Participatory budgeting in Senegal was implemented due to political change which was constrained by budget limits. An NGO called Ecopop was contacted to aid in resource mobilisation and improve transparency.
Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a democratic innovation that involves citizens in the public budget allocation process and allows citizens to participate in an area of public policy making that is rarely open to direct engagement. (Smith, 2009) PB was initially established in Porto Alegre by the Workers Party in 1989 as a response to corruption and clientelism, it has since become a politically neutral device that has travelled across the world, one that could improve governance and generate greater trust in government. (Ganuza, 2012) Matam, a small town in the north east of Senegal, was one of the first municipalities to implement PB with the core goal to improve the mobilisation of public resources. The initiative was funded and carried out by an NGO, EndaECOPOP, who played a vital role in Matam’s PB experience. This essay will present a case study of Matam’s PB experience and assess the perceived successes and failures. It will do so by evaluating the impact of PB using the democratic goods framework introduced by Graham Smith (Smith, 2009) Thus, it will investigate how PB affects the following democratic goods: Inclusion, Considered Judgement, Popular Control, Transparency, Efficiency, and Transferability.
Problems and purpose
Matam, like many African municipalities, lacks legitimate governance and democratic structures whereby citizens are traditionally not involved in key political decisions. The main issue in Matam outlined by ECOPOP’s leader is incompetence in local governments drawing up their budget in “small circles” and withholding information from citizens. (ARI, 2015) Participatory budgeting was implemented in order to improve mobilisation of resources and help municipalities realise their economic potential. The incentives of PB is it can empower individuals, stimulate political involvement and in turn create greater harmony between actors in the community. Democratic innovations, like PB, are a popular approach in underprivileged communities like Matam as it provides an opportunity to engage the marginalised. The interaction between actors provides an opportunity for individuals to “engage with a diversity of social perspectives” through horizontal communication. (Smith, 2009) Whilst the core goal of this innovation is to improve resource mobilisation to be able to carry out projects to improve the community, there are also secondary benefits such as an increase in government trust from greater transparency and empowerment from capacity building exercises.
Background History and Context
Matam is a small town in the north-east of Senegal with about 20,000 inhabitants. Many African countries, Senegal included, face the combined effects of the global economic crisis, the need for equitable allocation of natural resource assets and the ever-changing balance of influence and power between the developed and developing worlds requiring African countries to re-evaluate their governance structures. For 40 years, Senegal was ruled by the socialist party, this came to an end in March 2000 when Abdoulaye Wade, leader of Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) won the presidency. The change of political power is significant in Senegal’s transition to democracy as they became the first country in which an opposition leader was able to put an end to 40 years of Socialist Party Rule since its independence. (Galvan, 2001) In Matam, there is a long history of having no record of budget tracking, to resolve this the Mayor decided to implement PB. The process of PB in Matam started in 2005, led by Mamadou Bachir Kanoute, Executive Director of NGO Enda ECOPOP. Kanoute is involved in coordinating the majority of activities of the Africa Bureau of the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy. (ARI, 2015) Many African municipalities, like Matam, experience weaknesses in infrastructure and poor access to numerous basic services like health care as Matam is one of the poorest regions of Senegal and over 45% of the population of Matam is under the poverty line. (FAO, 2016). Matam is one of the first municipalities to adopt democratic innovations and produce a successful outcome. The success of this initiative encouraged many other small African municipalities, like Fissel, to adopt PB and other types democratic innovations in their communities.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
In order to begin the process of PB, the Mayor contacted NGO EndaECOPOP to help monitor the process and work on strategies for resource mobilisation. ECOPOP provided financial and technical assistance and also carried out capacity building exercises in the form of workshops and small group discussions. NGOs are indispensable to social and economic development, particularly in communities like Matam where there are weak democratic structures thus most processes remain highly dependent on the involvement of international institutions and external groups in order to minimise negative effects of poor governance and lack of knowledge on budgeting. Using NGOs and institutions independent from the local government, NGOs work to promote the well being of everyone within the society and mitigate the risk of government interference and decentralisation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Firstly, the Mayor and EndaECOPOP identified that there was an enormous deficit of ommunication between the elected officials and the inhabitants about the use of public resources therefore ensuring there is participation from all actors Matam’s community were crucial to make the voices of the citizens, of the suburbs, neighbours heard within local institutions. Democratic innovations like PB are designed to ‘increase and deepen'' citizen participation in the political decision-making process. (Smith, 2009) Thus, this initiative is open to all and the mayor plays a key role in encouraging citizens to participate in the budgetary process.
A history of unstable democratic structures and cultures has been a mainstay in African countries. Consequently, there is a weakness in the capacity and leadership of local actors that negatively impacts the quality of the participatory local process thus further reinforcing the need for external bodies, like ECOPOP, who are experienced in strengthening grassroot communities and improving living conditions. Matam’s PB experience has inspired other municipalities and overcome previous challenges related to the “disconnection of experiences” and “the weakness of mutual learning.” (Dias, 2014) However, I argue that the method used to engage participants is particularly weak, the case only suggests the process was open to all and had “encouragement” from the Mayor, which may not be sufficient in persuading citizen participation. Perhaps this was recognised as a component to improve on in the implementation of future PBs this was evident in Fissel, a rural community in Senegal who adopted PB later whereby the process had much stronger engagement mechanisms in place.
Furthermore, ministries worked on a national programme for local development including a Code for Local Government to guide the decentralisation process which explicitly refers to “citizens participation” and “freedom of administration.” However, it is worth noting that within the guide, Article 7 on participatory democracy only states municipal councils “can” involve citizens as opposed to “must” involve citizens. (Dias, 2014) The government is also legally obliged to publish what it gives to municipalities and vice versa municipalities need to publish what they distribute to citizens in the form of services. These factors do not align with the principles of PB and in turn can negatively impact participation amongst the community. The initiative also notes that active citizens mostly consist of members of university boards, teachers and managers thus leaving many key actors out of the process. This initiative intends to be inclusive; it notes it wanted to include all actors prevalent within the community (young, old, handicapped and so forth) however efforts were insufficient as citizens actively involved are from a similar group being “highly educated” and “employed.”
Methods and tools used
This initiative relies on acknowledging previous failures and understanding tools of good local governance and management to bridge the gap between authorities and inhabitants. To do this, capacity building tools were implemented to guide Matam’s community through their first PB experience. ECOPOP carried out capacity building exercises for both council officials and the community in the form of workshops and small group discussions.
Additionally, an Observatory on Participatory Democracy in Africa was set up as a space open to local authorities, civil society organisations, universities and research centres that wish to deepen their knowledge, share their experiences or apply participatory democracy approaches at the local level and thus build democracy and local governance. (Dias, 2014) The workshop created an interface between the council and the population which helped overcome the communication gap and improve transparency across the community. The workshops discuss strategies and investment opportunities, this enables citizens to feel more empowered and involved in the decision-making process. This is important because previously Matam has faced issues of tax compliance as there was distrust in local authorities. (ARI, 2015)
What Went On: Process, Interaction and Participation
The first activity included a four-day workshop organised involving different types of actors across the Matam community such as local elected officials, local technicians, women, youth, elders and so forth), where together they discussed investment opportunities as part of the budget.
The second workshop was organised amongst all actors to discuss the best follow up strategies of the activities. The core idea of this exercise was to reflect on the obstacles to local financial resources mobilisation and the collection strategies. The issues discussed draw upon the past incompetence in local governments drawing up their budget in a small circle and not sharing information with the public. Sometimes elected officials also had no information about the financial capabilities of their municipality. To overcome this, opinions of both council and citizens were considered and discussion took place publicly. To come to a decision, the initiative had public voting where the participatory budget was voted for. Citizens and councillors had a direct say in the assignment of available public resources and participated in subsequent decisions related to the expenditure assignment. The results were reported back by a budget committee.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Overall, the first PB experience in Matam was a remarkable success and achieved its intended goal of improving the budget. Overcoming previous issues of resource management will also help mitigate previous distrust of the government and generate greater transparency within the community. In order to measure the impact of the proposed strategies, the success can be seen in the mayors ability to start fulfilling his spending promises; initially the mayor only had a budget of CFA26m, (approximately €40,000 in today's money) but as tax compliance and revenues improved, it increased to more than CFA60m and then to CFA100m. (ARI, 2015)
Additionally, Matam’s outcome not only impacted its own community but it also demonstrates to other municipalities the positive impact democratic innovations can have and in turn, individuals of other communities may be more willing to participate in democratic innovations if implemented in their cities. This demonstrates the potential for single innovations to create widespread change across multiple communities. Although the success of PB’s in small cities are not generalisable it is interesting to consider if PB contributed to “overall prosperity” of Senegal. The Legatum Overall Prosperity Index 2019 states Senegal has moved up the rankings by 3 places since 2010 and performs strongest in “social capital and personal freedom.” (Legatum , 2019) On top of overall economic improvement, the process helped overcome the previous deficit of communication between elected officials and citizens. The initiative had strong capacity building phases in the form of workshops facilitated by ECOPOP. The group discussions provided an opportunity for actors to interact and bridge the gap. Facilitators play an important role in this initiative because they have experience working in communities who previously lacked efficient local governance and distrust in government. They also helped improve the knowledge of basic budget allocation among actors. By 2010, nine other municipalities in Senegal had implemented PB in their communities. Such as Fissel, where PB also achieved great success.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In the following section, I will be outlining my perceived successes and failures of the initiative using Smith’s framework of democratic goods. I argue that this PB “considers” meeting the demands of all six democratic goods but inevitably were stronger in some more than others. It was the strongest in transparency, considered judgement and popular control. Unlike the Porto Alegre case, the PB did not reach the same success in engaging the marginalised. Tradeoffs are inevitable in democratic innovations, and this PB falls short in achieving inclusiveness and efficiency.
Firstly, capacity building is a key strength in this initiative. Citizens have a crucial role to play in the financial resources mobilization of their community however most still lack the basic knowledge of budgeting. Previously, the knowledge of allocation of budget and resources was absent across all actors. This initiative overcomes this challenge using facilitators in the form of NGOs which enabled citizens and authorities to develop better considered judgement. Facilitators can help to enhance the process of capacity building and improve basic knowledge of budget amongst key actors. Smith states “given the complexity of budgeting” and “the need to guard against corruption” that “access to information is a guiding principle in PBs” (Smith, 2009) Secondly, the initiative was very strong in achieving transparency. Issues of “free riding” are not present and public voting and discussions have improved communication across the community. This can be attributed to the size of the community, as transparency arguably is most easily achieved in small scale assemblies (Smith, 2009) A budget committee was also set up to follow up on the process, this impact feedback mechanism further strengthens transparency within Matam’s case.
However, there are a few shortcomings. Firstly, the trade-off between inclusion and efficiency. It would be extreme to say that inclusiveness was an issue in this initiative as that’s not the case. The initiative was intended to be inclusive, but it lacks participation from politically marginalised groups. Active citizens mostly consist of highly educated and employed individuals. The citizens of other social groups who did not attend may have perceived “costs” in attending. In Matam’s case government distrust is shared across the community, combined with losing a day of labour, citizens of politically marginalised groups may view attendance as burdensome. Politically marginalized citizens may have “psychological barriers that often stop citizens from attending and/or speaking” combined with “fiscal limitations.” (Smith, 2009) Participation is a fundamental principle for PB, perhaps more efforts can be made to engage other groups. Voting took place in public suggesting all members of the community had an opportunity for input and thus to an extent is inclusive of other groups within the community. It can be argued that unequal participation as Lijphart describes is “democracy’s unresolved dilemma” (Lijphart, 1997) Lastly, although popular control is not a key challenge, it is worth noting that the Mayor stated priorities should be “in line with the programmes of the states” (DBTP, 2008) which suggests there was a risk of unfair popular control even though it was not an issue in this case.
Matam’s PB experiences provide several lessons for future PBs. Matam’s PB had one channel of engagement which was in the form of workshops. This can alienate members of the community who are unable to attend or feel like they cannot make meaningful contributions. To overcome this, perhaps more channels of engagement can be introduced so “different agents with different interests and skills can work together at overlapping pieces of the same problem and/or solution exerting different levels of effort.” (Spada, 2016) Seen in Fissel a few years later, the PB had better planning, more advanced deliberation phases (e.g. forums across different actors of the community) and multiple channels of engagement. However, a more advanced PB process also requires more time and money and as result, Fissel faced similar deep-rooted issues of budget constraints during it’s PB experience. (Gueye, 2010)
To conclude, the success of this PB is highly transferable and applicable to other municipalities who share similar local context concerning budget allocation and decentralisation. However, it is difficult to establish PB as a permanent and recognized tool of governance because of the political culture of Senegal. An issue that arises is making sure the mechanisms implemented will survive political change. Taking in consideration Senegal’s political climate of personality politics and weak local governance, historically rooted issues can constrain the success of future PBs.
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