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…


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Participatory Budgeting in Matam, Senegal

The following abstract and summary of a presentation by Mayor Adoulaya Drame of Matam, Senegal provides another example of the many participatory budgeting initiatives underway in Africa. - Editor


Abstract from a Presentation made by Mayor of Matam, Hon. Abdoulaya Drame during a PB Conference held in Malaga Spain from 28 March – 1 April 2007.


Matam is a small town in Senegal with 20,000 inhabitants. Before 2002, the city didn’t know its budget – no one tracked it. The PB process in Matam involves a constant exchange between the city and neighborhood committees. The city asks committees to prioritize projects and decide their costs, then the committees and city employees develop the budget together through many meetings (co-management). The city council even includes one spot for a councilor from the town’s international diaspora, who mobilizes resources from the diaspora that are used for the PB.

Presentation by Abdoulaye Drame, Mayor of Matam Senegal


Following a brief introduction about the City of Matam, the Mayor went on the describe the motivation for introducing participatory budgeting. He pointed out that previously, local governments draw up their budget in a small circle and most of the time, the information was not shared with the populations. The few who were consulted for data-gathering were not present during the budgetary orientation meetings or during the budget vote meeting. He pointed out that beside the local population, even sometimes local elected officials had no information about the financial capacities of their municipality, or about the use of these financial resources. Furthermore, the results of theprevious budget were not looked into. There was an enormous deficit of communication between the elected officials and the inhabitants about the use of public resources. Such failures turned out to be obstacles to realising good local governance – efficiency, participation, transparency and equity.

It was against this background that during the budgetary orientation meeting (2005), the local elected officials deplored this situation and decided to try out the participatory budgeting. It was the determination of the councillors to get the community to:

  • Determine the assignment of whole or part of the available public resources and
  • Participate in subsequent decisions related to expenditure assignment

The local authority asked ENDA ECOPOP to monitor the process of participatory budgeting and to provide capacity building for both council officials and the community. Among the activities was a four-day workshop organised in Matam to elaborate on the investment opportunities as part of the budget with all the different actors – local elected officials, local technicians, state technicians, women, youngsters, traders, carriers, old aged people, delegates, handicapped people and other stakeholders.

A second workshop with all the actors was organised to analyse the best follow-up strategies of the activities which were started through participatory budgeting. The idea was to reflect on the obstacles to local financial resources mobilization and also the collection strategies. The working groups were created during the workshop which constitute an interface between the council and the populations.

The Mayor highlighted some capacity building challenges. He stressed that citizens have a crucial role to play in the financial resources mobilization of their community. However, whilst they are fullfledged actors in the budgetary process, they do not know what they must do and how they must do it.

Mayor Drame outlined the lessons learned as follows:

  • The mayor plays a key role in encouraging citizens to participate in the budgetary process.

  • A budget committee must be set up to follow up on the process

  • The participatory budget is voted for and priorities are discussed in public

  • The priorities should be in line with programmes of the state

Among the Impacts and lessons learnt are the following:

  • People now appreciate that there is transparency in the budgetary process

  • Financial and technical assistance from ENDA was very useful

  • The mayor plays a key role in implementing participatory budgeting

In his final remarks, Mayor Drame said “PB is a reality that reconciles peoples’ dreams with the resource realities they are in”. He went on to say that participatory budgeting is an instrument of democratization in public management and has two fundamental principles namely; participation and transparency.

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