A conference to help government find ways to encourage public participation saw specialists sharing best practices from across the world.
How can government get people to participate more in how their country, province and city are run?
This was the question delegates at the International Public Participation Conference hosted by the Gauteng provincial legislature (GPL) from February 29 to March 2 at Emperor's Palace in Gauteng discussed.
Under the theme "The People Shall Govern: Public Participation Beyond Slogans" the conference aimed to share key insights and knowledge on improving citizens' meaningful participation governance processes. The conference also hoped to build a body of knowledge on public participation and civic education to benefit the legislative sector.
Uhuru Moiloa, chairperson of the oversight committees of the GPL said it was significant that people had gathered "at the venue where our Constitution was negotiated to share experience in the world and our own nation to uphold the principles of the Constitution."
Peter Skosana, secretary to the GPL, said the first international conference of this nature was held in 2006 in Birchwood and that, six years down the line, there was "a need to review the work done since then, look at best practises and help to enhance Gauteng's own public participation strategy, which was launched Wednesday [February 29 2012]."
Skosana said there was a real need for a mind-set shift regarding public participation. "We must value the input people make. It's about giving a sense and a reality to people that they are being listened to and responded to and given feedback.
"There is also a real need for an investment in education among citizens around public participation - it will work if they see value to their inputs."
Skosana said the presence of so many participants, from non-governmental organisations, international guests from Nigeria, Kenya and Scotland as well as the International Association for Public Participation, has "created a platform of people who can share their views and translate their resolutions into actions".
"If we can walk the talk [of this conference], we stand a better chance of enhancing our democracy," Skosana said Presentations to the 300 or so delegates from across the world addressed solutions used in Ireland, in other developing countries, such as India and Brazil, as well as local examples from Western Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. Participants also had access to a number of academic papers and break-away sessions.
<strong>Inert populations spell disaster</strong>
Keynote speaker Dr Sydney Mufamadi started the conference by saying that the aim of public participation processes was to turn inert populations into active participants in governing. He identified the early signs of an inert population as including a reduction in voter figures, non-participation in public hearing processes and a general disinterest in government reports. He said these could indicate that a certain sector of the population was considering contracting out of its social agreement with government, which he described as potentially "disastrous".
The challenges legislatures face in achieving high levels of public participation were highlighted by Neliswa Peggy Nkonyeni, speaker of the KwaZulu Natal (KZN) legislature, laid the groundwork for discussions by providing an historic overview of the role of public participation in government.
She outlined the differences between the three sectors of government (executive, legislative and judiciary), saying that all were charged with ensuring public participation in some way or another. Nkonyeni explained that the Constitution avoids the concentration of too much power at any one level of government (executive, legislative, and judiciary) and sets out different duties for each, which impacts on the level of public participation in each level.
She explained that the executive arm (comprised of individual MECs) represents the people and suggests law reforms, while the legislature (parliament as a whole) makes laws and the judiciary (courts) deals with upholding those laws. Both the executive and the legislature are responsible to the people, but the judiciary is only subject to the law and the Constitution.
She said the challenge lies in avoiding tyranny on the one hand and anarchy on the other hand.
"As a society we must never return to an enslavement of humankind by humankind. Legislators must conduct business in open manner," she said, stressing that it is a constitutional injunction.
"Participation of the public is integral to service delivery and there is a need to invest in our democracy in a manner that ensures its sustainability to safeguard our hard-earned democracy."
"The Constitution makes it very clear that all citizens must have a chance to say what they believe should be included in laws. All legislatures must facilitate public involvement in its processes."
Nkonyeni explained that while the most obvious way of participating is through elections, they take place only every five years. Therefore true public participation is only achieved when, between elections, citizens choose to become involved in the processes of government.
Nkonyeni identified a number of ways in which public participation had evolved in KZN, including through sector parliaments, symposia, public education campaigns, public hearings, petitions and legislative tours.
conducted by the KZN parliament in conjunction with the EU government, which identified basic guide-lines for effective public participation. These included proactivity, inclusiveness, shared responsibility, access, transparency and continued evaluation.
"We can still do more as the legislative sector of SA. Beyond considering and guiding the sector, [a constructive strategy to promote public participation] must ultimately be outcome based and gear our people to transforming," she said.
<strong>Lessons from Jozi</strong>
The executive mayor of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, shared a case study from the Johannesburg Metro on how local municipalities can involve the public in integrated development planning (IDP).
He said that Johannesburg had chosen to link its 2006 IDP (which covered the years 2006 to 2011) to community-based planning, and that there had been two iterations. In the first, wards were allocated equal budgets and ward councillors could identify three projects for implementation by the municipality, with a final decision on which project would be implemented made by the council. However, not all councillors involved their communities in choosing these projects, negating the purpose of the exercise.
"Another lesson was that pretty much a uniform set of projects was being pursued," he said. For instance, around 80% of funds were allocated to establishing community facilities like swimming pools or community centres.
"We also found it's not always practical to also include capital allocations [in what communities could choose as projects]," he said, "as they do not always take into account the operational requirements, and their future budgetary impacts, like the need for additional staff to man the community facility."
In the second iteration of the 2006 IDP the council allowed the same amount of money per ward but with different criteria. The amount per ward was not uniform, but depended on the challenges faced by the particular ward. This created the opportunity for the ward councillors of Alexandra, for instance, to pool their resources for a broader solution for Alex rather than using the money for smaller projects in individual wards.
<strong>Together is better</strong>
"The overriding principle is 'together'," Tau said. "We can't do this on our own as government. It's not simply about voting every five years but about empowering ordinary citizens."
Planning beyond these two IDP iterations has led to an extensive public participation process, under nine themes: livable cities, resource sustainability, health and poverty, governance, transportation, community safety, environment, economic growth and smart city. Thematic weeks of discussions at ward level culminated in the 2025 GDS launch held in October 2011, the result of 15 000 people participating in local government planning around infrastructure development.
Tau said public participation comes at a price. "As government, you can't say you can't afford the hall for the meetings. Also, the timing is critical to ensure you deliver on citizens' needs within a reasonable time after they've raised their concerns," he said.
Tau identified two international examples where governments actively involved the public in infra-structure development. In Kerala, India, government has devolved 35% of the state's development budget to local communities where local people can determine and implement their own development priorities. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, communities are consulted and budgets allocated but each local community vote on the final projects that are implemented. This means those who support a particular project essentially have to lobby to get votes for their project. The process goes beyond the normal voter's roll, in that anyone who has a direct municipal account qualifies to vote for the project of their choice.
"We have a joint responsibility to build a responsive and caring organisation, communicate with our citizens, build a sense of confidence through our actions, give voice to the voiceless and respond when they speak, and bring new energy and new ideas into the kind of society we want to build by 2040," Tau said.
<strong>Make budgets work with the people</strong>
The second day of the conference was focused around case studies from across SA and the world about how communities have been involved in governing, with particular reference to budgets and petitions.
Prof Brian Wampler, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Science, Boise Sate University in Brazil , shared the knock-on effects of the participatory budgeting Tau had mentioned. He said there are now thousands of participatory budgeting programmes across the world modeled after Porto Alegre's pioneering case. In Brazil itself, the participation has grown from 134 communities in 1992 to 201 communities in 2008. There are more than 200 cases in Europe and thousands in Latin America, Africa and Asia, he said.
He suggested that the key types of participatory budgets for governments to adapt are in relation to urban public works, housing, health care, social service and through online voting from a pre-selected menu.
He said that civil society organisations (CSOs) played in a key role in these initiatives by holding their own meetings to discuss government proposals and then mobilising their members to attend public meetings.
He said that more sophisticated participatory budgeting programmes are more likely to use the quality of life index to determine how to allocate resources. The quality of life index aims to create a more equitable distribution of resources. It works on the principle that the lower the degree of access to basic services within a region per capita, the higher the degree of per capita resources are allocated to the region. This is informed by demographic and infrastructure data such as the number of schools or the distance to the closest health care clinic, basic GIS mapping and functions on both a regional and micro-regional level, to incorporate small communities.
Wampler used the capital and largest city in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, as a case study for participatory budgeting, where between 1994 and 2008, roughly 10% of all discretionary spending was controlled through participatory budgeting. Even its shantytowns are now required to have a global development plan, and only public works that are included in those plans can be included in the participatory budgeting process.
He said the advantages of adopting participatory budgeting processes include:?o Government enhances its policy and political legitimacy by allowing citizens to influence specific project selection
- Projects are better targeted to meet citizens' key needs and pro-poor criteria reach into shantytowns
- Citizens are engaged and empowered through participatory processes
- There is less corruption during project implementation due to an interested and engaged citizenry
- The small size of many of the projects provides contracts for small local companies.
Wampler identified limitations and risks of participatory budgeting, as follows:
- Participatory budgeting deals only with a small portion of the budget and focuses on small public works projects
- Participants are dependent on government officials for information
- There is limited policy knowledge among participants
- Long-term planning has an ambiguous role
- The amount of policy learning among citizens is unclear
- It tends to engage leaders more than individual citizens
- There is a fine line between co-governance and government control or co-optation
He suggested a number of questions governments can ask themselves to decide whether a participatory budgeting programme will work for them and concluded his presentation by challenging governments to spend scarce resources to implement selected projects to allow increased opportunities for participation.
<strong>Enabling systems and organisational culture</strong>
The third day of the conference concerned itself with the impact of public participation and enabling systems and organisational culture that promote public participation, with presentations from the IEC and the Public Affairs Research institute.
Dmitri Holtzman, director at Equal Education Law Centre in Cape Town, said that there is a very important distinction between consultation and participation. "Public participation itself should be meaningful and legitimate."
He identified two basic requirements for legitimacy: (1) People must be aware of what the process is before the process begins; (2) The outcome of the process must be justifiable and justified.
The conference concluded with a delegates' declaration on how to take public participation across the world one step further.
In response to a question from <em>M&G</em>on what he would most want his own son to take away from a conference such as this, the GPL's Moiloa said that "he must begin to concern himself with the issues in his community, whether it be access to higher education, potholes or streetlights that aren't working. He should contact those who have been elected and follow up with them to keep them accountable."
He said that he would, in his role as oversight of all GPL committees "very soon" share his framework for committees of the GPL to follow to ensure they engage the public in their deliberations and processes, with key performance areas indicated in line with the PEBA oversight model.
Moiloa challenged young people to concern themselves with how their country is being run, saying that children who grow up in affluent suburbs with educated parents and strong education themselves would have found this conference just as relevant as children from impoverished communities with little access to basic education. "It impacts their future security. They have to ask: is government doing enough to ensure that all young people have access to allow them to get to where I am able to get? This is about nation-building, about ensuring the security of our democracy and creating conditions that are favourable to the development of all people."
All papers and presentations from the conference are available on www.gpl.gov.za.
<strong>Can participatory budgeting travel beyond Brazil?</strong>
Prof Brian Wampler - Associate Proffessor, Deparment of Physical Science, Boise Sate University in Brazil - suggested that governments who are considering participatory budgeting programmes should ask themselves the following questions;
Is there sufficient discretionary funding to allow citizens to select specific public works they'd like to see ?implemented?
Is the government prepared to delegate authority in this regard to citizens?
Will participatory budgeting programmes subvert traditional patronage networks? Does the government ?want to subvert them?
Can participatory budgeting help the government to establish new bases of political support?
Is the government willing to try to reform the local bureaucracy?
Are civil society organisations prepared and willing to participate?
<strong>Public participation beyond slogans</strong>|
The participants in the International Conference on Public Participation at the end of the conference declared their intentions as follows:
- We re-affirm our unyielding commitment to the basic tenets of good governance and transparency through the active participation of all people irrespective of political affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, race and creed.
- We are committed towards ensuring that public participation becomes a living reality, moving beyond mere rhetoric and slogans to meaningful citizen participation.
- To this end, we need to create an enabling environment for everyone to participate on key policy issues affecting their lives.
- Drawing from the creative energies of communities we commit ourselves towards ensuring that public participation drives policy and legislative processes of the Sate.
- We believe that public participation is essential to good governance and human developments. The ultimate objective of public participation is to improve the livelihood outcomes of the people.
- We strongly believe that an involved and engaged community can overcome obstacles to development. To this end, we need to institutionalise and create a culture of meaningful public participation. Therefore, we need to reassert the necessity and the importance of meaningful involvement of the citizenry in governance processes. This can be realised through exploring various avenues of effective public participation in governance.
- We strongly believe that civic education and literacy are fundamental to effective public participation. Moreover, building a body of knowledge on public participation will improve the capacity of communities to engage on policy and legislative issues.
- Essential to effective public participation, we believe, is the need to accommodate all official and other languages for ease of meaningful engagement and understanding. This recognises the importance and appreciation of plurality, diversity and different voices in our communities.
- We are mindful of the fact that citizen participation must be clearly defined and parameters to participation outlined for purposes of managing public expectations.
- Moreover, we are sensitive to evident contradictions between representative and participatory forms of democracy. In this respects, effective public participation mechanisms will reconcile these anomalies.
- Of importance in public participation is the crucial role of citizens in the planning and budgetary processes of the state. In this regard, we are of the view that public participation processes must be aligned to planning processes.
- We are also mindful of the need for adequate funding for public participation. Thus, we urge all civic-minded public institutions to allocate sufficient resources in order to institutionalise public participation. Related to this is the need for continuous capacity-building programmes for public participation.
- Ultimately, the underlying objective of our vision is to entrench the ethos and values of meaningful public involvement in government and democratic processes. To this end, we are determined to push the frontiers of public participation forward.