We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Participatory Budgeting in Ethekwini, South Africa

The following article discusses one of several participatory budgeting initiatives underway in several countries of southern Africa. -Editor


This article was prepared by Mr. Owen Naidoo, Financial Officer, Ethikweni Municipality, South Africa



Ethikweni Municipality is located in Durban, South Africa. Participatory Budgeting in Ethikweni Municipality is guided by the Mayor and is facilitated by three departments namely: Treasury; Corporate Policy and Community Participation; and Action Support. The Treasury department is responsible for the compilation, co-ordination and driving of the budget process whilst the Corporate Policy and Community Participation and Action Support departments co-ordinate the participation process with the community and various stakeholders through Regional Public Hearings and Ward Meetings and Integrated Development Plan (IDP) workshops.

The driving force behind the participatory budgeting initiative: Citizens participation in the budgetary process is encouraged by the South African Government and is strongly supported by the legislation which acknowledges that community input is essential in compiling the budget. Thus the budget is believed to be the ‘people’s budget’. South Africa has a democratically elected government and there is freedom of speech as embodied the national Constitution. The Participatory Budgeting process has also been made possible by the political history of South Africa. The imbalance in service delivery needs to be redressed to ensure that the previously disadvantaged communities get an equitable distribution of resources and service delivery.

The participatory budgeting process in Ethikweni Municipality is targeted at all users of information including, the Community, Commerce and Industry. The demographic focus is women, youth, disabled, indigent and previously disadvantaged individuals.

Participatory Budgeting Tools and Methodologies:

  • Public and Regional Budget hearings: These are held centrally after the draft budget has been tabled to council. Cluster presentations are done by each cluster head during the hearings;
  • Integrated Development Plan Workshops and Ward Meetings: These are held on an ongoing basis and are meant to obtain the views of the citizens.
  • The Print and Electronic Media: The budgets are publicized through newspapers, the radio and the council’s website. The draft budget is placed on the council website 90 days prior to the approval of the budgets for comment.
  • The Budget is monitored through in-year, monthly, quarterly and annual reporting as required by the legislation. Monitoring is done against service delivery and the Budget Implementation Plan which quantifies measurable targets.
  • Inclusiveness: Budgets are presented and questions area asked by the community and responses by Councillors and Officials are recorded. Budgets are amended to include necessary adjustments as required. Concerns pertaining to Provincial / National issues are recorded and communicated to the relevant authorities. The decentralized presentations ensure a participative budgeting process. Presentations are reasonably attended. Community Mobilisers are deployed in various wards to facilitate participation and assist citizens especially in the previously disadvantaged areas. Translators are used to ensure that communication is multi-lingual (diverse society).

Results and Impact of the PB Process:

  • Communities are aware of the budgets and resource availability and relate these to service delivery.
  • Community feedback enables informed decisions to be made in the budget.
  • Helps eliminate the feeling of suspicion, marginalization and exclusion from the budgeting process.
  • Creates reliable, transparent and accountable budgeting


Like any other municipality with limited resources and unlimited community needs and wants, Ethikweni is faced by financial constraints in implementing the Participatory Budgeting process.. To counter this problem, a prioritization process takes place to ensure that basic needs are addressed in all communities. Another shortcoming relates to political agendas of parties which create bottlenecks during the budget approval process.

By. Mr. Owen Naidoo, Financial Officer, Ethikweni Municipal Council

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