choose the project in which the money is going to be invested and they have the right to vote for it and promote the engagement of poor citizens ( Diaz, 1999).
On the other hand, in Colombia, participatory budgeting started under the name of "open council meetings" because was created by the indigenous. These meetings are defined as a mechanism of citizen participation that have public interactions between district, municipal or local administrative parish councils, allowing civilians to directly participate aiming to discuss common issues. (Diaz, 1999). At the same time, the government needs to provide information to the citizens about the work that they have been doing and listen to the issues of the community to find a effective solution. Additionally, it is inclusive because it does not have a limit number of people and is open to everyone.
In context the participatory budgeting in the municipality of Pasto has been operating successfully for 20 years and it is highly attractive how the different administrations tackle the issues, while still providing equal opportunities for the civilians. However, there are some questions concerning the effectiveness and transparency of the process that some scholars have been asked. For example, to what extent are citizens able to influence political decisions? Do they affect how government spends the money? Is this process transparent? Does the opinion of the civilians matter? This is one of the challenges that faces the “Cabildo Abierto” because high levels of cooperation from civilians are needed, and they are actively encouraged to participate. For this, a completely transparent system is needed (Diaz, 1999).
In Pasto, the Government has been regulated by the City Hall which has special institutions to supervise and analyse the processes used. It is important to note that this is not always the case and that now a higher percentage of civilians are completely involved with all projects and meetings. Civilians also have the power to check outcomes with the right to vote and change the Government (Smith, 2009, p. 61).
It is clear that are some difficulties and challenges as raised above. Although, the municipality of Pasto led to a significant and efficient model of political participation, having more active participants, and extending to the more vulnerable areas that need more help. This in turn reduced corruption and violence and the projects have accomplished satisfying the necessities of the most vulnerable civilians.
All in all, there are three main aspects that this instrument has achieved during the last years. First the number of civilians are increasing, meaning that they are worrying and caring about the community and the projects . Second ,the population now is aiming for the same goals as those growing up which is “to have a better Pasto”. Finally, the government has been working for the community and the mayor is more involved and cares about the community. This attempt toward having a better democracy makes important the voluntary participation of the population.
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Mayor of Pasto: http://www.pasto.gov.co
Pasto Secretary of Education website : www.educacionpasto.gov.co/
Mayor of Bogota: http://www.bogota.gov.co.
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Lead Image: Cabildos Abiertos Pasto https://goo.gl/echvUD