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Practitioner reflections on the diffusion and adaptation of participatory budgeting in Indonesia

Blog | August 22, 2017 | Ahmad Rifai

Since its 1989 inception in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participatory budgeting has spread to many different geographical and political contexts, resulting in a rich diversity of practices.

An international workshop held in Nairobi on 13-14 July 2017 brought together researchers and practitioners to understand how participatory budgeting has been adapted in different countries and the impact on citizen empowerment, democratic governance and accountability. Workshop participant, Ahmad Rifai, co-founder and executive director of Kota Kita, a non-profit organisation that has been working to promote and support participatory budgeting and planning in cities across Indonesia, reflects on some of the key insights from the workshop and how it relates to Indonesia’s experiences in participatory budgeting.  


Participatory budgeting as a means to deepening democracy

Participatory budgeting is always tied to a political agenda of increasing democratic practices – especially when the people demand a greater voice in government decision-making. As participatory budgeting develops, it becomes a foundational institution that catalyses the expansion of democratic principles, including good governance, anticorruption advocacy, transparency, accountability, and social justice. In Indonesia when participatory budgeting was introduced in 2000, it triggered much enthusiasm for participation amongst citizens.  People came to Musrenbang - a process during which residents meet together to discuss the issues facing their communities and decide upon priorities for short-term improvements - and they demanded many projects. Now this has become more than just a space to propose projects, but a forum for accountability where people want to hear about progress from government. The process has also triggered greater demand for better public services and good governance.

As participatory budgeting develops, it becomes a foundational institution that catalyses the expansion of democratic principles, including good governance, anticorruption advocacy, transparency, accountability and social justice.

National investment in decentralised government supports the expansion of participatory budgeting

Thanks to national investment in decentralised planning processes, Indonesia has extended participatory budgeting throughout the country. Indonesia enacted participatory budgeting regulations in 2004, and allocated participatory budgeting funds to over 74,000 villages with the 2014 Village Law. Rohidin Sudarno, from Jakarta nonprofit organisation, PATTIRO, explained that this top-down approach is a major opportunity because participatory budgeting funds increase every year, but a lack of capacity in villages constrains the transparency and accountability of local participatory budgeting processes.

Integrated participatory budgeting vs. project-based participation

Many countries dependent on international aid on a project-by-project basis only implement participatory budgeting processes at the project level. However, evidence shows that participatory budgeting best contributes to good governance when utilised as an underlying process in development planning, as in Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Uganda, and Kenya. In Indonesia, participatory budgeting and planning are integrated in one process that is regulated nationally. They have introduced five-year, mid-term development plans in neighbourhoods and at the ward level to eliminate redundancy of short-term, one year projects.  Participatory budgeting and overall development planning have given citizens the opportunity to influence these development plans.

Civil society plays a significant role in the inception and oversight of participatory budgeting

Local organising to demand greater political participation often leads to the introduction of participatory budgeting practices and securing greater public power in budgeting decisions. Once participatory budgeting is introduced, civil society organisations are instrumental in its success. They support the process by: 1) providing technical assistance to local governments and communities in preparing agendas and facilitating processes, 2) monitoring implementation, and 3) providing capacity building for local actors.

Rural areas usually lack such civil society organisations. In Indonesia, for example, the number of villages implementing participatory budgeting far exceeds the number of non-profits that oversee village budgets. This absence of civil society pressure results in low levels of technical capacity and public participation.

Participatory budgeting requires access to government information

In order to propose and budget programmes properly, participatory budgeting processes require two informational bases: information about government funding and information about the urban development context. At Kota Kita we introduced the use of neighbourhood urban data sets that are collected using SMS and our “flock tracker app” to allow automated data tabulation and geo-referencing. The data is then presented in participatory budgeting to help discussion and prioritisation of projects.

Whilst there have been innovations in information technology in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, inaccessibility of information remains a challenge. Inadequate government data collection and sharing are a constraint on participatory budgeting in many countries.

Does participatory budgeting still appeal to developers and politicians?

This question is essential as political environments affect the expansion and success of participatory budgeting throughout the world. Currently in Indonesia, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of mayors and politicians speaking about participatory budgeting in their political agenda. Participation has been perceived as time consuming and not efficient. On the other side, civil society believe strongly that participation can be a powerful process to bring about change.

Participatory budgeting is a powerful democratic tool in which citizens may realise equitable development and make all voices count. For this reason, we must strive to keep participatory budgeting at the top of global policy agendas, and there must be innovations and efforts to strengthen it.


About the author

Ahmad Rifai is co-founder and executive director of Kota Kita, a non-profit organisation that has been working to promote and support participatory budgeting and planning in cities across Indonesia. Kota Kita received a practitioner research grant from Making All Voices Count, to understand how participatory budgeting processes could be improved in Indonesia.
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