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Experiences

Participatory Budgeting in Manastur District, Cluj-Napoca

  • Romania
  • City-Hall of Cluj-Napoca
This experience was presented as candidate for the 9th IOPD Award for Best Practices in Citizen Participation in 2015, and was recognized with a special mention by the international jury

Description

Background

Cluj-Napoca is the second largest city of Romania and M?n??tur is the largest district of Cluj-Napoca, with over 100,000 inhabitants. The specific problems of Manastur district arise from the fact that it has a very high population density (over 4200 inhabitants/km2) with very diverse needs (from children playgrounds to elderly social assistance, from schools to transportation, from parking spaces to recreation areas, from reducing pollution to public safety). For the most part, it was built in the 1970s and 1980s, when the communist industrialization of the city was based on the construction of dormitory-districts with high density population. Among these, M?n??tur district has the highest density. Also, after 1990, the restitution of real estate and the new constructions in adjacent areas reduced even more the spaces used by residents as traditional areas for recreation, raising important issues for the quality of life and of the public space in Manastur.

The numerous issues regarding the quality of life in Manastur needed to be prioritized. To make it a fair process, the City Hall of Cluj-Napoca acknowledged that the citizens must have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and invited them to decide what their priorities were at the moment in improving their quality of life by employing a participatory governance instrument - the Participatory Budgeting.

It was the first successful initiative of public management based on collaborative decision making and public participation in the former communist Romania. The process started in January 2013 and ended in December 2013, with the inclusion in the officially approved budget for 2014 of the priorities and projects proposed by the citizens of the Manastur district. As the projects’ implementation spans from a few weeks to a couple of years this can be seen as an ongoing process, until the implementation is complete. As this pilot PB initiative has been a success, the City Hall chose to go forward with the PB in 2014-2015, including a new district in the process – Marasti, using a similar design and methodology. Similarly, a Youth PB project, coordinated by the City Hall in collaboration with an NGOs federation (SHARE) has been started in November 2014.

Objectives

The main goal of the Participatory Budgeting initiative in Cluj-Napoca has been to develop and strengthen participatory local governance by empowering local community, while increasing decisional transparency and making more sustainable public decisions.

Specific objectives: (i) reduce barriers of communication and collaboration between citizens and local public administration; (ii) increase efficiency of public spending; (iii) increase the sustainability of public policies and investments in the local community; (iv) create and promote a participatory culture both among citizens and at the institutional level, within the local public administration.

Process description

The Participatory Budgeting pilot-process conducted in Cluj-Napoca can be regarded as atypical especially because there was no established sum of money pre-allocated from the budget. There were two main reasons for this:

(i)            legal issues (specific law restrictions and stipulations) - Romanian legislation does not include any provisions regarding participatory processes, therefore it would have been highly disputable for the City Hall and City Council to pre-allocate a sum of money in the City budget for PB, risking to have the project legally shut down;

(ii)           change of focus (political risks) - even if legal advisors would have found a way to pre-allocate a certain amount of funds for the PB, the designer of the process advised the City Hall against this widely used approach because of the risks associated with it in the specific local socio-political context: the mayor and the City Hall could have been accused of “electoral bribery” or of trying to use public money as a political propaganda tool and, also, the attention focus could have changed from the problems to be addressed to discussing what would be the correct amount of money to be pre-allocated.

Secondly, this PB process was based on the consensus building approach of participatory processes, rather than the deliberative one. There were two main reasons for this choice:

(i)            legal issues regarding decision-making (according to Romanian legislation public money spending decisions are ONLY the attribute of public administrators, therefore citizens’ voting on how to spend public money could have opened legal issues) – to avoid the risk of shutting down the process for legal reasons, the process design had to creatively propose a different alternative for participatory and inclusive decision making. Even though it consumed more time and resources, the consensus building approach was chosen, making sure that all possible stakeholders were invited to the process.

(ii)           more socially inclusive and sustainable decisions – the consensus building approach allowed for more interaction between citizens and public administration, as well as it increased the input of minority and marginalized groups whose previous requests were considered illegitimate by the majority. Within the consensus building approach, the participants were asked to identify for themselves the most unmaintained areas as well of the types/groups/categories of citizens most in need of help within their neighborhoods and to propose solutions to their problems. Through consensus building everybody’s voice was heard and taken into consideration. It did not matter that some ethnic groups or socially challenged individuals were in minority or that some people were living in the district without proper paperwork – everyone’s input was recorded as equally important and legitimate when the community priorities were set (e.g. – increased public transportation facilities, the creation of a cultural and leisure center with free access for community members, especially low-income families with kids, free training and job counseling services for the unemployed, several small playgrounds and parks for young families with children, several small outdoor sports areas for the teenagers and young people, increased level of public safety, improvement of sanitation services etc.).

Overall, the focus of participants was on prioritizing problems and proposing socially inclusive solutions for their community and the PB won the support of all political parties represented in the City Council.

The design and process planning, as well as the training of facilitators took place from January to March 2013. The participatory process took place from March to December 2013, and the results were reflected in 2014 in the financing of over 57 small projects/ideas, 1 medium project and 3 large public investments for the Manastur PB – all totalizing budget allocations of over 4.3 million Euros, one of the largest in Europe in 2014.

Manastur PB has become a yearly process for the City of Cluj-Napoca and PB has expanded in 2014 with the new PB for the district of Marasti. Similarly, a Youth PB project, coordinated by the City Hall in collaboration with an NGOs federation (SHARE) has been started in November 2014.

Results

Total number of direct participants: 723

Total number of indirect participants (represented by leaders of the Home Owners Associations): 11-12,000

Targeted population: 100,000

Higher number of direct/indirect participants than expected.

The input received through the PB process was surprising in many aspects, especially due to the techniques used, which allowed prioritization of needs, social inclusion and proposal of solutions based on consensus building.

The significant number of projects financed – 3 large scale projects (transformation of a decaying building into the first community center which is designed to offer cultural and leisure opportunities for community members, especially low-income families with kids, as well as free public services for socially challenged individuals such as free training and job counselling services for the unemployed; 2 large infrastructure repairs/improvement of high traffic, highly populated streets), 1 medium project (improvements and repairs to the largest park of the district), and 57 small projects (9 small parks/recreation areas improved, 4 small outdoor sports areas improved/repaired, 7 playgrounds repaired/improved, public lighting improved/repaired in 4 areas, street/traffic signs placement/replacement for increasing traffic safety, increased the number and presence of local police in 5 areas, public green areas rejuvenated throughout the district, etc.).

The large amount of money allocated for the resulting PB projects: 4.3 million Euros.