“What I like the most about participatory budgeting is the participation… and the transparency. Before I did not know how much money our city made. Now I know how much we have collected in tax, how much we have spent. And we have a say in how this money is spent.”
Citizen of Bagira, South-Kivu
In the province of South Kivu, citizens are starting a process that allows them to know about the budget of their cities and communes and where public funds are going. They are deciding where public money should go, what to do with it, and their decision is final.
In April 2010, a capacity building workshop on Participatory Budgeting was carried out with the participation of more than 50 key actors from the provincial and local governments, civil society, local IT companies and academia.
After this first step, participatory budgeting became a reality in the province due to a major change: in August 2010 the provincial government informed local governments of its decision to start transferring funds to the local level as mandated by law but widely not practiced. The condition was that they would start to consult their population and would develop a strategy for the implementation of Participatory Budgeting, a process that local governments started following. PB implementation was facilitated by the use of mobile phones as a means to mobilize citizens to participate in the process and to reduce the transaction costs associated with the participation; as well as vote on budget priorities.
There were many incentives for South Kivu’s provincial government to transfer resources to the local level. Among others, these refer to reducing tax evasion, and gaining legitimacy and visibility. Tax evasion is a major problem in the DRC and Participatory Budgeting is associated to its reduction as citizens become more aware of the actual uses of the public funds they are contributing to through taxes. Regarding the second point, politicians at the provincial level of government in the DRC are in quest for increased legitimacy as they are non-elected officials, and this was a meaningful way to bring them closer to the population and to increase the legitimacy of their actions. The last one concerns to how these transfers of funds were noticeable for the local population.
Taking one step further, in April 2011 the Ministry of the budget institutionalized de jure the process of Participatory Budgeting through a Decree. For the year 2012, local governments must guide their budgetary implementation according to the principles of participatory budgeting, meaning that they are to submit a part of their investment budget so that citizens can decide where those funds should go.
By now, many encouraging preliminary results can be mentioned. These are an increase in the transfer of funds from the provincial to the local level, better budget projections, local public investments started to happen and as well as concrete projected delivery of public services to the poor such as the repair of 54 classrooms and a bridge in Luhindja, the creation of a health center and the repair of the sewage system in Bagira, and the construction of toilets in local markets as well as the creation of a water fountain in Ibanda. From here, mobile phones allow the population to monitor how the projects voted on are doing and to answer surveys regarding their access to services like water. Also, citizens started mapping public services and budget allocation in order to track the implementation of the public works decided through PB and locate existing services.