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Strengthening local participatory planning and budgeting: Revisiting focus and strategies of citizen groups

Even before the recent decision of the Philippine Supreme Court declaring the legislators’ pork barrel (also known as Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF) unconstitutional, public finance experts and good governance advocates in the country have raised possible alternatives to these discretionary funds as a scheme for prioritizing local needs and allocating scarce public resources.  One such alternative involves strengthening existing local planning and budgeting systems.  The country’s existing policy framework and the current administration’s governance reform initiatives provide for an array of mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in local governance. 

A key question now is how have citizens and citizen groups utilized such spaces.

A recent collaboration between the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA EAP), the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF), and the Makati Business Club – Coalition Against Corruption (MBC – CAC) brought to focus some of the challenges facing citizen groups in local planning and budgeting processes.  The Enhancing Transparency Impact (ETI) Project is a two-year initiative that aims to enhance the impact of citizen actions towards transparency and good governance through grant-giving and knowledge sharing.

What are some of these challenges?  The ETI Project partners’ experiences, and findings from a commissioned case study on similar citizen-driven initiatives, still point to the need for capacity building among local officials and stakeholders on participatory governance approaches.  Some citizen groups have tried to address such demand by directly providing training interventions.  Questions about their capacity to replicate or sustain these initiatives, however, have come out (especially given their current dependence on external funding).  Perhaps a promising approach involves citizen groups partnering with academe in developing grounded learning programs.

A related concern is that of building a shared and credible multi-stakeholder agenda as basis for local planning and budgeting.  Strategies employed by citizen groups included convincing local officials to solicit citizen inputs and set up participatory mechanisms required by law, initiating data-gathering to help identify local needs and explore solutions, and a more explicit process of coming out with a “People’s Agenda” through inclusive public consultations.  An emerging need is for knowledge sharing with citizen groups who may require some “re-tooling” in light of their extensive experience in monitoring implementation of public programs, but little exposure to sustained engagement when it comes to planning and budgeting with local governments.

The full paper on ANSA EAP’s latest experiences in local participatory planning and budgeting can be found here.