Implementation of Participatory Budget Mechanism (TBI0003)
Action Plan: Tbilisi, Georgia Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: Department of Finance
Support Institution(s): “Municipal Services Development Agency” NCLE, Legal Department, Districts Administrations.
Policy AreasCapacity Building, Fiscal Openness, Legislation & Regulation, Local Commitments, Public Participation, Public Participation in Budget/Fiscal Policy
Issue to be Addressed: Currently, Tbilisi City Hall’s budget is planned in accordance with previous year’s budget and pre-election pledges. In individual cases additional studies can be 16 conducted. There is no effective mechanism or established procedure of Participatory Budget Planning. Primary Objective: Budget to be more public-oriented, create electronic and procedural mechanisms to increase public participation in this process, creation of more accountable mechanism for government’s and public cooperation.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
3. Implementation of participatory budget planning mechanism
An integrated electronic platform will be created with other electronic applications enabling Tbilisi residents to allocate 100 GEL [(representing 100% of the Tbilisi budget)] Point of clarification: This commitment proposes to create a mechanism that allows citizens to simulate the allocation process of Tbilisi’s budget. Participants would have 100GEL, representing 100 percent of the city’s budget. between thematic priorities in visually presented thematic Budget. Citizens will be able to see sub-topics of each priority and will have access to the information related to previous year(s) budget allocation(s). The program automatically calculates weighted average - a result from citizens’ selected priorities. Consideration of this result will be mandatory at any stage of formation and approval of the budget. On the same portal, there will be a published comparison between the finally approved budget and the budget developed by public, and the difference will be documented. At all above-mentioned stages, there will be sections for comments, discussions and direct remarks for the Tbilisi City Hall. Also, statistics will be available. In parallel with the voting process, Tbilisi City Hall departments and district administrations will ensure the engagement of citizens and facilitation of voting process.
A legal timeframe and procedures will be established [to define]: when the platform will be open for voting; when it will close; when will the budget [be discussed] after budget formation and correction processes according to the government procedures that resulted in the weighted average budget; a legal framework for comparison of the two budgets and legal argumentation procedure. There also will be established requirements and a format for informing and interviewing members of the public, including people with disabilities and other target groups.
1. Elaboration of terms of reference to create appropriate functions for budget web application (by May 2017)
2. Provide software for application (by September 2017)
3. Legal consultancy, development of system support legislative acts, approval (by December 2017)
4. System testing and introduction (by December 2017)
5. Training of District Administration civil servants (by December 2017)
6. Making of a video clip covering portal and other OGP commitments and its dissemination through social media, mass media or through municipal entities (by December 2017)
Editorial Note: The commitment text above is an excerpt from the Tbilisi 2017 action plan. The complete text provides detailed and technical information on how the milestones will be carried out, assigns responsibility to specific actors and provides concrete deadlines for its implementation.
Overall Objective & Relevance
Tbilisi has seen important improvements towards transparency in the budgetary process. Organizations such as Transparency Georgia have praised developments such as the inclusion of budget appendixes which provide detailed information on planned infrastructure works, social affairs spending, education and other projects. “2015 Tbilisi Budget: New Developments and Problems” (Transparency International, Georgia), http://www.transparency.ge/en/blog/2015-tbilisi-budget-new-developments-and-problems However, there is no effective mechanism to ensure citizen participation in the city budget planning process and information presented for public use is not easy to read, which stirred public discussions on the neglect of citizens’ interests. “Budget of Tbilisi: Political Game or caring for people” (Transparency International, Georgia), http://www.transparency.ge/en/blog/tbilisi-budget-political-game-or-caring-people Consultations on budget drafts usually take place during City Council meetings, which are open to the public, but have low participation rates. Additionally, according to the Local Self-Government Index (published by the Center for Consultation and Training, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information and the Management Systems Development Center), the absolute majority of Georgian municipalities do not include citizens in budget planning processes.
Tbilisi City Hall committed to opening the budgetary process by publishing key budget documents and creating an electronic participatory mechanism for budget planning, to increase cooperation between citizens and government. The action plan lays out a detailed description of how the mechanism should look. Users would be able to create their own version of the city budget. For ease of understanding, the user is given 100GEL (ca US$40) (to simulate 100 percent of the budget) which he or she needs to allocate according to the thematic priorities and sub-topics presented. This user-friendly platform would also display information related to budget allocations from previous years. As explained in the action plan, the platform would record and publish a comparison between the citizen-prioritized budget and the final approved budget; it would also include functions for citizens to leave comments, organize discussions and direct remarks to the city government.
Additionally, the commitment calls for the establishment of a legal framework that stipulates the obligation of deliberating on citizen input (through the voting process and calculations of weighted average of results). The action plan specifies that City Hall is to establish a legal framework to define how the government will communicate the decisions made for a final budget. It will, at least, require publishing a comparison between the budget designed by public opinion and the approved budget with supporting documentation (and legal argumentation) explaining the differences among them. City Hall is to define the specific requirements and the format for informing and interviewing members of the public (including people with disabilities and other target groups).
The commitment is relevant to the OGP values of access to information, citizen participation and technology and innovation for transparency. Budget visualizations can improve the way citizens access and understand budgetary planning processes. In turn, the voting system on the platform allows citizens to participate in the process of development of the city budget.
Specificity and Potential Impact
The commitment is highly specific as it contains several detailed milestones with steps to develop the software for the application and overall system, establish a legal framework, carry-out the testing of the system and training the relevant personnel in district and local administrations. The commitment provides clear, verifiable activities with measurable results.
If implemented fully, the commitment could have a significant impact on citizen participation in the budgetary process, potentially ensuring meaningful dialogue between the public and the government of Tbilisi. The commitment could imply a significant increase in access to information and civic participation, considering that the mechanism is envisioned as a learning tool for citizens to understand how the budget is distributed, including comparisons with previous budgets, showcasing citizens’ proposals on what they believe is a fair budget and providing a tool to communicate with City Hall on themes relevant to the budgetary process. Considering the current ongoing discussions, political debates and accusations, Giorgi Gogua, “The opposition does not like the new budget project of Tbilisi”, https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/opozicias-ar-moscons-tbilisis-axali-biujeti/28125839.html promoting e-participation in the planning phase of the budgetary process to gather direct input from citizens through an effective and accessible online platform, coupled with the legal obligation to inform citizens on how their voices are accounted for, could significantly change the way the general public is integrated in the budgeting process.
CSOs have differing opinions about the likely impact this commitment would have. IDFI believes that providing information on the comparison of the approved budget and priorities identified by the sociological surveys empowers citizens, stakeholders and media to know what the priorities of the citizens are and what was taken into consideration by the government. This helps to monitor the process and could have a significant impact on meaningful dialogue between the public and the government of Tbilisi. Avalishvili, October 2017.
OSGF believes that, according to the draft legal acts, the participatory budget planning mechanism is supposed to be based on research only and there is no evidence on how the gathered information from citizens would be taken into consideration during the planning process of the budget, “Somehow, they are referring to the research of citizens’ needs as the participatory budget planning tool”. Tsintsabadze, February 2018. While this commitment could be a useful tool to increase the accessibility of information, OSGF representatives note that the draft regulation CSOs have seen does not elaborate on what would be the next steps from the government in case the compared results are different to each other. Furthermore, there is no obligation for the government to take into consideration the views or priorities of citizens. Tsintsabadze, February 2018. Representatives of TI Georgia agreed that the government is not obliged to provide argument-based explanations to citizens with simple and understandable language. Topuria, February 2018.
This commitment has been completed to a limited extent. The Government of Tbilisi, with active involvement of the Municipal Services Development Agency, Tbilisi Municipal Legal and Finance departments and administrations of districts elaborated legal terms of reference to create appropriate functions for budget web-application. MSDA was responsible for providing software for the application to indicate the city budget according to their thematic priorities and sub-topics presented. The system was tested and introduced to the working group members. Khasia, February 2018. The portal is still in the test version and is not yet launched or publicly available. The plan is to integrate it as one sub-application under the my.tbilisi.gov.ge and citizens will have access after registering.
OSGF was actively involved in the process of developing the commitment, participating in the elaboration of the supportive legal acts. However, they believe that the mechanism that has been developed is different from the one that was initially suggested in the action plan. Furthermore, they stressed that they were not informed if any of their recommendations were considered, because they did not have the opportunity to see the last version of the draft acts. Tsintsabadze, February 2018.
According to the government, the developed participatory budget mechanism is based on the research which planned to identify the needs of Tbilisi residents through public opinion surveys.
Although not part of the commitment, the OSGF contracted the polling firm which conducted research on information level of citizens and what Tbilisi residents’ priorities are. This research was meant to help plan the development of the mechanism. The methodology was developed for helping the employees of Gamgeobas to conduct representative face-to-face interviews with Tbilisi residents. The survey was conducted by the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis and assessed the needs of Tbilisi citizens by interviewing 3,000 individuals in 10 districts of Tbilisi. “Tbilisi Citizens’ Needs Assessment”, Open Society Georgia Foundation, 2017, http://www.osgf.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=15&info_id=5057 Additionally, OSGF suggested to the Municipality of Tbilisi to hire specialists to create survey questionnaires and methodology for developing the participatory budget mechanism. Also, they supported the provision of trainings for Municipality personnel and carrying out an initial survey in Tbilisi to identify the current needs of residents. Minutes of the Meeting #7, http://ogp.tbilisi.gov.ge/img/original/2017/9/13/record_of_meeting_7.pdf
According to the draft legal regulation developed by City Hall in the early stages, the implementation of this commitment was planned in two phases: During the first stage the residents were to vote electronically from 1 March to 15 July, and the second stage included conducting face-to-face interviews with the residents of Tbilisi. The face-to-face interviews were planned to be conducted by the specially trained civil servants of district administrations from 1 May to 15 July. The methodology and questionnaires were developed specifically to guarantee a proper information gathering. After gathering the information from residents, the data will be automatically calculated and weighted with average results from citizens’ selected priorities. The comparison between the citizen’s budget and the finally approved budget will be published. None of these stages have taken place and the implementation of both activities has been delayed.
The respective regulation which provides a legal basis for the implementation of this commitment, as envisaged, is a crucial procedural step causing the delay in implementation. OSGF believes that conducting the study to identify the needs of residents is not enough to be able to say that the budget is planned based on the participatory budget planning mechanism.
According to the Government of Tbilisi, trainings with civil servants of the district administrations have begun, based on the methodology agreed with OSGF. The first round of trainings involved representatives of the district administrations who will be responsible for gathering data from citizens through face-to-face interviews. The second round of trainings target City Hall employees to teach them how to administer the online platform. This round of training has started but has not finished.
At the time of writing of the report, only the pilot version of the portal exists, pending approval from the Government of Tbilisi.
Early results: did it open government?
Access to Information: No change
Civic Participation: No change
According to CSOs there is no evidence yet to measure if the commitment increases access to information or civic participation, as only the pilot version of the portal was presented by the Government of Tbilisi.
Given the importance of this commitment and its limited implementation at this stage, the IRM researcher recommends carrying it forward to the next action plan.
The following recommendations are to be considered by the Government of Tbilisi:
· The participatory budget planning mechanism should be implemented not only through conducting the survey. The IRM researcher recommends the Municipal Services Development Agency to map and build on existing participatory budgeting interfaces to ensure the use of best practices as well as saving resources. For example, a participatory budgeting interface, such as Decide Madrid (https://decide.madrid.es/), an open source civic technology platform created in 2015 by the Municipality of Madrid, enables citizens to propose, deliberate and vote on policies and city projects and ensure transparency in various government processes. It also includes features that go beyond participatory budgeting. The platform provides spaces for citizen-prompted debates, crowdsourcing ideas for new city projects and participatory budgeting processes.
The platform uses Consul (http://consulproject.org/en/), a free software for citizen participation that is currently being replicated in many municipalities worldwide.
· In case of availability of comparison between the priorities identified by citizens and the priorities in the actual budget, the regulation should clearly define the steps to be taken by the Government of Tbilisi to ensure the voice of citizens is heard and considered.
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