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…


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Participatory Budgeting in Tanzania

This article discusses the participatory budgeting initiative underway in Tanzania. Similar initiatives are under development in several western and southern African nations. -Editor


This article was prepared by Mr. Celestine Kimaro, Research and Development Officer, Association of Local Authorities of Tanzania (ALAT)



The Participatory Budgeting process in Tanzania is a continuous engagement all the year round involving training and sensitization of the communities and local government staff and civic leaders on planning through a bottom – up approach and methodologies such as O & OD and Plan Rep which have been adopted by the Local Governments. Through the process, Plans are initiated and approved through meetings at the Lower Local Government levels, and consolidated into District, Regional and National Plans. Budgeting is also done at the Local Government levels whereby Indicative Planning Figures (IPFs) are provided by the Central Government and this enables the Local Governments to know how much they expect to get from the Central Government and determine what they will contribute from their own sources.

Tanzania has democratically elected leaders with democratic institutions like the Parliament, Local Government Authorities and has the Freedom of Association by NGOs, Faith Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, CBOs and the Press.

The driving force behind the Participatory Budgeting initiative: The Government of Tanzania committed itself to enhance community participation in development planning and budgeting. This commitment emanates from the Constitution which enshrines the establishment of Local Government system as a means to give power to the people, the Local Government Reform Policy which aims at decentralizing powers and resources to the Local Authorities and the amended Local Government Laws which provide the framework for Decentralization by Devolution.


  • To be able to carter for the needs of the communities inclusively – that is considering the needs of all categories in the society such as the gender, youth, elderly, and other vulnerable groups.

  • To address aspects of ownership to the proposed plans and accountability to the successes and failures of this plans by the communities/the people and their localities.

The planning and budgeting process involve and reflect all stakeholders’ interests and priorities and endeavours to develop socio-economically viable plans. Stakeholders are accountable to the public and to each other for their shared decisions and the tasks they have committed themselves to accomplish.

The Participatory Budgeting Process is targeted at the Policy Makers, the Executives, and all other stakeholders in development including development partners and the citizens who are the beneficiaries and the demographic focus being the disadvantaged such as the disabled, women and children.

Participatory Budgeting Tools and Methodologies:

  • The Planning Guidelines for Village and Mtaa levels which are participatory ;

  • The Medium Term Expenditure Review which involves Local Governments and Central Government levels;

  • Opportunities and Obstacles to Development operation manuals in place.

  • Public meetings addressed by politicians and staff on the importance of participatory planning and budgeting initiatives;

  • NGOs and Civil Society Organizations educate the people on the concept and its importance for their development; The press also advocates for participatory planning and budgeting;

  • The National Association of Local Authorities advocate for higher degree of participatory planning and budgeting by the citizens;

Plans are initiated and approved at the lower levels (Village/Mtaa) after which they are forwarded to the Ward level for coordination and then sent to the District/Town/Municipal/City level where they are consolidated and forwarded to the Regional and ultimately to the National level where they form the National Plans.


Despite the various efforts by different actors to sensitize the people on the importance of participating in the planning and budgeting interventions, the degree of participation is still limited by some factors. Some other people still see it as work of the politicians and the executives and that they get paid for that. Sometimes, even the elite do not participate with an excuse of lack of time. It has been very difficult for the poor to participate. Those who attend have been empowered as they precisely know what their priorities are and what their strengths in implementing their plans are.

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