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Improving citizen participation in local government: Participatory budgeting and municipal accountability tools

Planact's contribution to the 2018 State of Local Governance publication focuses on tools they has developed and implementated to enable genuine and meaningful collaboration and partnership between citizens and the state. Their paper discusses the benefits of citizen participation in local governance processes, and the extent to which shortfalls in citizen participation in local governance can be remedied using these tools.

“In the current setting, citizens are not given adequate and genuine opportunities to influence or contribute to local government development plans. Where citizens are usually involved in such processes, it is to get their endorsement on development plan decisions. The lack of citizen participation does not enable council officials in correctly prioritising and including needs pertaining to citizens, and there is no conducive environment for citizens to hold their respective local governments accountable. As a result, citizens have been seen protesting against municipal actions for various reasons.

Africa’s apartheid system created an urban and rural landscape of race-based inequality that was destined to prevail long after formal apartheid was dismantled. After the inauguration of the new government in April 1994, it was evident that the biggest task was to redress the outcomes of the apartheid system through legislative frameworks that would guide the laws and regulations. In 1998, a White Paper on Local Government was developed, which is premised on a developmental state, and therefore the newly established constitutional democracy at the time faced the task of clarifying the ethos and principles of the new developmental state. What has proven far more difficult is ensuring the policies and principles from the White Paper (WP) are translated into effective systems and procedures across all spheres of government, through the legislative framework. Based on the above observations made during its work in participatory governance, Planact developed tools to enable genuine and meaningful collaboration and partnership, between citizens and the state, and to eventually build trust between the two.

This paper attempts to establish whether the low level of citizen participation has been brought about by a disjuncture between the principles and policies of the WP; this will be done by interrogating the realities of local government on participation as experienced in the two case studies. The paper further discusses the benefits of citizen participation in local governance processes, and the extent to which the shortfalls in citizen participation in local governance can be remedied by the tools that were developed and applied by Planact. Planact’s hypothesis is that these tools, while outside the formal regulated systems of municipal governance, have the potential to leverage changes in local government that are more consistent with the WP. This assessment helps us to decide whether the tools were simply a ‘band aid’ to a failing system or a basis for policy reform to get procedures back on track.”

A copy of the paper can be downloaded below.


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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.