Participatory budgeting in Bucharest – between disinterest and distrust in the local government, November 2022
Authors: Alexandru Damian, Dragoș Ile
We looked at what the participatory budgeting programme in Bucharest has entailed in the last three years. We then compared it to what is happening in other cities in the country and also in the EU. The first thing that stands out is the apparent disregard for the programme by the Capital City Hall and the district municipalities. Unfortunately, the example of Bucharest is a rather unfortunate one. With minor exceptions, it reveals either disinterest or limited capacity to responsibly manage even small participatory budgeting programmes compared to many other European cities.
Disinterest and small participatory budgeting
In 2022, only the Municipalities of Districts 1 and 2 and the Bucharest City Hall carried out participatory budgeting programmes. The total budget was RON 7.2 million, i.e., 0.1% of the total budget of the three municipalities. In addition, the participatory budgeting programme of the Municipality of District 1 (with a record budget of RON 5 million) is de facto suspended. The local administration failed to stick to the adopted calendar and has not communicated information about the stages of the programme since its launch.
Four district mayoralties (Districts 2, 3, 4 and 5) did not organise any participatory budgeting programmes in 2022. This is even though the District 3 City Hall had a participatory budgeting program in 2021, with modest results, and District 2 and 5 City Halls have local council decisions from 2021 to start the program. The District 4 City Hall has a local council decision from 2022. Hopefully, they are preparing for 2023.
The popularity of the programmes is also relatively low in the absence of interest on the part of the local government. While in most cities with a successful track record, participatory budgeting programmes are accompanied by numerous public communication measures, support workshops for potential applicants, and the active involvement of civic organisations in the whole process, in Bucharest, this does not happen or has happened to a minimal extent. In 2022, only 4 projects were submitted to the Municipality of District 1, 67 to the Municipality of District 6 and 30 to the General City Hall (down from 60 in 2021). Only 4, 013 valid votes were recorded by the Municipality of District 6 and 4, 212 by the Bucharest City Hall (down from 7,360 in 2021). As far as the Municipality of District 1 is concerned, the voting process is blocked.
How can we improve the situation?
What is missing is a dialogue with civic groups, NGOs, and citizens in the development of programmes in Bucharest and an assumption by local elected officials of participatory budgeting as a tool for community involvement. With a low budget and very few funded projects, no promotion campaigns, no communication, and support package (and not only communication but also workshops for presentation, writing and development of projects), decisions from the City Hall regarding the design of the programme, there are few chances for participatory budgeting to be successful in Bucharest.
We propose a set of proposals that local administrations should consider when launching and implementing participatory budgeting programmes. And we believe that participatory budgeting programmes in 2023 will be launched by all the Municipalities of districts and the Capital City Hall, along with the increase in allocations and the administrations’ responsibility, but also the mid-term piloting of new forms of participatory budgeting – in schools and neighbourhoods.
The full study, in Romanian, is available here.
This material was produced with the financial support of Active Citizens Fund Romania, a programme funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through EEA Grants 2014-2021. The content of this material does not necessarily represent the official position of the EEA and Norway Grants 2014-2021; for more information visit www.eeagrants.org.