Democracy Reporting International in cooperation with Vostok SOS held a roudtable table: "Problems of formation and implementation of the participatory budget in Kherson" which took place on May, 31, and was held online. The discussion was dedicated to problems of formation and realization of the participatory budget in Kherson.
Main thematic lines were:
- Basic principles and problems of formation and implementation of the participatory budget.
- Community needs that can be addressed through a participatory budget.
- Experience of interaction between local authorities and activists who submitted their projects for public funding.
- The main problems during participatory budget project implementation.
Among participants were participants of the participatory budget program of different years, activists, experts, representatives of the local government body responsible for the participatory budget as well as students of local universities and citizens who registered through an open call.
The discussion started with an overview of the participatory budget instrument by the expert Mr. Bogdan Bernatskyi. He spoke about history of its rollout in Ukraine, and it remains one of the only mechanisms at the local level not regulated by any law, making it a completely unique bottom-up initiative.
In Ukraine, the funding available for participatory budget is around 0.28-0.4% of the total budget. The inclusion of citizens in the mechanism is around 4.42%. In Kherson, however, people are more active: 5.6% of inclusion which brings the value of one vote to 588 UAH, around 4 times lower that the country average.
The Kherson situation is quite unique because it was a purely civil society initiative to start a participatory budget. Civil society advocated and pushed for the adoption of the mechanism.
The problems characteristic for the whole country are also present in Kherson. One of the biggest issues of participatory budget is performing the functions of local government at the expense of the participatory budget, when the financing of municipal institutions is carried out through participatory budget projects. The expert suggested that the mechanism should include filters for such projects that would not allow them to get through. For instance, quotas can be introduced, for example: 50% of the projects are for the whole city, 30% are for budget institutions, and 20% are for associations of co-owners of apartment buildings. Another option is to have quotas according to city districts. Finally, criteria of innovation and inclusivity should be introduced and applied during the selection.
The next speaker Ms. Lyudmyla Absava who was among those at the beginning of the initiative, however, says that this is a problem: a purely civic initiative does not have enough ownership in the city government, therefore, leading to a set of challenges the budget faces.
Among the problems that she named were:
- The formation of the coordination council: it should be headed by the local government representative to provide a sense of ownership;
- Not enough advertising of the competition;
- Implementation of the winning projects is very low – 33% of the projects that won in 2019 are still not implemented: better advocacy with members of local government should be employed to ensure sufficient funding;
- Insufficient M&E of the participatory budget cycle to provide corrections in the provisions;
- Lack of annual revision of priorities;
- Reluctance of people to vote online: mobile teams can be organized on the streets to engage these people; the option to vote through BankID should be displayed first, before personal identification option which is more complex for users.
- Some funds from the projects have been redirected towards Covid-19-related costs.
Expert Ms. Lyudmyla Kuzmenko who headed the Coordination Committee of the participatory budget noted that Kherson was the last city in the country to adopt the mechanism of participatory budget. The local government was skeptical about the success of participatory budget, in her opinion, hence making a representative of civil society the head of the committee.
In the first year, the team was not expecting much, and the number of applications highly exceeded the expectations, with 77 applications. 6 projects remain unrealized with no financing. Another problem is that sometimes some projects cannot find a department that would be responsible for the implementation of the project. Also, some of the villages around Kherson that had recently been attached to the city in the process of decentralization were not able to participate. Finally, according to Lyudmyla, the number of members of the coordination committee is too high making it hard to have a quorum and adopt any decisions.
Yevgeniya Virlych who was one of the authors of projects submitted for participatory budget assessed the mechanism and the organized process as positive overall. However, she notes, some of the winning projects get lost after funds were transferred to other causes, and it is the responsibility of the authors to stand their ground to demand their projects to be reinstated in the next cycle. Yevgeniya says that key to success of the project is effective work with stakeholders, beneficiaries of the project as well as a wide promotional campaign.
- Bohdan Bernatsky, expert of the Office of Simple Solutions
- Lyudmila Absava, Chairwoman of the Board of the NGO "Globalnyi poglyad", expert on civic participation
- Lyudmila Kuzmenko, Head of the Coordination Committee for the Participatory Budget of Kherson 2018-2020, expert on civic participation
- Yevgenia Virlych, author of the participatory budget projects, editor-in-chief of the online publication Kavun.City
- Moderator: Uliana Poltavets, Project Coordinator, DRI