Participatory Budgeting in Yaoundé was initiated in 2006 to tackle corruption, to boost citizen participation in the decision making process, and engage government representatives directly with the citizenry. SMS reminders were successfully used to boost participation in 2012.
Problems and Purpose
The purpose of implementing PB in Yaoundé was to tackle corruption, to boost citizen participation in the decision making process, and according to Jules Dumas Nguebo from ASSOAL, to “…help the municipal authorities to engage with the population…and provide important feedback” (Paice, 2014). However, Nguebo also points out that some citizens still oppose the PB process as they hold the view that citizens should not be involved in decision making and that “…power only comes from above” (Paice, 2014, p22).
Background History and Context
Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, is home to around 1.8 million people of which 70% live in informal settlements, with 30-40% of people within these settlements having access to water and electricity (UN-Habitat, 2006 cited in Paice, 2014, p36). Both the country and its capital have a history of problems with democracy, clientalism and tribalism. The first discussion of PB being implemented in Yaoundé occurred at the Yaoundé Africities Summit in 2003 (Nguebou and Noupeou, 2014).
However, events before this are worth considering in order to understand what led to this. It started in 1990 when law 90 was passed, this allowed the formulation of political parties in Cameroon. Later, in 1996, the government included decentralization provisions in the constitution as a result of pressure from the people. Eight years later, laws on this were passed, which were enacted in 2008. Following the passage of these laws in 2004, PB began in Yaoundé in 2006 in Yaoundé VI with the help of The Society of Booklovers (ASSOAL) (Paice, 2014). PB was used in response to the passage of these laws as it is believed that it aids decentralization (Nguebou and Noupeou, 2014). Not all municipalities have adopted PB, Yaoundé I and III have never done so, and others have done so for just one cycle.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
In Yaoundé, the mayors of the municipalities approached ASSOAL seeking help with implementing PB. Funding for the process mainly comes from the municipalities themselves, however, there is some involvement of funding from multilateral and bilateral donors (Cabannes, 2015). The European Union has also contributed resources that are mobilized by the municipalities and the CSO’s in order to boost participation in local governance (Nguebou and Noupeou, 2014).
Municipal budgets are made up of two parts; local tax revenues and monies allocated to it by the state. Due to municipal offices often receiving just 70% of the expected funding, only around 2-10% of total budgets, on average, are allocated for PB as the budget only just covers the salaries of municipal staff (Paice, 2014). However, in Yaoundé VI the percentage from 2009 and 2010 allocated for PB averaged out at 17% of the total municipal budget (Cabannes, 2015).
Local tax revenues, paid directly to the town hall by citizens, make up the majority of municipal budgets in Yaoundé. For example, as the mayor of Yaoundé V, Yvette Claudine Ngono points out, “The main direct source of income for the municipality is local taxes…this amounts to around £450,000…the municipality has received around £300,000 annually from the state since 2010” (Paice, 2014, p14). In 2012, Yaounde V only received around £750,000 in revenue, equivalent to just £2.25 per inhabitant (Paice, 2014). This makes it very difficult to meet the demands and needs of citizens, and makes it difficult for municipalities to dedicate a decent enough proportion of their budget to PB in order for it to have a larger impact.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Despite the public's “deep-seated skepticism, suspicion and apathy” (Paice, 2014, p26), Yaoundé II had around 350 participants when it first launched PB in 2009. This increased by five times the amount to around 1,700 the following year, and by 2011, participation rose to an incredible figure of 11,331 (Paice, 2014).
The selection of participants is different during each stage of the process. During the preliminary phase, members of CSOs and local development organizations establish 'development action committees' whose executive officers are selected by residents and other local actors.
The first cycle consists of neighborhood meetings which are open to all and are advertised throughout the community. Voting in this phase is also open to all on both the projects to receive funding and on the selection of representatives to defend the financing of said projects. An initiative created in Cameroon was used in some areas of Yaoundé in 2012, with the purpose of boosting attendance at the meetings by sending text message reminders to 50,000 residents, this appears to have been fairly successful (Paice, 2014).
The second cycle - the implementation phase - is also open to all. Because final decisions on project funding are made by the mayors of the municipalities, citizens are encouraged to attend this phase to hold officials accountable and to claim ownership over the finished projects.
Methods and Tools Used
In this instance of PB, mediated meetings take place in local neighborhoods to debate on the most pressing priorities and infrastructure projects needed in the commune. The final decisions in Yaoundé’s PB process are made by the mayors of the municipalities. An initiative created in Cameroon was used in some areas of Yaoundé in 2012, with the purpose of boosting attendance at the meetings by sending text message reminders to 50,000 residents, this appears to have been fairly successful (Paice, 2014).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
In Yaoundé, there are three stages to the PB process, as explained by Achille Noupeou in Paice, 2014. First, there is the preliminary stage, followed by two cycles.
In the preliminary stage we see the establishment of “development action committees” (CADEL), which consist of people from CSO’s and local development organizations. At the elective assembly which is attended by the CSO’s, the Neighborhood and Ward chiefs and residents, executive officers are selected. Each committee then receives a minor sum of money and equipment to help with its work. Throughout this process staff from ASSOAL help to lead the discussion and facilitate, as well as offering, advice and education about the PB process.
During the first cycle, the residents establish which needs are the most important and set out to order them, this part usually lasts for one year. At these neighborhood meetings attended by residents, projects are advertised and debated and the mediators work to ensure that everybody has an equal chance to speak and that rules are observed. Budgets are drawn up for the projects and their feasibility is debated before participants vote to select their top two or three projects. Participants also vote for representatives who will go on to defend the chosen projects before the mayor of the commune.
Following this is the general assembly, which takes place in October of every year and is attended by the mayor. The representatives, voted for beforehand, present the chosen projects to the mayor in a bid to win over his/her approval. Everybody present at the assembly casts a vote, however, it is the mayor who is sovereign and makes the final decision on what project(s) shall be funded.
In the second cycle, also known as the “implementation phase”, all parties work together with the assistance of ASSOAL to ensure that all resources including materials and finances are collected properly. Citizen participation in this process is encouraged as this not only saves money but also helps to enshrine a sense of ownership into the people. Everybody monitors one another to make sure each group upholds their side of the bargain. It is vital that not only the municipality provides the resources and finances it promised, but also that the people do the same. In one instance in Yaoundé VI, committees were set up to oversee the construction of the project, as well as to manage and maintain the project once its construction is complete.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The PB process in Yaoundé can be seen to have had a positive influence as it has led to the construction of much needed projects for neighborhoods with very little infrastructure. In Yaoundé IV, a project created through PB has led to construction of a water tap which serves a community of 50,000 people (Cabannes, 2015). Furthermore, in Yaoundé VI a water standpipe was constructed that has hugely benefitted those living nearby (Paice, 2014).
As well as the improvement of basic services, PB has also had an effect on municipal-citizen relations, citizen participation, fiscal transparency and local tax revenues (Nguebou and Noupeou, 2014). The close interaction between municipal staff and citizens in both cycles of the PB process in Yaoundé has led to an increase in relations. Both parties better understand each other, thus they are more willing to work together and engage with one another for the good of the community, J.D. Nguebou highlights this, “PB modifies relations. First, budgetary decisions depend upon citizens’ decisions. It has an influence on budget. Another major change is that people’s voice became meaningful, and elected politicians listen more to citizens.” (Cabannes, 2015, p22).
During the budgeting process, citizens learn not only about budgeting, but also about the finances available to the municipalities. As well as improving trust and relations, this has also had a positive effect on local tax revenues. Leonie Messi Ndongo, a member of the municipal staff in Yaoundé VI explains this, “the payment of taxes improves when there is PB. When people see the municipality building things that are deﬁnitely needed, they are more willing to pay their dues – even if they don’t participate in the PB process themselves” (Paice, 2014, p15).
A further, quite important, yet rare effect of PB can also be observed. In Nkolbikok II, a neighborhood in Yaoundé VI, where the water standpipe mentioned above was built, authorities had planned to destroy the neighborhood. Romuald Yepmo points out that by constructing the standpipe on land that was up for demolition, this “…reassured residents in that locality that they cannot be about to lose their homes if the municipality has just spent money building a standpipe in their midst.” (Paice, 2014, p28).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
When analysing this case one would naturally look at the positives first and foremost. Perhaps the most obvious positive of this case of PB in Yaoundé is that it has brought much needed infrastructure to poor neighborhoods. The material value of this is very important as Paice (2014, p32) points out, “…, these assets – wells, paths, sanitation and street lighting – have been constructed in neighbourhoods where nothing has been provided by the state before and where their impact is material”. Taking into account the participation data from Yaoundé II, one could argue that the case has been a success in terms of mobilizing the people to get involved.
Less obvious positives can also be drawn here that are perhaps even more important. Firstly, this case of PB has led to an increase in trust in local government by the people, which in turn has led to more people paying their taxes and thus more funding available for PB. The three cycle process also works to uphold participation and collaboration throughout, which is vital according to Mishra (2014), “People have to be engaged and active throughout the process of identifying and defining problems, prioritizing needs, planning, implementation, monitoring, oversight and evaluation”. Furthermore, this assists with educating participants as much as possible. Finally, oversight helps to decrease the costs of projects and improves their overall quality as J.D. Nguebou highlights, “…The cost difference between a dug well, funded through PB resources and one with other resources can be as high as 50 per cent… A key factor is the transparency in the bidding process. Another is the followup committees that are put into place for large projects and management committees for wells. (Cabannes, 2015, p16).
However, there a still many parts of this process that require work. Perhaps the most obvious criticism of this particular process is that the final decision regarding the funding of the projects lays at the hands of the mayor’s, however, some power for citizens is better than none at all. In addition to this, the funding dedicated to PB is still very miniscule which limits its potential for improving communities and people’s lives. This is something that will be helped in Yaoundé with the proper payment of local taxes, however until local governments receive their expected funding from central government no proper plans for PB can be made. This links in with the next problem which is that there is still much suspicion that exists regarding decentralization in Cameroon, hence two of Yaoundé’s municipalities have never adopted it. PB in Yaoundé is also viewed by some as a tool for mobilizing voters (Nguebou and Noupeou, 2014). However, to combat this ASSOAL are working to try and get the adoption of PB enshrined in Cameroonian law which they are confident of achieving (Paice, 2014). Two further critiques remain, both to do with participation.
On the whole participation is quite low, this can be put down to the lack of traditional participation in Yaoundé and in Cameroon more generally, furthermore, people are not educated about PB or their rights to deliberate and take part in decision making. Secondly, certain social groups are still not included in the process, such as women and the youth, thus their needs are often ignored. In Yaoundé, participation is not regarded as a norm. Romuald Yepmo, former PB delegate from Yaounde VI, states that, “There is deep-seated skepticism, suspicion and apathy…mayors are regarded as distant figures…you cannot ever take it for granted that people will be interested in participating” (Paice, 2014, p26). It is also noted that one major obstacle to overcoming this negligence of participation is a lack of time and resources. Due to the fragility of people’s lives in Yaoundé, they often can ill afford to dedicate time to attend meetings and fully engage with PB (Paice, 2014).
Despite this, when Yaoundé II first launched PB in 2009 it had around 350 participants. This increased by five times the amount to around 1,700 the following year, and by 2011, participation rose to an incredible figure of 11,331 (Paice, 2014).
Five-Criteria Analysis of a High Quality Democratic Innovation
A further method of analysis that would be useful, would be to match up this case against the five criteria that make a high quality democratic innovation. These five include inclusiveness, competence, popular control, efficiency and scale. In terms of inclusiveness this case is not all inclusive as it still marginalizes certain social groups as mentioned, there is certainly room for improvement in this regard as most PB processes are near perfect with inclusivity. However, those that do take part are monitored and taught effectively by ASSOAL. The level of competence here really depends on the funding, however, the commitment from all parties means most projects that are selected are carried out, thus this could be seen as a strong point for PB in Yaoundé. Popular control is partly flawed due to the final decision resting with the mayor, which means Yaoundé probably scores below average for this criteria. The level of efficiency for PB is usually quite high and the same could be said for this case, the process is well structured and efficient and the level of oversight improves financial and constructional efficiency. Lastly there is scale, this is usually a weakness for PB, however in Yaoundé, with the decentralization of the communes the current scales work well and there is no real need to expand beyond this.
Cabannes, Y., (2015). The impact of participatory budgeting on basic services: municipal practices and evidence from the field. Environment and Urbanization. March 27 (1), 257-284. [online]. Available from: SAGE Publications. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956247815572297 [Accessed: 21 December 2016].
Mishra, R., (2014). Participatory Budgeting: A Review of the Promise and Pitfalls. [online]. Harvard Kennedy School: Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Available from: http://www.challengestodemocracy.us/home/participatory-budgeting-a-review-of-the-promise-and-pitfalls/#more-1110[Accessed: January 2 2017].
Nguebou, J. D., and Noupeou, A., (2014) Participatory Budgeting experience in Cameroon. In: Nelson Dias (org) Hope for Democracy: 25 years of participatory budgeting worldwide. [online]. Nelson Dias. Available from: http://www.portugalparticipa.pt/upload_folder/table_data/4502b693-3a6c-46b6-95d8-a8705d6dde17/files/OP25Anos-EN-20maio2014.pdf [Accessed: December 14 2016].
Paice, E. (2014). The Booklovers, The Mayors and The Citizens: Participatory Budgeting in Cameroon. [online] London: Africa Research Institute. Available from: http://www.africaresearchinstitute.org/newsite/publications/participatory-budgeting-in-cameroon/ [Accessed: November 2 2016].
Jules Dumas Nguebou interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YZkv_kGEDM
Link to Hope for Democracy paper: http://www.portugalparticipa.pt/upload_folder/table_data/4502b693-3a6c-46b6-95d8-a8705d6dde17/files/OP25Anos-EN-20maio2014.pdf
Link to Environment and Urbanization paper: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956247815572297
Yaounde Relaunches PB (2018): https://www.camernews.com/yaounde-iv-relance-le-budget-participatif/
Lead image: Africa Research Network https://goo.gl/dYwbvT