“The right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs”, including at the local level, is explicit in the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and the Additional Protocol to which states that “the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority denotes the right to seek to determine or to influence the exercise of a local authority's powers and responsibilities”. When local authorities consult with, and engage, citizens on the design of, and evaluation of, public services, they pave the way for better policy outcomes and also for greater mutual trust between citizens and government.
Citizen participation involves outreach to a range of local stakeholders, such as civil society activists, journalists, members of academia, business representatives, local communities, and active citizens. It is important that it is inclusive, taking into consideration the views of the wider public, expert stakeholders, and representative groups, including the vulnerable and marginalised. Moreover, stakeholder engagement must include outreach to those whose lives and interests will be affected by the implementation of the decisions under consideration. To ensure that such stakeholders are identified, public consultations should be launched before a commitment to action has been made or before a draft decision has been tabled. A more open consultative process first invites stakeholders to discuss and identify the problems, challenges and opportunities, then examines the different policy scenarios, before any decisions are drafted.
Participatory mechanisms can be grouped in the following categories that reflect different levels of engagement:
– informing the public about local priorities, government programmes and plans;
– holding consultations with the public and/or particular groups of people regarding public policies and collecting their experience or expertise;
– collaborating with the public and/or particular groups of people to develop solutions to local problems (including co-creation processes such as in the formulation of Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan commitments);
– engaging local communities in decision-making processes through deliberative processes, voting (such as participatory budgeting and referenda), and other decision-making tools.
According to the Additional Protocol, “the law shall provide means of facilitating the exercise” of the right of citizens to participate. In order to ensure that the above-mentioned forms of participation are genuine engagement rather than token exercises, the consultation process around the formation of new policies and legislation needs to be backed up by laws, regulations and guidelines, and also by strong political will.
Inclusive policymaking must at the same time be effective, and the public should be well informed about their rights, opportunities and ways they can participate in local decision-making. The policymaking processes need to be clearly stated well in advance to enable citizens and stakeholder groups to prepare their submissions and interventions. Timeframes with clear entry-points for citizen engagement need to be published to ensure that citizen participation is a meaningful exercise, and the local authorities should provide feedback to those who make policy proposals or recommendations. The local authority should ensure that the viewpoints and positions of stakeholders are properly reflected and considered when adopting policies, and feedback should provide clearly stated reasons for the decisions to adopt proposals, or not to adopt them. This inclusive approach ensures that policies are relevant, evidence-based, cater to intersectional needs, and are responsive to public demands.
Local authorities also need to employ officials trained in managing public consultations and ensuring that the feedback to citizens is prompt and comprehensive.
Such inclusive approaches ensure that local authorities make better and more relevant decisions that reflect public interests and are well understood by all citizens. In tandem, local communities can develop a sustained capacity to voice their concerns, design solutions and monitor their proper implementation, resulting in improved public trust towards local service delivery.
The right of citizens to be informed and the obligation of the authorities to inform are enshrined in constitutional norms in the Republic of Moldova which oblige the public administration authorities to ensure the correct information of citizens on public affairs and on matters of personal interest. Though the national regulatory framework contains provisions that oblige the authorities to consult citizens on different matters, the study "Transparency and accountability in public administration" conducted by the EU technical assistance project on "Public administration reform" highlighted that the provisions of the Law on ensuring transparency in decision-making do not clearly specify the methodology of consultation with citizens on draft regulations and administrative acts that may have social, economic or environmental consequences.
According to the 2020 State Chancellery Report, the most effective public consultation mechanisms used by the public authorities are:
The 2019 IDIS “Viitorul” Report on the Transparency of Local Public Administrations in the Republic of Moldova states that public consultation with citizens on key decisions is sporadic and riddled with deficiencies. The results show that 41% of the districts and 58% of the towns and villages monitored as part of the report have not held any public consultations during 2019. When consultations are being organised, the results of these processes are not being communicated to or shared with citizens.
Regarding participatory budgeting, local public authorities have shown a good level of openness in 2019 in terms of drafting the district and local budget. Only a fifth of the districts did not publicly consult the draft budget and just over 40% of cities and villages did not fulfil this legal obligation. Good results can also be seen in the communication of the adopted budget. Almost 80% of the districts and 60% of the towns and villages published the locality's budget on the web. Furthermore, in several localities of the Republic of Moldova (Ialoveni, Budești, Bălți, Chișinău, Călărași, Floresti, Ungheni, Cahul, and Cimișlia), the city halls allocate a part of their annual budgets for "Participatory budget" and citizens vote for different projects proposed by the communities to be funded and implemented.
Other forms of citizens’ participation – public petitions and local referenda are provided by the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova: Article 52 Right to Lodge Petitions, Article 75 Referendum, and Article 109 Basic principles of local public administration.
The Local Self-Government Code of Georgia introduced in February 2014 has a separate section that not only sets an obligation for municipal public institutions to guarantee citizen participation in the exercise of local self-government as a principle, but also lists forms and tools of engagement.
According to Article 85 of the Local Self-Government Code, forms of public participation are: a General Assembly of a Settlement; a Petition; The Council of Civil Advisors;[i] Participation in the sessions of the City Assembly and the sessions of its commission;[ii] Hearing reports on the work performed by the Mayor of the municipality[iii] and by a member of the Municipal Council; and Participation in budgetary process.
Despite the adoption of the mentioned participatory mechanisms, studies showed that they were not implemented properly. In particular, based on the national assessment of all local municipalities (see LSG Index, 2019), the Council of Advisors were not created in all municipalities, only 26 mayors held public hearings of their performance reports, and citizen participation programs were observed only in the budgets of two municipalities. The new vision of Decentralisation Strategy 2020-2025 addresses this issue and aims to strengthen active participation by applying new citizen participation mechanisms.
[i] A deliberative body of a municipality mayor composed of representatives from the private sector, civil society and municipal population. The council should be composed of at least 10 members and its composition shall be approved by the Mayor.
[ii] Sessions are public unless explicitly stipulated by legislation. Anyone may, without any prior notification and/or permission, attend the sessions of a Municipal Council and its commission. Individuals attending the sessions may put questions before the chairperson of the commission or before the speaker and co-speaker.
[iii] At least once a year, before 1 November, the Mayor and Municipal Council members are obliged to publicly deliver a report on the performed work and answer any questions of the population.
Armenian legislation sets forth a number of citizen participation mechanisms, particularly to take part in decision-making related to the environmental matters and urban planning, discussion of draft legal acts, participation in the public councils of sectoral ministries, etc.
Although somehow sufficient citizen participation mechanisms exist in the country, they are not effective, mainly due to the lack of political will of respective institutions or their incapacity to organise due engagement. This problem significantly harms citizens’ trust towards different government institutions and questions the genuine nature of the government’s will and commitment to democratic processes.
The Law on Local Self-Government provides mechanisms for public participation for any citizen above the age of 16. Local residents shall be duly informed of planned community council sessions, including the agenda, venue, timing, and to facilitate their attendance. The head of the community shall ensure the participation of community members in the discussion over the annual budget, as well as on the establishment of a consultative bodies consisting of residents, experts and other stakeholders.
Local self-government bodies take some additional steps in order to ensure more advance citizen engagement. Starting from 2019, different online platforms are being created by municipalities aiming for more effective communication of new projects and ideas, presentation of proposals and discussions. Nevertheless, citizen participation in the affairs of local authority is not much active and effective, conditioned by the passive stance of citizens as well as lack of relevant capacities of authorities.
Since 2008, Kosovo* has begun a gradual decentralisation of government. Local self-government is regulated by the Constitution of Kosovo* in Article 123 and the Law on Local Self-Government. The basic unit of local self-government is the municipality. Currently, local government in Kosovo* is exercised in 38 municipalities.
In Kosovo*, local government is exercised on the principles of good governance, transparency, subsidiarity, and efficient and effective service delivery, paying special attention to the specific needs and concerns of non-majority communities and their members. Citizen engagement and participation in government is also important for the well-functioning of local self-government. The importance of this participation is also expressed by the Constitution of Kosovo*, which obliges municipalities to encourage and ensure active participation of all citizens in the decision-making process of municipal bodies. It is important to create effective mechanisms for citizens to engage in local decision-making. Their engagement affects the level of governance and functioning of the municipality in a way that is beneficial for its citizens. It is important to engage citizens not only during the decision-making process, but also during policymaking. This participation benefits not only the municipality but the whole community. Citizen participation above all is a key tool to increase the transparency and accountability of local and central authorities.
Mechanisms for citizen participation and direct democracy are defined by the Law on Local Self-Government. Those mechanisms include: public information, public consultation, the right to petition, citizens’ initiative, referendum, recall of the Mayor and consultative committees. In order to achieve transparency and civic engagement, Kosovo* has issued the Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities, the Administrative Instruction on Minimum Standards of Public Consultation in Municipalities and Regulation on the Procedure for Drafting and Publishing Municipal Acts. The aim of these acts is to increase transparency, accountability and the well-functioning of the municipalities, which would be beneficial for its citizens.
When it comes to citizen participation, Kosovo*’s legal framework is well defined and provides a wide range of mechanisms in line with European and international standards. However, those mechanisms are not always used in practice. While public consultation and public information remain the most used mechanisms, other forms such as petitions, initiatives, referendums or the recall of the Mayor remain at a low level of implementation. The reason behind this situation is the low level of awareness and interest among citizens to use those mechanisms.
In recent years, municipalities in Kosovo* have increased the level of transparency and accountability, thus enabling citizens to access public information and participate in local policymaking. Every municipality has its own website that allows citizens to have access to the municipality’s activity, organisations, board and decisions taken. Almost all municipalities broadcast live sessions of the Municipal Assembly through various platforms. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related precautionary measures, municipalities are holding public consultations online and therefore not limiting their citizens on exercising their rights.
Concerted efforts to improve and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to provide cost effective and accountable services are in line with the Strategy on Local Self-Government 2016-2026. More specifically, objective 2 of the Strategy seeks to establish a better governance framework to ensure democratic representation of the citizens and an efficient municipal administration, while fourth objective requires the strengthening of partnership between local government, civil society and businesses to create an active, comprehensive and cohesive citizenship.
Local Government Units in Albania made progress in improving their transparency, public participation, and participatory budgeting. A transparency program model for Local Government Units developed by UNDP’s STAR II project and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) and adopted by the Commissioner on the Right to Information and Personal Data Protection, is under implementation in all 61 municipalities of the country. As a result of this project, all municipalities regularly publish decisions taken by their municipal councils online at “Vendime.al”, a portal developed by InfoChip- one-stop-shop platform for the delivery of public services at the local level. It is smoothly progressing since its inception in 2019 with the aim to meet the objective of functional municipal offices nationwide.
Municipalities have made further progress on public participation in local decision-making, especially in the area of participatory budgeting. However, the institutional framework for effective and inclusive participation needs further strengthening. Local-level implementation of the Law on public consultation remains unsatisfactory. An increasing number of municipalities disclose public information, with all 61 having appointed a local coordinator for the right to information.
The 2014 Law on public consultation, laying down the procedural norms for transparency and public participation in decision-making, is generally in line with European standards. However, its scope should be extended to government decisions. It requires reporting on how inputs from civil society organisations (CSOs) are taken into consideration, but there is little evidence of the use and effectiveness of the feedback mechanisms. No progress was made on public consultation in the adoption of sub-legal acts and the implementation of the Laws on volunteerism and social enterprises.
In general, Albania has an adequate and modern legislation in most fields, but the policy-making process is conducted through closed-door policies and limited to a narrow set of actors. The process of digitalisation of services to improve transparency and accountability, and to bring citizens closer to government, is unfortunately associated with missing figures and scarce documentation. Regarding open policy making at local level, the relationship between citizens and public officials is almost inexistent.
Budget transparency remains satisfactory with the publication of key budget documents. The annual budget, the citizens’ budget, and the list of public investments (including PPPs under the medium-term budget program) have been published. However, the timeliness of budget execution reports, in particular reporting on arrears, need to be improved. Also, information on state assets contained in this report does not allow for a full comparison with the original budget. Public participation in the budget process needs to be further strengthened.
The European Commission’s 2019 report for Albania underlines concerns with the government’s approach to citizen participation in decision-making and public consultations, such as the need for more meaningful cooperation with civil society, comprehensive feedback, and follow-up mechanisms. The report also highlights the government’s limited use of the public consultation portal and ineffective consultations with the private sector.
Open policy making is a broad term describing policy development that is transparent and participatory. It describes a way of making policy and decisions that draw on the latest interactive tools that open up policymaking to different stakeholders in an increasingly digital world. There is no one-way to do open policy making: different policy decisions will need different approaches.
Open policy making approaches enable governments to reach more informed and better designed policy outcomes through collaborative approaches that draw on a variety of perspectives and expertise. Different digital tools and analytical techniques are deployed so that policy is more evidence-based and data-driven. Models of engagement can include a representative citizens panel, crowdsourcing of policy ideas, or the use of collective intelligence to draw on the knowledge and expertise of a diverse public.
By the use of open data and citizen engagement, more informed, inclusive decisions can be reached, and more innovation applied in both the policymaking process and the resulting policy decisions. To maximise the possible gains of open policy making, local authorities could set up an open policy making team that publishes the data used to inform and shape policy decisions. and trains public officials in working with data to inform policymaking.
Although there are no specific open policy making standards, the following are useful points of reference:
Transparency, accountability, and access to justice are key operational principles recognized for good governance, thus, constituting the main pillars of democracy.
Corruption weakens public trust in government, hampers legitimate economic activity, threatens public resources and income, and negatively impacts public administration and service delivery thus poses serious and far-reaching risks to country development. In 2019, Albania was ranked 106/180 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index. Furthermore, according to the 2019 Trust in Governance Opinion Poll, out of the 2500 Albanians surveyed, 87% perceived petty corruption to be either widespread or very widespread, meanwhile 85% perceived grand corruption to be either widespread or very widespread. As such, addressing corruption presents a significant challenge that requires measures throughout all levels of public administration.
The Albanian government has supported the multilateral initiative undertaken, such as the Open Government Partnership as one of the important tools that brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to promote increased access to justice, public services and increased accountability through accessible approaches, in order to improve the quality of information for the public.
The institutions of open policy making and public engagement are in formation process in Armenia. The Government has taken steps to reform the policy-making process to be more transparent.
All policy documents in Armenia are adopted in a form of legal acts – mostly government decision. Hence, the participatory procedures are the same to those relevant to adoption of legal acts. In 2016, the Government launched a website (www.e-draft.am) where drafts of legal acts written by governmental bodies are made available on an online platform specially designed for their publication. The website allows for the publication of draft legal acts to the public, receiving online comments from the interested parties, presenting the compiled feedback, to include justifications on proposals that are rejected.
Policymaking at the central and local levels in Georgia has elements of transparency and citizen openness, but openness is often restricted to specific policy processes. Since a uniform legal framework for open policymaking is absent in Georgia; the quality of transparency and citizen participation is different in all central and local public institutions. Transparent, participatory and collaborative policymaking is critically important for the successful implementation of the Public Administration Reform and represents one of its key pillars. In recent years, open policymaking has demonstrated significant success, since both citizens and representatives of public institutions saw the benefit of co-creating policies together. In this regard, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) had a transformative effect on central and local policymaking approaches. After the OGP National Action Plans were successfully co-created by civil society and public institutions, it became evident that the experience could be applied to the local level, paving way to the OGP Sub-National Initiative, which aims to bring open government to the local level. In order to strengthen the co-creation process and secure implementation of the ambitious commitments throughout the country, the elaboration of OGP commitments at national as well as local level involves the active participation of local and civil actors.
Open policymaking is a crucial element for transparency and democracy. The main purpose of open policymaking is to increase citizen participation in decision-making and governance, which would enhance the transparency and accountability of public authorities. Open policymaking is important during the policy development process so that citizens have a say in the creation of those policies that affect their needs and interests.
Kosovo* has created a good legal framework that promotes open policy-making and which is in compliance with European and international standards. Citizen participation is enshrined in the Constitution of Kosovo*, which obliges municipalities to encourage and ensure an active participation of all citizens in the decision-making process of municipal bodies. Open policymaking is also foreseen in the Law on Access to Official Documents, which requires all public institutions to make public their activities and publish every document that is of interest for the citizens of Kosovo*. The Law on Local Self-Government also regulates open policymaking in its Chapter IX.
As a member of the Open Government Partnership since 2012, the Republic of Moldova has been using the term open policymaking in relation to the open government agenda and the co-creation of national action plans on open government. This agenda brings a whole new culture of openness in government (both at central and local levels).
Open policymaking goes deeper than transparency and public consultation: it brings together the right tools, approaches, and techniques in order to be able to listen to a diverse group of citizens, irrespective of their age, social status, or religion, among others.
In the period 2012–2020, in the Republic of Moldova four Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plans were drawn up and implemented. According to the State Chancellery reports, the level of implementation of the plans was quite modest. For instance, 40% of the total planned actions in the 2012-2013 Action Plan, 54.5% of actions planned in the 2016-2018 Action Plan and 45% of actions planned in the 2019-2020 Action Plan were implemented. The following were invoked among the reasons for the non-fulfilment of these actions: insufficient financial means, specifically, for the establishment of information systems and modernisation of public services, limited personnel capacity, and insufficient involvement of certain institutions in the implementation of action plans.
In 2021, the State Chancellery drew up the Concept for the drafting of the Programme for Open Government for 2021-2024 and an Action Plan for its implementation for 2021-2022. In the document, starting from the conclusions of the self-assessment and alternative assessment reports, several priority areas for the coming years have been specified: open data, open contracting, integrity and anti-corruption, open budgets, modernisation of public services, and transparency of expenditures and procurements in the healthcare sector.
Open policymaking became a regular practice in Ukraine after the 2014 Revolution. Every governmental institution is legally obliged to consult legislative initiatives with civil society. Up until 1 July 2017, 21 regional administrations had created civil councils and most city councils have civic advisory boards. Additionally, executive authorities place their legislative initiatives under development on the Government’s website ‘Civil society and government’, (civic.kmu.gov.ua) where any citizen can discuss them.
E-governance and e-democracy massively boost open policymaking in Ukraine. While in 2015 79% of Ukrainians had never heard the term “electronic democracy” and only 14% understood its meaning, the situation significantly changed within two years. Multiple electronic platforms, such as Open City (opencity.e-dem.ua) and Rozumne misto (rozumnemisto.org), brought open policy-making to the fore by providing diverse tools for interaction between citizens and public authorities.
Citizens’ initiatives are a legal right foreseen in Article 20 of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government”. Each community, via its authorised representatives, or not less than 1% of the inhabitants of the municipality, has the right to propose citizens’ initiatives to the municipal council on issues under the jurisdiction of the local self-government unit. Proposals presented to the municipal council as citizens’ initiatives which have a financial impact on the municipal budget shall be considered by the council according to the agenda and shall not be approved without the opinion of the head of the local self-government unit.
The Law on Local Self-Government requires that the public be kept informed about the sessions of the community council. The Law states that at least seven days before the regular session of the community council, the head of the community should publish the draft agenda of the council meeting, indicating the venue and the scheduled date and time of the session.
In addition, the Law defines citizen participation in local governance as a major principle. According to the Law, any citizen who is above 16 years old has a right to participate in local governance. In order to ensure their participation, the head of the community has to include in the community’s five-year development programme the creation of a community-based consultative body.
The Law on Normative Legal Acts states that draft laws are subject to public consultation, except for the draft law on ratification (joining) an international treaty. Drafts of other normative legal acts may be submitted for public discussion on the initiative of the body developing the draft or the body adopting the draft. The duration of public discussions is at least 15 days. Public hearings may be convened in the National Assembly by the decision of the Chairman of the National Assembly, permanent or ad-hoc commission, or a fraction. In this case, the organisation of hearings is not compulsory.
At the central level, there is no legal framework for ensuring open policymaking; however, as mentioned above, the Local Self-Government Code of Georgia has a specific chapter, which sets framework for open policymaking.[i] In particular, municipal public agencies and public officials are required to guarantee organisational and technical capacities that will enable citizens to meet with representatives of the municipality, to attend public hearings of municipal assemblies and to participate in the decision-making process. Some of the forms of open policymaking stipulated in the law are the establishment of the Council of Civil Advisors, participation in the formation of budgetary priorities, and access to information.
The Local Self-Government Code of Georgia envisages forms of open policymaking such as a general assembly of a settlement; a petition; a Council of Civil Advisors; participation in the sessions of the municipal council and the sessions of its commission; hearing reports on the work performed by the Mayor of the municipality and by a member of the municipal council.[ii]
[i] Organic Law of Georgia Local Self-Government Code, Article 85, Legislative Herald of Georgia, published on 19 February 2014.
[ii] Organic Law of Georgia Local Self-Government Code, Article 85-88, Legislative Herald of Georgia, published on 19 February 2014.
Open policymaking in local government in Kosovo* is regulated by the Law on Local Self-Government. In order to ensure transparency, this law regulates that the Municipal Assembly and all of it committees hold meetings open to the public and all members of the public are allowed to follow and participate in them.
That said, the law also regulates exceptional cases when the public can be legally excluded from attending meetings of the Municipal Assembly or any of its committees. The public may be excluded in cases where an open meeting might lead to public disorder or violence, threatens to reveal information and documents which are classified as confidential according to the Law on Access to Official Documents, and threatens to disclose sensitive personal or commercial information or information on current or future litigation.
Chapter IX of the Law on Local Self Government defines mechanisms for citizen participation and direct democracy. This chapter foresees and regulates public information and consultation, the right to petition, citizens’ initiative, referendum, recall of the Mayor and consultative committees. All these mechanisms directly increase transparency and participation in policymaking as they foresee the engagement of citizens in the governing procedures of their municipalities.
Open policymaking is also regulated by the Law on Access to Official Documents. With this law, all public institutions are obliged to proactively publish all public documents. They should publish above all, daily data on the public activity of the local authorities which lead to keeping the citizens informed about their activities. The law also regulates the possibility for citizens to request public institutions to publish or give them access to public documents.
The Law on Transparency in Decision-Making Processes of 2008 has been modified and amended. Following this, it was supplemented by the Government Decision on Consultation Mechanisms with Civil Society on Decision-Making of 8 August 2016. The current government decision sets the framework for consultation, describing the step-by-step tasks, roles, and responsibilities of the authorities, including deadlines, consultation methods, and transparency of the adoption of decisions. It also recommends that local public administrations update their internal procedures related to the transparency of the decision-making process. Article 16/1 of the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making mentions that a person infringing this law would bear disciplinary and administrative responsibility.
Specific commitments to ensure a participative decision-making process for drafting and promoting draft normative acts and policy documents were part of National Action Plan on Open Government 2016-2018, along with a commitment on promoting the e-Legislation system as a new public consultation mechanism in order to involve citizens more actively in the drafting of normative acts. However, the completion of this commitment is limited, and the recommendation was to include it in future action plans until the commitment is fulfilled.
Several laws in Ukraine contain provisions on open policymaking, such as the Law No. 2862-VI “On Social Dialogue”, the Law No. 1160 “On Principles of Public Regulatory Policy of Economic Activity”, and the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. 996 “On Ensuring Public Participation in the Formulation and Implementation of Public Policy”. Furthermore, a more relevant draft law “On public consultations” is currently under development.
The above Resolution No. 996 regulates general procedures for public consultations, policy expertise and the involvement of stakeholders in advisory bodies. The resolution is not compulsory for local governments which means they can choose whether or not to transpose such regulations into their by-laws.
During the law-drafting process, local public authorities must consider relevant expertise especially in three fields: regulatory impact assessment, urban development and environment expertise. For discussions open to the public, local executive bodies are obliged to publish draft acts on their websites. Moreover, local public authorities approve annual plans for public consultations, considering proposals from civil society organisations. In a case of misconduct by public authorities, citizens can submit complaints to the Ombudsman’s office or the Cabinet of Ministers. Those authorities that fail to comply with legal provisions and hinder open policymaking are subject to administrative liability.
Article 20, paragraph 1, of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” stipulates that ways and forms of presentation of citizens’ initiatives, their deliberation, and approval procedures shall be laid down in the statutes for the organisation and operation of the municipal council. To improve policymaking, local authorities should design and implement local action plans in order to bring new insights, perspectives, and expertise from local actors (citizens, civil society organisations, businesses, etc.). This will allow local governments to better link policymaking with the current needs and concerns of the population, and thus to a better implementation of local action plans and policies.
In October 2019, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) in cooperation with Transparency International Armenia published the Assessment of the civil society environment in the Eastern Partnership countries, developed on the basis of set of standards and indicators in 10 different areas that measure both law and practice.
The report recommends the Government to introduce institutional mechanisms for engaging CSOs in the policy implementation and monitoring, including through state contracting; mandatory consultation in the early stages of decision-making to allow meaningful participation of professional CSOs experienced in relevant public policy areas and increase usage of offline participation tools such as public hearings, expert discussions, and surveys.
The experience accumulated in OGP has demonstrated that there is a need for establishing a permanent open government mechanism inside the municipalities of Georgia. Taking into account the success that was achieved in piloting the first OGP Sub-National Action Plan in 2017, it became evident that open government initiatives work successfully not only on the central level but also on the local level. Therefore, it is recommended to use the existing citizen engagement infrastructure, such as the Council of Civil Advisors, to start developing local OGP action plans. These action plans are created with a strong emphasis on developing measurable commitments aimed at increasing transparency and accountability, preventing corruption, improving public service delivery and promoting innovation in local self-government.
Based on the Law on Local Self-Government, the Ministry of Local Government enacted the Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities. Its purpose is to increase transparency in municipalities and its bodies through the publication of normative acts, decisions and documents that are of interest for citizens. Most importantly, this administrative instruction aims to enhance public participation in decision-making.
This Administrative Instruction regulates that municipalities must hold at least two meetings per year with citizens for issues of general interest. Besides those two meetings, the law regulates that municipalities must hold other consultative meetings within the neighbourhoods, settlements or any location within the municipality to discuss issues regarding the budget, projects, local economic development, usage of municipal property or any other issues of general interest. Article 12 regulates forms of citizen participation in decision-making, allowing citizens of the municipality to participate in all phases of the drafting and implementation of local policies: planning, discussion, decision-making, implementation and monitoring. Article 13 of this Administrative Instruction adds that all acts that concern citizens should be publicly consulted before their adoption.
There are no specific guidelines related to the implementation of the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making. However, in 2014, as part of the National Action Plan on Open Government for 2014, one of the commitments was the development of a guide on citizen engagement (fully based on the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making of 2008). It was a civil society-driven commitment and the guide is available as a Google site, which allows it to be updated at any time.
Within the project ‘Transparent cities’, the NGO Transparency International Ukraine provides guidelines for the 100 largest cities in Ukraine, based off individual assessments provided for each city.[i] The guidelines for open policymaking encourage city councils to allow citizens to participate in their consultation and commission meetings; and to publish draft bills 20 working days before being discussed and the full agendas of the sessions 10 days ahead of the plenary session.
The manual Tools of e-democracy in Ukrainian cities provides an overview of the available electronic tools which local public authorities can use to enhance their open policymaking process. The platform Open City provides cities with tools that enable citizens to report local problems. In addition, the advantage of the e-platform Rozumne misto is its wide array of instruments aimed at fostering e-participation, which can be flexibly adapted to each city’s demands and requirements. Diverse e-services include tools for open budgeting, public procurement, surveys, petitions, etc. The implementation of such e-participation tools improves the communication between public authorities and citizens and provides mechanisms for e-democracy.
The “Civic Activist’s Handbook” developed by experts of the USAID project “Citizens in action” in collaboration with the Ukrainian Centre for Independent Political Research provides recommendations and an overview of mechanisms to involve citizens in open policymaking. For instance, it provides model regulations for local self-governance that allow the implementation of best practices of local democracy in line with European standards of good governance.
[i] The project is implemented by TI Ukraine, TI Slovakia and the Institute of Political Education of Ukraine, with support of the United Nations Democracy Fund.
A very successful local initiative was the establishment in 2012 of the Local Citizens Advisory Commission in the municipality of Durrës, which consists of members of local civil society organisations, businesses, youth, women and underrepresented groups. It serves as an independent advisory body for the municipality of Durrës, strengthening citizen participation and supporting the municipality’s work towards decentralisation. The Local Citizens Advisory Commission meets on a regular basis to discuss issues related with budgeting, the annual fiscal package, the quality and delivery of local services, territorial planning and municipal priorities and projects.
2019 was marked by the adoption of the new strategies of the state policy in the field of anti-corruption, the protection of human rights, judicial and legal reforms. Civil society organisations were actively engaged in the discussion and adoption of the new 2019-2022 Anticorruption Strategy of the Republic of Armenia and its Action Plan, the 2019-2023 Strategy for Judicial and Legal Reforms of the Republic of Armenia and the Action Plans Deriving the Refrom, 2020-2022 National Strategy of Protection of Human Rights and its Action Plan. In contrast to this, the state of emergency introduced in March 2020 significantly reduced the opportunities for CSO consultations, and a number of decisions and legal acts adopted in non-transparent manner.
In 2016, the Tbilisi City Hall became a member of the OGP Subnational Government Pilot Program and developed its first OGP Subnational Action plan for the first time. Besides elaborating specific commitments for improving municipal services and increasing public participation in the decision-making process, the action plan was developed with broad participation of civil society organisations and the draft action plan was made available for public scrutiny.
The working group established within the Tbilisi City Hall united representatives of the municipality and civil society organisations. In the process of developing commitments for the action plan, civil society had a possibility to suggest potential actions for the action plan. After developing the initial concept, civil society and City Hall representatives actively collaborated on developing the contents of the action plan. The 2017 Tbilisi Action Plan includes five commitments aimed at improving citizen engagement in the decision-making process, as well as transparency and accountability of local public institutions.
The Supreme Council of Adjara Autonomous Republic (SCA) decided to institutionalise the implementation of open government principles and adopted amendments to the Rules of Procedure, thereby establishing a permanent Open Governance Council within the SCA. In order to support activities of the Council, a SCA Consultative Group was established, composed of representatives of local civil society organisations, and international organisations working in Adjara. The Consultative Group presented the proposals and recommendations to the Open Governance Council of the SCA during the elaboration of the OGP Action Plan and is supporting the Open Governance Council in the efficient implementation of the commitments. In August 2020, the SCA’s OGP Action Plan was adopted, consisting of 15 commitments, which aims to improve citizen engagement, access to information and accountability at the regional level.
Building upon the Regulation on Minimum Standards for the Public Consultation Process, the Office of Good Governance within the Office of the Prime Minister has created an online platform (konsultimet.rks-gov.net) which is used by all public bodies to identify stakeholders to develop public consultations. This platform provides the opportunity for citizens, civil society organisations and all relevant parties to take part in the public consultation process on legislative initiatives and in the decision-making and policymaking process.
An external evaluation report by Social Impact on USAID’s Accountability in the Republic of Moldova project reveals several good practices in the field of open policy-making and co-creation between citizens and local authorities. Specific tools, such as needs assessment surveys, problem identification, public consultations, public hearings, monthly newsletters, social media, etc., have become more widely used by local authorities in their interaction with citizens. Increasingly, such engagement is related to producing regional development strategies and planning for local services upgrades (waste and water management, green spaces, libraries, and educational institutions). Under AIM’s LEADER activity, for example, 25 local action groups (LAGs) across the Republic of Moldova allowed local CSOs and active citizens to engage in decision-making. Several representatives of local authorities referenced the LEADER model as a flexible, grassroots model that enabled cooperation among communities’ public, private, and civic sectors to address local development problems while building the capacity of active citizens and strengthening civic participation.
Through a process of LAG-participant selection, identification of a community priority to address, and provision of funding to address this priority, “people are getting more confident at the local level and engaging more often in decision-making processes”, noted one implementing partner. “[LAGs] are important local platforms.”
The same report shows that mayors and local CSOs frequently mentioned local needs assessments as good instruments to engage communities; in fact, over half of mayors interviewed for this report had conducted such assessments (which engage 500 to 1,000 households) to define community development priorities in alignment with citizen needs. Other popular citizen consultation tools experiencing increasing use were public hearings, petitions, and local civil society councils, with good quality public hearings taking place in Borogani, Sărata Veche, Leova, Dubăsari, and Comrat.
One of the initiatives carried out in Netechyntsi (Khmelnitsky region) as part of the project ‘Local initiatives on ethical governance and transparency’[i] provides a clear example of good practice in initiating an open policy-making process at village council level. The first outcome of the project was the Code of Ethics, adopted after public discussion. The process of active public consultations provided the community with an experience that can be shared with neighbouring villages. The second outcome of the project was the creation of the Village Council’s website, which improves residents’ access to information on the Council’s work. The website serves as a source of information for the Council’s decisions and provides an electronic form for public appeals and information requests.
Large cities are increasingly implementing e-democracy tools for successful open policymaking. For instance, Lutsk (Volyn region) was the first city to introduce the platform ‘Open City’ in 2013 to solve local problems jointly with citizens.
[i] The project was supported by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe as part of the thematic programme ‘Strengthening institutional frameworks for local governance’, within the framework of the Council of Europe / European Union Partnership for Good Governance (2015-2017) in the Eastern Partnership countries.
One of the crowdsourcing forms of citizen participation, participatory budgeting invites citizens and community groups to propose new initiatives or improvements to public services that should be funded by the local authority. Different models include voting by citizens, often online, on different projects. It provides a way for community members to have a direct say in how public money should be spent. It creates opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens. It can also promote transparency, which in turn can help reduce inefficiency and corruption.
Participatory budgeting began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the late 1980s and has spread worldwide. To ensure that participatory budgeting is inclusive and reaches out to different groups, including minority groups and the disadvantaged, both online and in-person information events need to be organised, and support provided to citizens and different community groups and stakeholders in how to prepare a proposal for consideration. The introduction of gender-sensitive participatory budgeting can increase outreach and accessibility and can be planned in close co-operation with local civic groups with a focus on inclusion.
Although there are no specific standards for implementing participatory budgeting, the following serve as important reference materials:
Participatory budgeting is a process that brings local communities closer to decision making on the allocation of the municipal or public budget. In recent years, one of the most effective mechanisms implemented by municipalities is participatory budgeting. According to the Open Budget Survey 2019 index, the Government of Albania made eight out of eight key budget documents available to the public online compared to the 2017 Survey index, where the Government made seven out of eight key budget documents available to the public online.
Barring a few exceptions, local public officials are either not very used to engaging with people on technical planning and budgeting, or find them ill-equipped to do so, or simply do not see the importance of the voice of the people.
Citizen and civil society participation in the state budget-making process was limited until 2019. There were no concrete mechanisms prescribed by the Law on State Budget to engage stakeholders in budget making. Instead, there were concrete participatory budget-making mechanisms in the Law on Local Self-Governance.
Since 2019 the citizen and civil society participation is stipulated by the Prime Minister’s decision On Starting the budgetary process for the development of the state budget for 2020 and 3-year Medium Term Expenditure Framework.
Participatory budgeting is a vital tool in ensuring citizen engagement in the decision-making process; however, the executive, legislative and local branches of the government need to take an additional step in improving the legislative framework and infrastructure. Limited mechanisms for participatory budgeting currently exist in Georgia. Although the public is duly informed about the budgetary process and draft documents are systematically uploaded on the webpages of the Ministry of Finance and certain local authorities, participatory budgeting is still on a tokenistic level – meaning that the public is informed but does not have any power to influence decision-making. Meaningful participatory budgeting will increase the communication between the local government and the population and will also positively affect public trust in local institutions. Having a possibility to plan the local budget will cultivate public scrutiny in the spending process, which will improve public oversight and accountability in the municipality.
As a positive development, several municipalities have started the development of participatory budgeting practices over the past years. As of 2019, nine municipalities are implementing participatory budgeting: Batumi, Ozurgeti, Zugdidi, Mestia, Tskaltubo, Kutaisi, Akhaltsikhe, Gori and Sighnaghi. Based on the initiative, a particular amount of money is considered in the municipal budget for public initiatives. Citizens and initiative groups are enabled to submit their ideas to a particular city hall and a special committee decides which initiative to support.
Recognising participation as an important tool to ensure transparency in budgeting processes, Government of Georgia’s OGP Action Plans consider the development of institutional mechanisms necessary for participatory budgeting schemes. The main objective of the commitments envisaged under both 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 Action Plans is to ensure a better management of public resources through a higher citizen engagement in the budgetary processes. Open government principles commit to raise budget transparency by increasing civil participation through technology and innovation.
Citizen participation in the budget-making process is another important factor that positively contributes to the level of transparency and accountability of governing bodies. Central and local authorities function based on the Budget of Kosovo*, which is gathered from taxes and duties as well as other forms of revenues paid by the citizens of Kosovo*. Therefore, it is important to create mechanisms that allow the citizens to be part of the budget-making processes so that they can be informed about where and how their money is spent. In the local level of government, municipal budgets have five categories: wages and salaries, goods and services, utilities, subsidies, and capital investments. That is why the budget is the most important municipal act because directly affects the quality of life of citizens.
The Law on Local Self Government regulates the participation of citizens in the budget-making process in Kosovo*. Its article 69 (Right of petition) stipulates that any person or organisation with an interest in the municipality has the right to present a petition the Municipal Assembly on matters relating to the responsibilities and powers of the municipality. While article 70 (Citizens’ Initiative) ensures that citizens can initiate a regulation within the competencies of the municipality, for adoption by assembly or by a vote of the citizens in accordance with the applicable law, article 73 (Consultative Committees) obliges Municipal Assembly to establish consultative committees within sectors for the purpose of enabling citizen participation in the decision-making process.
Based on a 2019 Report on Transparency in Local Governance by KDI, municipalities of Kosovo* have shown improvement in the publication of the budget by 19%, investment plan by 17%, quarterly expense reports by only 1%, Annual Summary Report of the municipality’s budget for the previous fiscal year by 12%, midterm budgetary framework by only 2%, and external audit report by 13%.
The Republic of Moldova participated in the latest Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2019: OBS is the world’s only independent, comparative and fact-based research instrument to assess public access to central government budget information.
One component of the OBS measures public access to information on how the central government raises and spends public resources, scoring each country on a scale of 0 to 100. The Republic of Moldova got 57/100, and the main recommendations are related to improving budget transparency by producing and publishing a comprehensive mid-year review online in a timely manner.
The OBS also assesses formal opportunities offered to the public for meaningful participation in the different stages of the budget process, scoring each country on a scale from 0 to 100. The Republic of Moldova has a public participation score of 4 (out of 100).
While the Republic of Moldova's Ministry of Finance has established public consultations during budget formulation, to further strengthen public participation in the budget process it is important that:
At the same time, the Republic of Moldova's Parliament should prioritise allowing members of the public or civil society organisations to testify during its hearings on budget proposals prior to their approval. Additionally, it ought to allow members of the public or civil society organisations to testify during its hearings on the Audit Report.
Back in 2011, the Moldovan Government opened up millions of rows of government expenditure data to the public, but the information remained inaccessible to most citizens, because they did not know how to interpret large amounts of data. Raw data is used mostly by experts and policymakers in their research, while most members of the public often do not see the direct benefits of open data and how it affects their daily lives. Participatory budgeting started being more actively implemented as a mechanism for citizen engagement, transparency and accountability during the past years, particularly with the support of donor-funded projects, and evidence shows that more and more communities across the country are piloting it.
For example, through the "My School" project, implemented by Expert-Grup, between 2013 and 2018, 100 schools involved in the project published their detailed budget data and made them available to students, parents, teachers and all those interested.
In 2015 and for the first time in Ukraine, Chernihiv, Cherkasy and Poltava introduced participatory budgeting. More than 230 cities and amalgamated communities are now implementing this process of democratic deliberation and decision-making. The newest form of participatory budgeting suggests that city councils allocate a certain amount of the local budget to citizens. Other ways of citizen participation in budget planning processes include open plenary sessions on budgeting, citizen written suggestions and requests on development and use of the local budget, public monitoring and effectiveness assessment of budget spending.
Articles 155 to 160 of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania and the Article 20, paragraph 2, of the Law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” state that proposals coming to the council as civic initiatives when they have a financial impact on the budget of the local self-government unit are reviewed by the council in the agenda and cannot be approved without the opinion of the mayor of the local self-government unit. Local government units are responsible to ensure that participatory budgeting is executed in accordance with the law.
According to the Law on the Budgetary System of the Republic of Armenia, the authorities should discuss budget proposals with the interested civil society organisations in their areas of competence during the development of the Draft MTEF (including State Budget 2021), and approve the results (including a summary of the acceptance or rejection of the submitted comments and suggestions) of the discussions.
The Law on Local Self-Government provides mechanisms for public participation. Article 84 of the Law states that the head of the community should ensure the participation of community members in the formation of the annual budget, and should also ensure the creation of a consultative body adjunct to the head of the community which will consist of residents, experts and other stakeholders. For the same purpose, public hearings or discussions are organised on the above-mentioned documents prior to their submission to the council meeting.
Currently, there is no legislation that expressly regulates participatory budgeting in Georgia. The current system does not make it expressly possible to allocate a certain percentage of the budget according to the priorities identified by the citizens. However, a few municipalities committed themselves to develop such a participatory mechanism and allocated a particular amount of financial resources in their annual budgets. Also, the participation of the public in the budgetary process is made possible by public meetings/discussions during the elaboration of the budget. According to Article 91 of the Local Self-Government Code, the Mayor submits the draft budget to the City Assembly before 15 November of each year. The City Assembly then has a 5-day period to release the draft budget for public discussion and then returns the document to the City Mayor with remarks before 25 November. The Mayor returns the revised budget to the City Assembly before December 10, which is then adopted before the end of the year. According to the legislation, there are two windows, from November 20 to November 25 and then from December 10 to December 31 to publicly discuss and adopt the budget. Budgetary consultations and the above-mentioned timeframe are a useful opportunity for mayors to understand local needs and reflect the priorities of the citizens in the municipal budget annually.
According to Article 24 of the Law on Local Self Government, the municipal budget consists of own source revenues, grants from the Government of Kosovo*, donations and other revenues. Further, it states that the budget and finances of municipalities are regulated by the Law on Local Government Finance. As per Article 52, every municipality must have its own Policy and Finances Committee, which is legally responsible for reviewing all policies, fiscal and financial documents, the annual midterm budget and any budget changes during the fiscal year.
The Law on Local Government Finance determines the financial resources that are available to municipalities in Kosovo*, including municipal own source revenues, grants and other financial resources that are necessary for the exercise of municipal competencies. According to this law, municipalities have the right to have sufficient financial resources, which they can freely dispose and are equivalent to their municipal competencies. This law regulates in detail what are the municipal taxes, rents, fines, co-payments and other municipal own source revenues and it determines other grants and transfers for delegated competencies.
Even though there are no specific regulatory frameworks in place which would regiment the implementation of participatory budgeting in the Republic of Moldova, it fits within the existing framework and does not require additional legal adjustments.
More specifically, Law No. 436 of 28 December 2006 on Local Public Administration stipulates that citizens should be consulted: (1) about issues of primary importance for the community (it can be done through a referendum), (2) about the local/specific issues that preoccupy most of the population (through consultations, public hearings, and discussions/debates, under the existent legal framework), (3) on the decisions of the local councils. Article 43 (v) of the same law stipulates that public consultations will be organised for draft decisions of local interest that can have an economic, environmental or social impact, as well as on other problems of importance to the local population.
At the local level, several public authorities approved their own regulatory framework for participatory budgeting. In 2017 at the initiative of several activists, the Chișinău City Hall approved a regulation on the civil budget in the municipality, and in August 2020 a revised version was approved. It establishes a general and procedural framework for the submission, evaluation, selection, implementation and monitoring of projects of public interest, initiated by citizens and financed from the municipal budget through the civil budget of Chișinău. Later, in December 2020 the Leova City Hall also approved a regulation regarding participatory budgeting.
There is no specific legal regulation for participatory budgeting. The Law No. 280/97-VR “On Local Self-government” allows citizens to arrange public hearings where they can discuss urgent issues and submit their propositions to public authorities (Article 13). Article 9 of the said Law allows citizens to submit their own initiatives to the city council. Article 26, paragraph 20, states that, at plenary sessions of a city, town or village council, the council can provide self-organised citizens with specific powers of self-governance and transfer funds for the realisation of their initiatives. In practice, each city, town or village that introduces participatory budgeting provides the necessary legal regulations for the subsequent implementation of projects.
Even though there is a positive trend in Albanian municipalities towards implementing participatory budgeting at local level, better implementation and harmonisation with the Participatory Budgeting Toolkit for Local Governments in Albania would enable more transparent and accountable local governments. In addition, this toolkit, which builds on international practices and tested participatory budgeting methodologies, provides tailored mechanisms to fit Albanian local government budget law and practices.
The 2015 report on Strengthening Local Democracy in Armenia prepared within the project “Support for the consolidation of local democracy in Armenia” in cooperation with the European Association of Local Democracy, gives guidelines on how to engage citizens and civil society organisations in the priorities identified in the community budget and how they can have a role in the allocation of resources. It teaches taxpayers to work with the government to help contribute towards making budget decisions that affect their lives. According to the guidelines, the public benefits of local authorities and civil society organisations working together are that local authorities are able to collect good ideas and suggestions for better solutions, and citizens develop a sense of responsibility towards public goods and the community.
With the support of development partners, the Ministry of Finance has developed a Citizen’s Guide for state budgets. The guide includes important information about the budgetary process, main fiscal procedures in Georgia, state budget priorities, expenditures, and a midterm fiscal policy document overview. Although it has not been adopted through a legal act, the Citizen’s Guide is an important source of information about the budgetary process in Georgia.
In addition, with the support of the German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ) a detailed guidebook on participatory budgeting was prepared, which outlines the essence, aim, historical background, international best practices, basic models, regulatory frameworks, as well as the ways, means and tools for participatory budgeting. The guidebook can be useful not only for local authorities, but also for other stakeholders to effectively contribute to the participatory budgeting process.
Since public attitudes and priorities vary among different groups and are also different from year to year, it is important to establish a sustainable, efficient and inclusive consultation process that has a foundation in internal regulations of the municipal public institutions.
The Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities obliges the municipalities to provide for transparency in their spending. Each municipality is required to publish on its official website the approved Budget Plan, Quarterly Budget Reports, the Midterm Budget Expenditure Framework and a Financial Summary Report of the previous fiscal year. Moreover, the Ministry of Finance issues the Budget Circular, which is the guiding document that the Ministry of Finance sends to the municipality for the preparation of the budget proposal and other budget allocation requests.
The budgeting process in Kosovo* includes some steps which require the participation of citizens. On 15 May of each year, the First Budget Circular is issued. During May and June, municipalities hold open hearings with citizens. The aim of these hearings is to identify citizens' needs for future investment planning. On 30 June, the Midterm Budget Expenditure Framework is approved and published online. On 1 September, the Mayor approves the Budget Proposal and sends it to the Assembly of Kosovo*. The Municipal Assembly is required to hold at least one public hearing before approving the budget proposal. The purpose of holding public hearings is to ensure that the planned investments are in line with the needs and requirements of citizens. By 30 September, the municipal budget proposal is approved by the Municipal Assembly. After its approval, the Municipal Assembly sends it to the Ministry of Finance. The next step includes the approval of the budget proposal by the Government of Kosovo* by 31 October and sent to the Assembly of Kosovo*. Finally, the budget of Kosovo* should be approved by 31 December by the Assembly of Kosovo*.
A methodology of participatory budgeting was developed in 2020 by IDIS Viitorul. It provides practical guidance on how to prepare the participatory budget, how to achieve it and what to look for when implementing voted initiatives.
Although there are not many guidelines on participatory budgeting, there is a general acknowledgment that the quality of life and comfort of the ordinary citizens depends on the quality of budgeting processes (planning, public consultations, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation), be it at central or local levels. Given the importance of the local budget document, its development, preparation, and execution should be done ensuring maximum transparency.
All local authorities should make their draft budgets publicly available for consultation, by publishing them on the municipal websites, posting them on other local platforms, organising local discussions/debates and presentations. Another important aspect for local authorities is to publish the updated budget document and indicate the feedback received during the consultations. This will generate more trust and more engagement of the population in the long run. It is equally important to publish reports about the execution of the budgets (i.e. progress reports).
The Handbook “11 honest ways to influence local budget” provides tools for citizen participation in a local authority’s budgeting process. Each tool includes practical guidance for its implementation and the relevant legal provisions.
The analytical report Participatory budgeting provides recommendations for the nine stages of participatory budgeting:
The guidelines for the implementation of participatory budgeting in the city of Sambir can be useful for other pilot initiatives in Ukrainian cities. The recommendations follow a problem-solving strategy:
The municipality of Elbasan is one of the pioneer municipalities that have implemented participatory budgeting since 2004. Being aware of the low level of women’s participation in the participatory budgeting process of 2012, the municipality started to introduce gender-sensitive participatory budgeting in collaboration with two local civil society organisations. Considering the gender imbalance in the participatory budgeting process, the municipality collaborated closely with the media and local civil society organisations to discuss and stress the importance of equal participation of women and men in the process. In addition, training courses on facilitation skills were organised with municipal public officials in order to improve and elicit better feedback from women. Currently, the budgeting process works through consultation meetings organised in boroughs and villages under the jurisdiction of Elbasan, taking into account the views of women and men.
On 1 November 2016, the Gyumri-based Civil Youth Centre presented a number of suggestions to be included in Gyumri’s five-year development plan and also in Gyumri’s city budget. Thirteen of the suggestions were included in the final plan. The suggestions included lightening up the city, putting new waste containers in the streets and adding new bus stations in the city. The active participation of civil society helped the municipality more efficiently target priorities and develop participatory governance.
In 2019 the “Active Citizen" platform was created by Yerevan Municipality to ensure more effective and close communication with citizens and to conduct participatory management. The platform aims for more effective communication of new projects and ideas, presentation of proposals and discussion with citizens. Citizens have the opportunity to improve their living together with the municipality, making the life of the capital more comfortable and attractive. The platform also aims to collect issues of concern to citizens and a common way to find solutions. Nowadays, such platforms are operated in every community. The platforms also contribute to the collection of claims of the citizens and are common means of finding solutions.
The Municipality of Zugdidi has successfully implemented a participatory budgeting programme since 2020. GEL 1 million was allocated from the municipal budget for civic initiatives. The total amount is equally divided among five administrative districts (GEL 200 000 for each) and citizens are allowed to submit their ideas. As of 2020, a total of 39 civic ideas were submitted by citizens for further consideration before approval.
The commitments of the OGP Action Plan of Georgia for 2016-2017 aimed to respond to the challenge of effective management of public resources. Transparency and openness of public resource allocation was part of the commitments of local governments to promote the development of participatory budgeting schemes. To specifically increase public access to information and promote civic engagement in budgetary planning processes, four municipalities in Georgia introduced electronic mechanisms for budget planning: Akhaltsikhe Municipality City Hall, Batumi Municipality City Hall, Kutaisi Municipality City Hall, and Ozurgeti Municipal Council.
Furthermore, the participatory budgeting mechanism “Plan Your Municipal Budget” has been developed within the framework of the action plan and new websites for Kutaisi and Akhaltsikhe Municipalities. By 2020, local residents in various municipalities of Georgia where participatory budgeting mechanism is introduced took part in selection process of 126 projects financed by the municipalities.
The OGP Action Plan of Georgia for 2018-2019 extended the responsibility to improve citizen engagement in budgetary processes to the Batumi Municipality through the introduction of an institutional mechanism of participatory budgeting. The OGP Commitment also set out approval of the relevant legislative framework for the introduction of an institutional mechanism of participatory budgeting and raising the awareness of citizens concerning participation mechanisms. The participatory budgeting mechanism of Batumi is actively used by its residents.
The Municipality of Pristina has created an online platform that publishes every activity and document of general interest for its citizens. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Municipality has decided to hold online public meetings with citizens and avoid meeting in person. One of those meetings that will be held relate to budget planning. Thus, the Municipality published the “Schedule of ‘Online’ Public Hearings with Citizens for the Budget Planning for 2021”, which includes a table with the dates of the five meetings to be held. The Municipality has provided instructions on how to access the meetings, the time they will be held, the agenda of each meeting and the link to access them.
According to an external evaluation report by Social Impact on USAID’s Accountability in the Republic of Moldova project, “five years ago, there was no discussion about participatory budgeting; now local organisations in 25 cities [are] work[ing] with local governments to learn how to do budgeting together.” There are several examples of participatory budgeting initiatives across the country: i.e. the mayor’s office of Cahul launched a call for proposals for the local budget 2019, aiming to improve citizen engagement in decision-making processes. Another good example is the portal “Buget Participativ” (bugetareparticipativa.viitorul.org) by IDIS “Viitorul”, which provides both guidelines and examples of good local practices.
Energodar City Council has been implementing participatory budgeting since 2018. City Council approved UAH 10 million for citizen initiatives and projects in 2020, which makes it the most remarkable example in the Ukrainian context in terms of money spent per citizen (Energodar has 54 000 inhabitants).
Another example is the amalgamated community of Vinnytsia, which is the first Ukrainian community to adopt a School Participatory Budgeting in 2019. UAH 1 million was allocated for the implementation of 11 winning school projects aiming to strengthen the active engagement of children and teenagers (10 to 18 years old) in the community. In the same vein, the Poltava Regional Council implemented a school safety programme at regional level to introduce a Participatory Budget at school level. More than 100 schools took part in the preparation and submission of projects, and 34 projects were chosen for implementation in 2021.
With the support of the ‘Local Initiatives on Ethical Governance and Transparency’ scheme,[i] the town of Nemishaieve (Kyiv region) implemented participatory budgeting. The Town Council allocated UAH 200,000 to the call for proposals “Participatory Budget”. The preparation of the applications was accompanied by training courses on intergenerational communication and on writing project proposals. These served as a basis for the development of citizens’ own initiatives to solve urgent town problems with funding from the town’s budget. The competition committee, which included representatives of the Youth Parliament, the Council of Elders, activists and experts, reviewed all proposals, and the community selected seven projects, which were implemented by the end of 2017.
Such examples of participatory budgeting allow for local authorities to better identify and address needs and problems that are most important to citizens by allowing them to voice their concerns and suggest feasible solutions in the format of project proposals. Moreover, the citizens are becoming increasingly engaged in the administration of public funds, thus developing a sense of ownership and responsibility. In the end, the dialogue between citizens and local authorities during the implementation of participatory budgeting promotes trust and citizen participation.
[i] The initiative was supported by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe as part of the thematic programme ‘Strengthening institutional frameworks for local governance’, within the framework of the Council of Europe / European Union Partnership for Good Governance (2015-2017) in the Eastern Partnership countries.
Public consultation is a formal, often legally required, process for citizens and other stakeholders to give their views at key stages of the policy process. It can be both online and offline, or a mixture of both. Its main goals are to improve efficiency, transparency and public involvement in important decisions. Done in a timely and effective way, public consultation can increase the quality of decision making, improve cost-effectiveness, render more sustainable policy solutions, and generate greater public trust in decision-making.
Different forms of consultation range from informing and consulting citizens to crowdsourcing ideas for policies, deliberative debates and assemblies where citizens can develop potential policy solutions to inform decision-making, and collaboration where social enterprises, civil society organisations or expert groups either participate in the design or delivery of services.
To improve both the inclusiveness and efficiency of public consultations, each local authority should aim to have a unit that takes responsibility for co-ordinating the guidelines and procedures for implementing public consultations, and for ensuring that they are in accordance with the prevailing legislation. Such a unit could also train officers in different departments on running public consultations. In the case of smaller local authorities with more limited resources, a unit in the central government’s responsible ministry, such as a ministry of regional development, could provide such training and support on co-ordinating and updating guidance and procedures for public consultations at the local level.
Although there are no specific standards for implementing public consultations, the following are useful reference materials:
A recent study by the centre “Res Publica” on public consultation shows that there is a very limited number of draft acts published on the official webpage of public institutions. In the report, it is also stated that only 18% of the monitored institutions have a register for the publication of draft acts, in compliance with the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”. This is reinforced by civil society organisations’ experience, where more than half of them do not fully agree that draft and approved laws and policies are publicly available (59%) and that draft laws, policies and laws are published in a timely manner (54%). Two main concerns raised by civil society organisations relate to the quality of the consultation processes themselves. Firstly, the institutions do not take into consideration the recommendations provided by civil society organisations, and secondly, there is a lack of argumentation regarding this issue. In addition, the latter is in violation with the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”.
Public participation in the law-making process in Armenia is a “growing but ineffective” process. The ministries publish draft laws on the official website for public consultations (www.e-draft.am), but the suggestions are not usually taken into serious consideration. Effective consultation would help policy makers to engage citizens in the policy-making process, to increase the capacity of implementation and to gain public trust, which is crucial for policy making.
Public consultations on policy documents are fragmented and take place upon individual discretion of public agencies. Draft laws and policy documents are often distributed to representatives of civil society and different stakeholders; however, the quality and quantity varies even within the same public agencies. Public consultations are a vital tool for increasing transparency and accountability of public institutions and for improving civic oversight of public policy.
In municipalities, public consultations take place more often than on the central level; however, they do not have an institutionalised form and are not expressly supported by legislation. Consultations often take place regarding the elaboration of the local budget, implementation of municipal infrastructural projects, etc.
The Open Government Partnership in Georgia aims at extending commitments in the Action Plans to local governments in order to ensure that each citizen can benefit from open government principles. For the purposes of promoting civic engagement and local government accountability mechanisms, responsibilities under the OGP Action Plans support public awareness raising and effective information delivery concerning decision-making processes at local level. With the aim to promote citizen engagement in the activities of the local authorities, the development of online mechanisms and modern technologies to simplify access to public information is implemented under the framework of the OGP Action Plans.
Public consultation is considered as a form of communication between the governing bodies and the citizens. The public consultation process is a vital element of a transparent government, due to the fact that it enables citizens to discuss and monitor the work of the local government.
Kosovo*’s framework is well defined and regulates public consultation at both central and local levels of governance. At the central level, public consultation is regulated by the Regulation on Minimum Standards for the Public Consultation Process, which defines the standards, principles and procedures of the public consultation process between public authorities and interested parties in the policymaking and decision-making process. At the local level, it is regulated by the Law on Local Self-Government, the Administrative Instruction on Minimum Standards of Public Consultation in Municipalities and the Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities.
KDI’s Transparency Index in Municipal Governance 2019 shows that 29 out of 38 municipalities have published their draft decisions and agendas for public consultation. Also, 28 municipalities published the draft budget for public consultation. In general, municipalities have been very active with regard to public hearings relating to budget approval.
Citizens’ trust in administration is one of the core aspects of democracy. It depends on people’s personal experiences of fairness of administration, but also on opportunities to take part in and influence decision-making processes. The quality of citizen engagement depends hugely on the quality of public administration and the capacity of public servants to engage with citizens meaningfully (e.g. on public policy reforms, innovations in different sectors, strategies, etc.). The key pillars of this new engagement paradigm are: being citizen-centred, open, transparent, and collaborative; acting as an enabler of innovation and technology, and being accountable to citizens. Citizen consultation processes should comply with both national legislations dealing with this issue and internationally recommended practices.
The platform www.particip.gov.md was developed to increase the efficiency of participants in the process of elaboration and public consultation of normative acts and to provide a mechanism for real-time monitoring and administration of consultation processes. On this platform public authorities publish for consultations normative acts.
The 2019 IDIS “Viitorul” Report on the Transparency of Local Public Administrations in the Republic of Moldova states that public consultation with citizens on key decisions is sporadic and riddled with deficiencies. The results show that 41% of the districts and 58% of the towns and villages monitored as part of the report have not held any public consultations during 2019. When consultations are being organised, the results of these processes are not being communicated to or shared with citizens.
The practice of public consultations evolved significantly as part of the Ukraine’s Open Government Partnership action plans. In line with recommendations from the European Parliament Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, an online platform for public consultation of the Parliament (itd.rada.gov.ua) of Ukraine was created and duly incorporated into national legislation. The Government of Ukraine also launched a thematic web platform for communication with civil society and public consultations (kmu.gov.ua/gromadskosti). At local level, the Kyiv City Council regularly uses public consultations to involve citizens in the decision-making process.
The National Crosscutting Strategy for Decentralisation and Local Governance 2015-2020 stipulates that all decisions at the local level will be aimed to be taken with the participation of citizens and following equal, inclusive and transparent principles. In addition, the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation” specifies that local authorities should take all necessary measures to facilitate public consultation, including:
The same law obligates public institutions to publish all draft and adopted laws and policy documents. To this effect, an electronic register (www.konsultimipublik.gov.al) permits citizens and experts to consult draft laws and give their recommendations. The law’s requirements guarantee sufficient time (20 days) for civil society organisations to provide their opinion on the draft laws and policies. Also, the law stipulates that a summary of collected opinions should be made public and be part of the draft law package for approval. On the contrary, if the recommendations are not accepted, a summary of the reasons for non-acceptance should be made public.
Moreover, this law provides options for complaints in cases where the provisions for consultations are not respected, based on the claims by interest groups. However, the law does not foresee any administrative sanction against the public institution or the responsible person for notification and public consultation; and it does not foresee any procedure for appealing the decision of the public authority either.
The Law on Normative Legal Acts (Article 3) states that draft laws are subject to public consultation, except for the draft law on ratification (joining) an international treaty. Drafts of other normative legal acts may be submitted for public discussion on the initiative of the body developing the draft or the body adopting the draft. The duration of public discussions is at least 15 days. The Law also establishes that the procedure for organizing and conducting public hearings shall be established by the Government.
According to the Procedure of organising and conducting public consultations approved in 2018 by the government decision, it is mandatory to conduct a public consultation of a draft normative legal act developed by a government agency through its publication on the official website of the given agency as well as on the Unified Website for Publication of Draft Legal Acts maintained by the RA Ministry of Justice.
Though the existing Law on Normative Legal Acts sets mandatory public consultations for all legislative drafts, it mentions exceptions for the drafts developed by parliament deputies or factions (article 1, part 3). According to the Procedure of organising and conducting public consultations, public consultations shall also be conducted through public hearings or public inquiries. In the National Assembly, according to article 125 of the Constitutional Law on Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly, public hearings may be convened by the decision of the Chairman of the National Assembly, permanent or ad-hoc commission, or a fraction. In this case, the organisation of hearings is not compulsory either.
The Law on Local Self-Government provides a number of opportunities for public participation at the local level. Sessions in the community council are open, and in communities with more than 3000 residents sessions should be broadcasted online at the community’s official website. Residents of the community should be informed on the local self-governance activities without any discrimination and can directly or indirectly influence the community decisions, either on individual level or through associations and civil initiatives. Community residents can also initiate the inclusion of an item on the session agenda if necessary number of signatures is presented.
There is no national or local legislation that would outline procedural requirements and principles for conducting public consultations. Nevertheless, there is a specific instance, which set requirements for conducting public consultations in cases of developing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). According to Article 32 of the Georgian Law on the Environmental Impact Code, public consultations are a mandatory component for conducting EIA and its findings should be annexed to the report. On the local level, the Local Self-Government Code mentions the Council of Civil Advisors, a consultative commission composed of at least 10 representatives of local civil society, businesses and residents of the local municipality. The composition of the Council of Civil Advisors is determined by the mayor and should include at least one third female candidates. The mayor of the municipality is formally required to submit to the Council of Civil Advisors spatial planning documents, municipal budget draft, projects of important legal acts related to infrastructural development and social affairs.
The right to public consultation is regulated and protected by the Law on Local Self-Government. According to Article 68 “Each municipality shall hold periodically, at least twice a year, a public meeting at which any person or organisation with an interest in the municipality may participate.” The purpose of these open meetings is to inform citizens of the activity of the municipality and to give participants the chance to ask questions and make proposals to local elected representatives. Municipalities are obliged to inform citizens about any important plans or programmes of public interest.
According to Article 3 (4) of the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making, public authorities will consult citizens, associations, and concerned parties about drafts of legislative and administrative acts. The law is applicable to both central and local authorities, including local public administration authorities: local councils (of village, commune, town, municipality, district significance), mayors of villages (communes), towns (municipalities), chairpersons of districts, decentralised public services, and institutions of local significance.
The Government Decision No. 188 of 3 April 2012 on the Official Websites of Public Administration Authorities requires an increase in the level of transparency of public authorities and access to public information through official websites, and establishes mandatory minimum requirements for the official websites of public authorities. Moreover, individual ministries’ websites should have a page dedicated to decisional transparency, where draft laws are published for consultation. From the date of their publication, there is a deadline of 10-15 days for comments on draft legislation.
At local level, Law No. 436 on Local Public Administration regulates transparency in decision-making (Article 8). Law No. 100 on Normative Acts provide rules for public authorities to consult with interested authorities, agencies and civil society representatives on draft laws. All draft laws and decisions of the government are subject to mandatory anti-corruption expert examination by the National Anti-Corruption Centre.
Article 20 of the Law on Integrity (2017) stipulates the requirements for ensuring transparency in the decision-making process. The rules related to the procedures for ensuring transparency in the decision-making process of the public entity and the derogations from such rules are set forth in the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, the Law No. 239/2008 on Transparency in the Decision-Making Process, and the normative acts of the government.
The legal basis for public consultations is evolving. In fact, the draft Law “On public consultations”, which aims to provide a legally binding procedure for public consultations, is currently being developed.[i]
General procedures for public consultation are set out in two Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine: No. 996 “On the Procedure for Consulting the General Public on Establishing and Implementing the Public Policy and No. 976 “On the Procedure of Civic Expertise of the Activities of the Executive Bodies”, with essential amendments made on both regulations by the Regulation No. 234 of 8 April 2015.
Public consultations are announced and conducted by units responsible for drafting acts. They can take place in the form of public discussions, e-consultations and surveys, as indicated in paragraph 11 of the Regulation No. 996. The main bodies involved in public consultation with regional executive authorities are bodies of local self-government and civil councils. Paragraph 12 of the same regulation stipulates that regional administrations are obliged to conduct public consultations on a number of issues and to take the propositions into consideration.
Public consultations, which result in the detailed territorial zoning and general plans or amendments thereto, are held in accordance with the Law "On Regulation of Urban Development". According to the Law, drafts urban-planning documentation at local level are subject to public consultation: general plans of settlements, zoning plans of territories, detailed plans of territories.
[i] The process of drafting the Law on Public Consultations, which is underway in Ukraine, is regarded as an example of civil society engagement in policy-making. For further details, see here.
To meaningfully increase citizen participation at local level, local authorities should develop a clear process of notification and public consultation in compliance with the Law No. 146/2014 “On Notification and Public Consultation”, including the review and consideration of recommendations provided by citizens and the reasons why any of the recommendations have been dismissed.
In 2018 the Government of Armenia approved the procedure of organising and conducting public consultations. It is mandatory to conduct a public consultation of a draft normative legal act developed by a government agency through its publication on the official website of the given agency as well as on the Unified Website for Publication of Draft Legal Acts maintained by the RA Ministry of Justice e-draft.am. According to the Procedure the summary, protocols and revised drafts are posted on the official website of the body organising public consultation, as well as on the e-draft.am website. Based on the analysis and summary of the received proposals, the body carrying out public consultation makes the necessary adjustments to the draft.
There are no national guidelines with regard to conducting public consultations in Georgia; however, the Policy Planning System Reform Strategy lists public consultations as one of the criteria for evaluating the quality of policy documents.
On 20 December 2019, the Government of Georgia adopted the Decree #629 on the Rules of Development, Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Policy Documents. Among other topics, the decree includes the description of public policy development stages and the regulations to ensure the participation of relevant stakeholders in the process. The rules came into force on 1 January 2021. Even though the document is meant to positively change the situation, it does not reflect high standards of citizen participation. Namely, the rules only make it mandatory to ensure citizen participation in policy development after the draft of a policy document is elaborated, while at relatively early stages the citizen engagement only has a recommendatory character.
It is important to activate existing tools of citizen participation and public consultations in the municipalities of Georgia. In particular, engaging the public in policy consultations can be enabled through the empowerment of the Council of Civil Advisors, increasing awareness about the petitions mechanism, increasing access to public information and encouraging citizens to participate in the hearings of Municipal Councils. It is recommended to adopt an internal mechanism that will be aimed at assessing existing levels and practices of public consultations and developing specific commitments that will address the identified challenges.
Public consultation is also regulated with the Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities. Article 13 of this Administrative Instruction establishes that “municipal acts of benefit to citizens are subject to public discussion prior to adoption, including the organisation of debates in rural areas.” This article also instructs that municipalities should act in compliance with Administrative Instruction on Minimum Standards of Public Consultation in Municipalities when it comes to public consultations, which aims to promote and ensure the participation of citizens and other stakeholders in the policymaking and decision-making process at the local level. This Administrative Instruction “defines the rules, principles, forms, procedures and minimum standards of public consultation in municipalities during the drafting of municipal policies and by-laws”.
The Government of Kosovo* has created a platform (konsultimet.rks-gov.net) which is used by all public bodies for the development of public consultation. The Administrative Instruction on Minimum Standards of Public Consultation in Municipalities requires the municipalities to publish project proposals on their official websites and on the Public Consultation Platform at the central level. Each municipality should have a unit/officer for public communication responsible for co-ordinating the public consultation process.
As per the Administrative Instruction on Minimum Standards of Public Consultation in Municipalities, the municipality must hold public consultations for all local policy documents and by-laws. It also sets out the forms and techniques of public consultation, which should include public consultative meetings, written and electronic public consultation, publication on the municipal website and relevant platforms, and other forms of public consultation like conferences, interviews, consultations with certain group of interests, opinion surveys, panels with citizens, stands on the streets, meetings with councils of villages, neighbourhoods and urban settlements. This Administrative Instruction, which works as a guideline, also regulates the standards, stages and deadlines of public consultations.
Although some government agencies provide online guidelines on transparency in the decision-making process or develop internal rules concerning the provision of transparency in the decision-making process, there is not a government manual outlining the participatory process in the review of draft laws and policies
In line with this, one of the commitments of the National Action Plan on Open Government for 2014 related to the elaboration of guidelines that could help any public servant follow the main stages of the decision-making preparation processes based on the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making (2008). Given that there is no one-size-fits-all model for citizen engagement, these guidelines also serve as a concise and practical reference tool for the successful implementation of citizen engagement by both central and local public administration authorities. The guide provides nine stages of the decision-making preparation process, guiding principles for each stage and what this means in practical terms.
Based on the Council of Europe analysis of civil participation in decision making, it is recommended that local public authorities conduct public consultations on a regular basis in the form of online consultations, expert working groups and public hearings, in order to give citizens, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders a sense of ownership in decision making.[i] Public authorities have to ensure that public consultations participants have at least 30 days to provide their comments at each stage of the review process. As a result, public consultations also enhance impact assessment exercises, and improve the quality and sustainability of the resulting decisions and laws.
Experts of the USAID project “Citizens in action”, in collaboration with the Ukrainian Centre for Independent Political Research, developed model regulations for local self-governance that allow the implementation of best practices of local democracy in line with European standards of good governance, including the model regulation on public consultation.
[i] This recommendation is based on the findings of the study “Civil Participation in Decision Making in the Eastern Partnership Countries (Part Two: Practice and Implementation)” by Lovitt J., Council of Europe, April 2017.
Regarding public notification and consultation, the municipality of Vau i Dejës is one of the municipalities that have considerably improved this mechanism. Evidence shows that public consultation for draft acts in the municipality of Vau i Dejës has considerably increased from 9% in 2016 to 86% in 2017, being one of the first municipalities to implement this citizen participation mechanism in an efficient way.
With the support and advice of the Council of Europe through the project ‘Local initiatives on ethical governance and transparency’.[i] The Tashir and Aygepat communities started live broadcasting the meetings of the community council, which increased the quality of discussions. Now the community council members are more active in engaging in discussions and expressing their positions on issues at stake. The Tashir community even went further and, in co-operation with a local NGO, established and institutionalised a youth council, defined a consultation mechanism between citizens and local authorities and allocated funds from the municipal budget to the youth council so that it can implement their initiatives.
In terms of public consultations, the “Center of Legislation Development and Legal Researches” Foundation adjunct to the Ministry of Justice can serve as an example of successful practice. The foundation was established in 2016 within the framework of USAID-funded project and, among other activities, organised public discussions with participation of state representatives and other bodies and stakeholders and public awareness-raising campaigns on legal drafts. For instance, on December 26, 2021 public discussion on the formation of a fact-finding commission within the framework of the 2019-2023 Strategy on Judicial Reforms took place. Organised by the “Center of Legislation Development and Legal Researches” Foundation, discussion aimed at application of international experience and possible conceptual approaches in this field. The discussion was attended by deputies of the RA National Assembly and about two dozen representatives of state and non-governmental organisations.
In November 2018, about 3 000 citizens from the Jermuk Municipality signed a petition to stop the project of the mining company Lydian Armenia to resume its Amulsar mine operations. The operations were suspended in August 2018 following strong opposition actions by local communities and non-governmental organisations. Based on these protests, on December 18, 2018, the Council of Jermuk Community made a decision to develop Jermuk Community as an environment-friendly economy, prohibiting metal mining on its territory. Nevertheless, Armenian government pressured Jermuk and other communities in Armenia, who decided against mining in their territory, to change their decisions, saying that this kind of decision cannot be taken locally. In March 2019 Lydian Armenia notified the Armenian government of an existing dispute in front of arbitration tribunals for breach of UK and Canadian bilateral investment treaty. The organisation continues to pressure the Armenian government to allow operations to resume.
[i] The project was supported by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, as part of the thematic programme ‘Strengthening institutional frameworks for local governance’, within the framework of the Council of Europe / European Union Partnership for Good Governance (2015-2017) in the Eastern Partnership countries.
The Council of Civil Advisors of the Batumi Municipal Council has been very successful in fostering public participation in the work of the municipality. The Council of Advisors is composed of 19 members that are selected through broad consultations with civil society and local businesses. The work of the Council is facilitated by the Civil Society Institute, a non-governmental organisation active in the area of citizen engagement. The legal basis for the establishment of the Council is stipulated in Rules of Procedure of the Batumi Municipal Council. The Council has a broad mandate and works on increasing citizen engagement in the local policy process, informing the public about the work of the municipality, and reviewing initiatives, legal acts and policy proposals. The establishment and operation of the above-mentioned Council is a good practice, since unlike other Councils it is very active and regularly holds meetings to discuss a wide range of issues. This Council is quite advanced and has its own webpage that has participatory elements and provides extensive information about its work.
It is also noteworthy that Batumi and Rustavi Municipalities had the highest scores (87% and 72%, respectively) in the 2019 National Assessment of Georgian Municipalities (LSG Index) ranking in terms of development of participatory mechanisms envisaged under the Local Self-Government Code of Georgia.
Raising awareness of activities of local self-government bodies and promoting civil participation in the decision-making process has been one of the goals of the OGP Action Plan of Georgia for 2018-2019. In this context, the development of modern civic engagement technologies has been promoted at municipal level. Particularly, Zugdidi Municipal Council undertook the responsibility to generate the multifunctional mobile application “I.Gov.Zugdidi”, which includes informative and feedback mechanisms. The application ensures wide access to the activities of the Municipal Council, such as: municipal schedule, regular sessions and agenda; dates of various cultural or sport events; tentative start and end dates of infrastructural projects, etc. The application also enables citizens to obtain information about the municipal healthcare and social welfare programmes, their details and a list of documents to be submitted to the City Hall for that purpose.
Promotion of citizen engagement and access to information has been upheld under the Tbilisi OGP Action Plan 2018-2020, including the responsibility of the Tbilisi City Hall to elaborate an integrated web application for citizens. The application, also available for other Georgian municipalities, ensures online access to the most demanded interconnected services within the City Hall system, with the aim to establish a single-window system within the scope of these services. The application will also be available in the form of the mobile app. The format will take into account the mechanism of reporting by citizens concerning the process of the implementation of various services. This information will be subject to periodic analysis, and the results will be publicly available and directed to improving existing services.
The Municipality of Kamenica, due to the COVID-19 related precautionary measures, has decided to hold public consultations online. In November 2020, the Municipal Commission for Harmonisation of the Municipal Regulation had completed a Draft Regulation for which it is necessary to hold a public consultation. The Mayor issued the decision that this public consultation will be held online and open for all citizens of the municipality. The decision also stated that citizens can address their comments and ideas on a written form, thereby not limiting them to only join the online meeting.
As part of the project “Implementation of the Principles of Open Government in the Inclusion of Citizens in the Decision-Making Process in the Republic of Moldova”, an online interactive Citizen Engagement Guide was developed to support the Moldovan Government in increasing the transparency of decision-making. The guide provides a set of tools and templates for civil servants in implementing the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making.
The Law on Transparency of Decision-Making contains principles and procedures to be followed in the daily work of public authorities, and contributes to improving the quality of the decisions drafted and approved, accountability of authorities to citizens, and to increasing the support of citizens for the policies approved and actions undertaken. The Government Decision on the public consultation mechanism with civil society in the decision-making process provides more detailed and practical information for citizen engagement, including the procedures for ensuring transparency in the process of drafting and adopting decisions.
In Lviv municipality, different local issues that fall within the authority of local self-government bodies can be subject to public hearings. The organisation of such public hearings is defined by the Regulations on the Procedure for Holding Public Hearings in the City of Lviv, which is an annex to the Charter of the Territorial Community of the City of Lviv. The secretariat of the Lviv City Council determines jointly with the initiator the date of the public hearing and the relevant announcement is published on the Lviv City Council official website within 5 working days from the date of the reception of the request.
The project ‘Establishment of the Community Initiative Support Office in Slavutych’[i] presents another example of good practice for the development of public consultation mechanisms between local authorities and citizens with the aim of implementing ethical norms and encourage citizen participation. The Community Initiative Support Office is an open platform for scheduled and unscheduled meetings of local authorities (government employees, town councillors, etc.) and civil society (non-governmental organisations, local activists, etc.). The Office contributes to shaping innovative ideas for improving the life of the community and making constructive decisions with regard to the implementation of ethical standards. Moreover, it opens up additional possibilities for enhancing citizen participation and increasing public accountability.
The Mariupol City Council adopted a procedure for holding public hearings. The procedure regulates the initiation, preparation and organisation of public hearings – including the recording of the results – as follows:
The decision adopted following a public hearing is to be approved by simple voting majority and discussed at the plenary meeting of the City Council or its executive committee with the mandatory participation of the initiators of the public hearing.
[i] This initiative was supported by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe as part of the thematic programme ‘Strengthening institutional frameworks for local governance’, within the framework of the Council of Europe / European Union Partnership for Good Governance (2015-2017) in the Eastern Partnership countries.
Public petitions enable citizens to raise issues with public authorities. The number of signatures collected can indicate the level of support for the issues raised. They aim either to raise the profile of the issue or to demand that specific actions be taken. Petitions are often inspired by civil society activity, but they are increasingly submitted through official, often online, platforms whereby petitions with a defined number of signatures will receive an official response.
It is important that the official response is provided promptly, and that clear and well-argued reasons are provided for the decisions taken or not taken in response to a public petition.
For public petitions to become a tool that resonates with the wider public, local authorities and civil society organisations should raise awareness of the nature of petitions and the procedures for gathering signatures and submissions of the petitions in their municipalities. Clarity should also be given on the status of electronic signatures to ensure that there is full transparency about the conditions that a public petition must satisfy to receive an official response.
The following international conventions and standards relate to public petitions:
Public petitions are an important mechanism for public authorities to engage with the people they serve and to protect the public interest, and for citizens to participate in the democratic process and influence the political debate and decisions. However, while public petitions are prevalent at central level, there is no official data about public petitions at the local level.
Around 72.2% of Armenia’s population are active internet users. Besides, 1 339 000 citizens are actively using social media from mobile devices. Internet coverage enables citizens to promote and engage in local government activities via different mechanisms. Among them, public petitions are one method by which local authorities can engage more systematically with citizens.
Currently, petitions are not systematically submitted to central and local public institutions in Georgia. Nevertheless, citizens actively use unofficial online petitions instruments (e.g. manifest.ge) to mobilise. A legal framework exists for submitting petitions to local authorities; however, this mechanism is not actively used by the local population, due to low awareness of the legislation and lack of supporting electronic infrastructure.
The development and improvement of e-participation and electronic petitioning standards in Georgia has been one of the key priorities of Georgia's OGP Action Plans. Related commitments contribute to the development of modern technologies in order to implement and operate petitioning systems within public institutions both at central and local levels.
Public petitions are another mechanism that is used to achieve citizen participation. The right to petition must be guaranteed and included within the legal framework for the public to be able to propose the adoption, amendment or repeal of any act of their concern. Fortunately, the right to petition is well regulated in Kosovo*. The Law on Local Self Government and the Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities foresee and regulate this right, allowing the citizens of Kosovo* to address their municipalities whenever they have a request or concern.
Article 52, Right to Lodge Petitions, of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova stipulates that: “(1) All citizens shall be entitled to refer to public authorities by way of petitions formulated only on behalf of the signatories. (2) Legally established organisations shall have the right to lodge petitions exclusively on behalf of the bodies they represent.”
In the past few years, citizens of the Republic of Moldova have started to use this right more often. In 2018, the number of petitions examined by the State Chancellery was 4,047, of which 598 were in electronic form. This is 185 more petitions than in 2017 and 608 more than in 2016. Data shows that the most common areas of issues which citizens wanted to address via petitions were pensions, recovery, and indexation, while most petitions concerned health services, law enforcement bodies, and central and local public administration authorities. Accordingly, 2,555 petitions were redirected to the relevant ministries and 908 to local authorities. Various subdivisions of the State Chancellery examined in total 998 petitions in 2018. The official websites of the Government of the Republic of Moldova (gov.md) and of the State Chancellery (cancelaria.gov.md) have been updated to meet the need of permanently informing citizens about the examination of petitions and hearing results.
Public petitions fall under the right of citizens to address public authorities, enshrined in Article 40 of the Constitution of Ukraine. Since July 2015, it is possible to submit electronic petitions, which has significantly boosted the use of the public petitions mechanism among citizens. As of 2018, electronic petitions became the most widespread instrument of e-democracy in Ukrainian cities.
The e-democracy portal E-DEM (petition.e-dem.ua) constitutes a single system for local petitions. The purpose of the system is to help local governments by providing them with an already-made and unified online tool and a package of draft local regulations to ensure compliance with the Law No. 577-VIII “On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine ‘On Citizens’ Appeals’ Concerning Electronic Appeals and Electronic Petitions”. More than 200 local governments are already using this platform.
In addition, public petitions requiring the attention of the President of Ukraine can also be submitted online through the specific Electronic Petitions portal of the President of Ukraine (petition.president.gov.ua). This resource also allows to monitor the status of all petitions sent to the President of Ukraine.
Article 104 of the Regulation of the Parliament stipulates the right of both individuals and groups to petition the government. No later than 45 days from the date of reception of the petition, the committee chairman of the public authorities presents the petition to the commission, also proposing legal alternatives and ways for its solution, or its rejection. The petition senders are notified for the steps taken and the solution of petition issues.
Article 53 of the Constitution of Armenia states that “everyone shall have the right to submit, either individually or jointly with others, petition to state and local self-government bodies and officials and to receive an appropriate reply within a reasonable time period”. The Constitution provides a mechanism for citizens to initiate constitutional change and propose, upon popular initiative, draft laws to the National Assembly. Article 202 states that if 200 000 citizens (who have the right of suffrage) sign a petition, the right to initiate the constitutional amendment process will be given. Article 109 states that citizens shall be entitled to propose, upon popular initiative, a draft law to the National Assembly if 50 000 citizens sign a petition. Article 204 prescribes how citizens can overcome the National Assembly’s rejection of the adoption of the draft law submitted by civic initiatives. If an additional 300 000 citizens join the initiative of adopting draft law, then the draft law is put to a referendum.
The definition of petition is given in the RA Law on Petitions, accepted on 21 December 2017. According to article 1 of the Law, petition is “a letter on issues of public importance or a report on the shortcomings of the activities of state and local self-government bodies and officials or a suggestion on improvement of the activities of state, local self-government bodies and officials, regulation of issues related to economic, political, social and other spheres or improvement of current legislation”.
According to the Law on Local Self-Government, residents of a community can start a petition to bring any community level issue to the agenda of the community council. In order for the issue to be included on the Council’s agenda, the initiative should gather the signatures of 1% of the community’s population if there are more than 10 000 residents in the community, 2% if there are less than 10 000 residents, and 4% if there are less than 1 000 residents. The residents should gather the signatures on paper and send them to the head of the community.
Articles 85 and 86 of the Local Self-Government Code also provide for a possibility to submit petitions to the Municipal Council. The petition can be submitted by at least 1% (or less than 1% if determined by the Municipal Council) of the municipal population or the general assembly of a settlement. After receiving the petition, a special commission makes a decision on submitting it to the Municipal Council, preparing a resolution of the Municipal Council or consider it unreasonable to discuss the petition. The petitions can be submitted in the form of a draft decree, general principles and outlines of a decree and a request for discussion of the issue during the Municipal Council plenary meeting. Relevant procedures on submitting the petitions are prescribed in detail by the Local Self-Government Code. The Code also states that it is possible to submit electronic petitions; however, further procedures related to e-petitions are subject to the individual regulation of the Municipal Councils.[i]
[i] Organic Law of Georgia Local Self-Government Code, Article 86, Legislative Herald of Georgia, published on 19 February 2014.
The Law on Local Self Government regulates the right to petition. According to Article 69, “any person or organisation with an interest in the municipality shall have the right to present a petition to the Municipal Assembly about any matter relating to the responsibilities and powers of the municipality”. Those petitions should be reviewed by the Municipal Assembly in accordance with its statute and rules of procedure.
The Administrative Code of the Republic of Moldova No. 116/2018, as well as the Law on Petitioning No. 190/1994 (Article 5), repealed on 1 April 2019, indicate that a petition should be submitted in electronic form and in compliance with all requirements, including the digital signature (Article 5 (2)).
Experts in the field consider it necessary to amend the Law on Access to Information and the Administrative Code in order to exclude any confusions related to requests for information and petitions, specifically in order to avoid the situations where requests for information are examined based on the requirements for a petition; also, in order to avoid the use of digital signature in cases of electronically submitted requests for information. According to the IDIS “Viitorul” report for 2019, there are cases where public authorities refuse to provide a response to electronic requests for information, motivating that these are petitions, and accordingly need to be submitted following all legal requirements.
Web portals of local public administration authorities ought to provide the possibility to submit an online petition, as well as requests for information, respecting the procedures for petitions and legislation on access to information.
The Law No. 393 “On Citizens’ Appeal” defines and regulates the procedures for public petitions. Electronic petition is regarded as a special form of collective citizens’ appeal (Article 23-1). Local authorities are legally obliged to provide the means for citizens to participate in public petitions. Access to the e-petition systems must be free of charge and protected against the automatic completion of forms.
The number of required signatures in any petition addressed to local authorities depends on the size of the community. The numbers vary between 50 signatures for less than 1 000 residents up to 1 000 signatures for over 1 million residents, and they are established by the statute of the community. If a petition reaches the necessary number of signatures, the city, town or village council needs to convene a plenary session to review the petition as stipulated by the Law No. 280/97-VR “On Local Self-Government” in its Article 46, paragraph 8.
The procedure of consideration of electronic petitions addressed to the President of Ukraine is regulated by the Decree of the President of Ukraine No. 523 / 2015.
In order to enhance and support local reforms at local level but and at the same time meet citizens’ concerns, local authorities should develop and implement a comprehensive process on how to submit, handle and respond to public petitions in compliance with the Law No. 44/2015 “On the Code of Administrative Procedures”. The petition procedure shall be accessible for the public.
The Council of Europe “Support to Consolidating Local Democracy in Armenia” project, implemented by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities within the framework of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Armenia 2015-2018 has developed a toolkit to present the results of initiatives to foster citizen participation and dialogue between local authorities and community residents under the project. The citizen participation initiatives, which were part of the Council of Europe in the Congress component, were conducted in the communities of Akhtala, Artik, Urtsadzor and Vardenik. Its objective was to enhance the active participation of citizens and civil society in decision making and problem solving in their communities, and to engage them in community-building efforts, priority setting and budgeting processes through public consultations and close interaction with their mayors and city councils. The project in Armenia was crucial for creating a space of “learning by doing” whereby the residents – while contributing to finding solutions to their communities’ problems – improved their knowledge of the workings of local self-government as well as capacities and limitations of municipal autonomy. As a result, the project participants agreed a set of principles, guidelines, methods and useful tips to steer participatory processes, which can be applied to future projects and which are also included in the toolkit, together with an overview of the legal framework for citizen participation at local level in Armenia.
Due to the fact that both national and local petitions represent a novelty in the area of citizen engagement, there are limited national or local guidelines that would provide citizens with additional information on how to submit them. The practice related to the use of municipal petitions has been reviewed by civil society organisations. The research outlines practical and legal challenges that exist with regard to the use of petitions at the local level. Some of the recommendations related to improving the petitions system include:
The Administrative Instruction on Transparency in Municipalities regulates the right to petition in more details. Article 9 allows citizens to file a petition for any issue that the municipality is responsible for. These petitions should be addressed to the Municipal Assembly. Citizens have the right to address an unlimited number of petitions to the Municipal Assembly on issues related to the regulation of the city, the maintenance of city order and infrastructure, urbanisation of the city and village, the maintenance of the living environment, the implementation of self-governance and any other issue important for the life of the local population. The Municipal Assembly should review petitions within the legal deadline of 30 days.
An administrative procedure may be initiated by a petition or it may be part of an already initiated administrative procedure. The petition can be: a) submitted in writing to the public authority or sent by post or fax; b) transmitted in electronic form; c) submitted verbally, being recorded in a report. An official body to which petitions are addressed has the obligation to receive and immediately register the petition or other documents submitted in the administrative procedure. The public authority does not have the right to refuse to receive petitions solely on the grounds that it does not consider itself competent or because it considers the petition to be inadmissible or unfounded (Article 73 of the Administrative Code).
If the petition falls within the competence of another public authority, the original of the petition shall be sent to the competent public authority within 5 working days from the date of registration of the petition, of which the petitioner is informed (Article 74 of the Administrative Code).
The administrative procedure is finalised by performing an administrative operation or by issuing an individual administrative act, respectively concluding an administrative contract.
The Association for Community Self-organisation Assistance of Ukraine provides the following recommendations to local public authorities:
On 3 December 2016, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a group of civil society organisations organised a demonstration and signed a petition to the municipality of Tirana. They required the local authority to respect the human rights and well-being of people with disabilities and to better implement social services for this group of people. The then deputy mayor of Tirana stressed that the municipality would support their requests.
In 2020 the unified electronic platform for petitions (e-petitions.am) was launched by the Armenian Government. The platform allows submitting individual and collective petitions electronically, supporting the submitted initiatives, following the petition process, and receiving the petition response electronically. There are also guidelines for submitting petition by means of the platform, as well as joining a petition and setting up an individual account. Though the creation of the platform is a step forward establishment of transparent and open participatory processes in Armenia, it is worth to mention certain inconveniences connected with submission of e-petitions. The process of submission requires electronic signature of the person submitting. In order to become a user of the unified platform of petitions and electronic identification card (eID) is required. This creates limitations for using the platform by persons not having identification cards or identification card reading devices, and hence, not being able to put their electronic signature on the petition.
The practices of initiating petitions vary in each municipality of Georgia. Based on the results of the 2019 National Assessment of Georgian Municipalities (LSG Index), at least one petition was submitted in 16 municipalities, out of which 6 Municipal Councils followed and met all procedural requirements when discussing and assessing the civic initiatives.
An interesting and successful initiative from Poti Municipality can be highlighted: local activists used an online petition module developed on the website of the City Hall to register a petition and accumulate support on the instalment of a station to monitor the quality of the air. After a successful advocacy campaign, the petition was considered by the local authorities and implemented.
Tbilisi Municipality has also taken steps towards raising civic involvement in decision-making processes by developing electronic petitioning mechanisms. Within the framework of the Tbilisi OGP Action Plan for 2017, the municipality undertook the responsibility to introduce a mechanism for electronic petitions to Tbilisi City Hall, by integrating a petitioning application (to the Mayor) onto the City Portal. The e-petitions portal has been actively used by residents of Tbilisi. After launching the portal, more than 1 000 ideas were submitted, and more than 20 applications gathered the required minimum number of signatures to be considered by the City Hall.
The Islamic Community of Kosovo* (BIK) has requested the construction of a large mosque in the centre of Pristina for years. After many negotiations that have lasted several years, the Municipality of Pristina and BIK agreed that the mosque be built in the Dardania neighbourhood and in 2012 the first construction works of the mosque began. In 2017, an online petition was launched by an informal group of citizens to oppose the construction of a new mosque in the Municipality of Pristina. They have asked the citizens to support them. According to petitioners the planned mosque was not in harmony with the buildings of the area as a whole and they have asked not to allow the construction of the mosque in the proposed form. However, this petition was not successful and the construction and building process of the mosque started in 2020.
One good example of ways citizens are being guided on how to submit petitions is the portal of the Public Services Agency (asp.gov.md/petitii). It provides step-by-step information about how to receive and review electronic applications addressed to the Public Services Agency.
An example of an electronic system of petitions is the Information System for the electronic management of petitions in the Parliament (https://petitii.parlament.md/). Its aim is to increase the efficiency of the organisation, development and monitoring of the petition management processes. The webpage of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova offers the possibility to file petitions online. However, in the case of petitions in electronic form, the petition must comply with the legal requirements set out for an electronic document, including the electronic signature.
According to Promo-LEX reports on monitoring of the degree of transparency of level-two local authorities and of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Găgăuzia (ATUG) throughout 2017-2019, an improvement concerning access to information of public interest through the petition process has been attested. Thus, while in 2017 replies were given within the legal deadlines to only 56% of petitions submitted by the Promo-LEX monitors, in 2020 the respective proportion was 80%.
Kyiv City Council developed effective mechanisms for the successful introduction and implementation of e-petitions. From October 2015 to September 2020, the City Council supported 44 petitions. When a public petition is successful, the mayor appoints a person responsible for its implementation. Together with the petition’s author, they prepare a roadmap for the implementation of the petition and provide monthly reports about the process. On the website for e-petitions of the Kyiv City Council, the entire chronology of the process of implementation of a petition is published (including information on who is responsible for certain assignments, what decisions have been taken, etc.). Such transparent communication dissuades citizens from maliciously discrediting public petitions processes, builds trust and fosters citizen participation in local affairs.
Local referenda, which are widespread in Council of Europe member States, provide a mechanism for local authorities to sound out the citizens’ will on concrete issues that directly affect their everyday lives or for citizens to propose an initiative that they would like to see implemented, or even to block a planned decision.
When initiated by citizens or groups of stakeholders, a referendum might form part of a campaign against a perceived harmful impact on their livelihoods or the natural environment, such as a plan for a new industrial park, a tunnel to re-route cars under a river or some other urban development.
Where there is both legislation providing for local referenda, and guidelines on how to hold referenda, there is usually a minimum percentage of the eligible voting population whose signatures are required to initiate a referendum. In some cases, the mayor or elected council can also decide to formulate a question for a local referendum. Depending on the legislative framework, the referenda may be binding on the local government or consultative, where the final decision rests with the elected council.
It is important that the legislation and procedures are clear, so that citizens know the framework within which the results of a referendum will be acted upon, and what response is required from the executive or elected council of the local authority. As with public petitions, it is important to raise awareness of the procedures for gathering signatures and the status of electronic signatures to ensure that there is full transparency about the conditions that need to be met before a referendum will take place. Transparency on political party financing should also be applied to the funding of a referendum campaign, including ceilings on expenditure, and an independent audit of funding and expenditure.
The following international conventions and standards relate to local referenda:
The idea of developing referendums in Albania, has become the main subject of political debates, especially when dealing with political disputes and political debates fail to find consensus. Although every political debate mentions the idea of a referendum, once the political consensus is achieved the idea of a referendum is dropped.
Unlike many other countries of the world, where the organisation and development of referendums is common, Albania has seen only three referenda since the end of the dictatorship.
The first one was held in 1994 for the purpose of approving the new Albanian Constitution. The second was organised on 29 June 1997, together with the elections for the new parliament, where citizens voted whether Albania should be a monarchy or a republic. In 1998, the third referendum was organised to vote for the Constitution of the Republic of Albania.
Even though local referendums are one of the forms of expression of direct democracy in local governance where the citizens decide on issues of importance to the community, there is no practical case of any local referendum held in Albania.
As a result of the amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia in 2015, the regulations of the electoral and referendum institutions were significantly changed. The institutional reforms were also linked to the organisation and conduct of local referenda. In Armenian local self-government system the direct participation of citizens in self-government is considered to be less developed. The fully participatory process is partially developed yet. In contrast to the referendum, the organisation and conduct of which is envisaged in the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, as regards the local referenda, there are envisaged only the concept and the principles of its conducting. Meanwhile, it is obvious that as a result of the constitutional reforms in 2015, the changes in the institution of referenda imply a new systemic approach to the regulation and organisation of local referenda.
In Georgia a referendum can only be held on the whole territory of the country. No local referenda are allowed by law.
A referendum is held to finally resolve particularly important state issues and may be appointed by the President of Georgia requiring the signature of the Prime Minister of Georgia, unless the referendum is convened at the request of the Government of Georgia. The President of Georgia has the right to call a referendum at the request of the Parliament of Georgia, the Government of Georgia or at least 200,000 voters.
According to the law, the issue presented in the referendum is considered supported by the voters if more than half of the participants voted in favour. The decision made as a result of the referendum can be changed or revoked only by referendum. The Constitutional Court of Georgia has the right to invalidate the results of the referendum in accordance with the rules established by law.
Another form of referenda in Georgia is the advisory referendum or “plebiscite”, which is regulated in the same way as the referendum with the exception that the result is not legally binding for a government.
The right to referendum is regulated by the Constitution of Kosovo*, which states that a referendum should be announced and held in compliance with the applicable law. However, the Assembly of Kosovo* has never issued a law that would regulate specifically the process of holding a referendum. The Law on Local Self-Government includes referendum as a mechanism for citizen participation and direct democracy. Due to the fact that there is no Law on Referendums, local referendum or any form of referendums cannot be held in Kosovo* right now.
A referendum is a direct form of exercising national sovereignty. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, the most important issues of the society and state can be settled through a referendum. Moreover, consulting citizens on local problems of special interest is a core principle of local public administration.
In the Republic of Moldova, local referenda can be initiated for two reasons: consulting citizens regarding topics of special interest for the locality or the dismissal of mayors. The Decision is considered adopted through a local referendum if the majority of the participating citizens are in favour. At the same time, the Decision regarding the dismissal of a mayor is considered adopted through a local referendum if an equal or greater number of voters than during the election of the mayor, but not less than half of the total number of voters who participated at the referendum, voted in favour of it. On one hand, this legal provision safeguards the mandate of a mayor elected via a majority vote, while on the other hand, allows for the dismissal of the mayor if a sufficient number of votes is gathered.
As of 2012, seven local referenda were held in total, according to the Central Electoral Commission. All were held with the purpose of dismissing the sitting mayor. Unfortunately, no referendum was initiated to debate issues of special interest for the locality, and which are of the local public administrative bodies’ competence. In all seven referenda, the respective mayors were not dismissed. Five referenda were declared invalid due to the fact that less than a third of the voters participated, one was suspended, and in one case the number of votes was not sufficient to approve the Decision of dismissal.
Three of the seven referenda were initiated through Local Council Decisions, and four were initiated by citizens (10% of the number of citizens with the right to vote who reside in the respective locality). Also, according to the legislation, a local referendum may be initiated by the mayor of the locality, except for the purpose of dismissing the mayor, and by ATU Găgăuzia.
Thus, in the Republic of Moldova, local referenda are not often used.
Article 108, paragraph 4, of the Albanian Constitution stipulates that “self-governance in local units is exercised through their representative bodies and local referendums. The principles and procedures for conducting a local referendum are provided by law in accordance with Article 151 paragraph 2“.
Law 139/2015 "On Local Self-Government", recognizes the right to hold a local referendum. Specifically, Article 18, paragraph 2, of this law provides, amongst others, in that the "consultation with the public is done through taking the initiative to organise local referendums".
In the Electoral Code, the term referendum means the direct exercise of the sovereignty of the people, through voting, on a certain issue or law.
The set of rules on referendums dates back to 2003, when it was first provided by the Electoral Code, which has been subject to several amendments in the framework of contentious electoral reforms, nevertheless, provisions on referendum has always been excluded from being part of this process.
According to Article 132 of the Law No.9087, dated 19.6.2003 Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania, the initiative for a local referendum on a local government issue can be exercised by:
-10 percent of the voters registered in the voter lists of the respective local unit or 20 thousand of them, whichever is smaller, have the right to a local referendum on a local government issue in the respective municipality or commune.
-A number of municipal councils, representing not less than one third of the population of a county, have the right to request the holding of a referendum on a local government issue at the county level.
The local referendum can be held on an issue of local government that is also a matter of special importance. A referendum on the same issue cannot be held in the same local government unit without three years passing from the prior referendum.
Local referendums may not be held later than three months before the end of the mandate of the local government bodies, nor earlier than three months after the first meeting of the local councils. If early elections are announced in a local government unit, the Electoral Code requires that the procedure for conducting a local referendum in that unit be suspended until three months after the beginning of the mandate of the local government body. Another condition for the requests for referendum is the fact that those requests that fail to go through all the procedures set out in the Electoral Code, by March 15 of each year, regardless of when they are submitted, are postponed until the following year.
For the administration of local referendums, the Electoral Code entrusts the Central Election Commission (CEC), a body which performs this task through Local Government Election Commissions (LGECs). The CEC administers the local referendum in accordance with the procedures provided for the conduct of local elections, emphasising that this task should be performed for as far as it is possible or necessary.
Citizen participation in local self-government is defined by various laws that enable the authorities to implement processes in their communities, solve problems through cooperation and dialogue.
Article 183 of the Constitution stipulates that the residents of the community can participate directly in the management of community affairs by resolving public issues of community importance through a local referendum.
According to the Law on Local Self-Government the community council is authorised to make a decision on holding a local referendum on the initiative of at least one third of its members or the head of the community. The head of the community is authorised to take the initiative to call a local referendum, as well as to make a decision on calling a local referendum.
Article 2 of the Law on Local Referendum stipulates that the local referendum is a way of direct participation in the management of community affairs, which is carried out by voting on public issues of community importance to the residents of the community. The Law also defines the principles of holding a local referendum, regulates the right to participate in a local referendum, the scope of issues of local referendum, the procedure for submitting a draft or public issue of local importance to a local referendum, local referendum appointment, organisation, summarizing results, etc.
The law of Georgia on referendum regulates the rules and procedures of holding referenda and plebiscites in Georgia. According to the law a referendum may not be held:
Disputes related to the norm regulating the referendum and the constitutionality of the referendum conducted or to be conducted is considered by the Constitutional Court of Georgia on the basis of the Organic Law.
Local referendums are regulated by the Law on Local Self-Government. Article 71 sets out that the citizens of the Municipality may request that a regulation adopted by the Municipal Assembly be submitted to a referendum. The request should be submitted to the Chairperson of the Municipal Assembly within 30 days from the date of adoption of the regulation and must be signed by 10% of the registered voters of the municipality.
The requirements for the initiation, organisation and conduct of a local referendum are regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, the Election Code, the Law on Local Public Administration and other relevant normative acts.
The Constitution expressly establishes the role of the referendum in a democratic society, as well as stresses the importance of the principle of consulting the citizens on issues of special importance for the locality (Art. 75 and 109). The Electoral Code contains a separate chapter dedicated to the regulation of local referenda (Chapter 14, Art. 185-212). It specifies the issues that can be voted on at a referendum, the responsible electoral bodies and the procedures for the initiation and organisation of the referendum, as well as for vote counting and confirmation of results. The Law on Local Public Administration determines the powers of the local public administration regarding the initiation of the referendum (Art. 8, 14, 29). Moreover, certain aspects of the organisation and conduct of the referendum are regulated by instructions and regulations of the Central Electoral Commission.
The procedure for convening local referendums through popular initiative involves setting up initiative groups which must collect signatures from the members of the community in favour of starting the procedures. The legal norm provides that signatures from at least 10% of the total number of citizens with the right to vote who have their domicile in the respective administrative-territorial unit must be collected. Also, the law specifies that when the initiative to start a local referendum comes from citizens, an initiative group must be formed, comprising at least 20 citizens with the right to vote who have their domicile in the respective administrative-territorial unit.
Still, according to the Promo-LEX referendum observation mission which was held on 19 November 2017, “there is a multitude of aspects that are not explicitly regulated and leave room for interpretation, for instance: the insufficiently regulated status of the participant at a referendum, including the absence of a definition thereof in the Election Code; the restrictive approach regarding the categories of participants at a referendum; the interpretive nature of the concept of election campaign in the context of a referendum…”.
The suggested additions to the legal framework concern namely the normative act of the Central Electoral Commission which must describe more explicitly the method of application of the legal provisions in the case of organisation and conduct of a local referendum. Furthermore, Promo-LEX observers have stressed the importance of approving a separate act that would regulate the local referendum campaign: Instruction on the mode of participation in a local referendum election campaign. Such an Instruction presently is approved only for a referendum held at the national level. In addition, both Instructions must take into account the need to include independent candidates in the list of participants at a referendum.
According to the type of act or issue raised, the Albanian Constitution provides for three types of referendums: constitutional, legislative and referendum on an issue of particular importance. Article 150 para 3 states that: “principles and procedures for conducting a referendum, and its validity, are provided by law”.
Based on this constitutional provision, the Assembly of Albania approved the Election Code, law no. 8609/2000. Referendum issues are addressed in articles 114-128 of this Code These provisions, with minor and not essential changes, were also included in the Electoral Code adopted by Law no 9087/2003. The Electoral Code legislative reforms carried out till 2008, did not treat, in any case, the issue of referenda. Law no.10019/2008 “The Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania”, as amended does not contain at all provisions on referenda, but a transitory provision, article 185, stating that "provisions for referendums (Part IX of law no.9087/2003) and any part of its related provisions shall remain in force until the adoption of the new law on general and local referendums.
The administration of the referendum process and the disclosure of their outcome shall be made in accordance with this Code. Although the Electoral Code approved by Law no 9087/2003, was abolished, its ninth part "Referendums" was upheld. Until today the law on referendums is not approved.
The analysis of the Electoral Code provisions regarding referendums shows deficiencies, uncertainty, and incompatibility with the Constitution in some cases. This is evidenced by the Venice Commission and OSCE / ODIHR findings.
The Code does not address referendum campaign funding issues related to source of funds and their use, transparency, reporting and audit of these expenses.
In 2014 the "Citizen Observer" initiative developed a booklet on “How to participate in local self-government”. The booklet helps better understand what is a local referendum, who can and who cannot participate in the local referendum, what questions can and cannot be asked in a local referendum, how to formulate the issue of the referendum, who has the right to initiate a local referendum, in which cases the referendum commission can refuse to register the initiative group, when to start collecting signatures, which signatures are considered invalid, who makes the final decision to call a local referendum, etc.
The webpage of the Central Election Commission provides some general information on referenda – mainly referring to the existing legal provisions. There are no guidelines or handbooks on the issue.
Currently, there is not one specific guideline approved which regulates local referendums. In cases of local referendums, the Municipality will decide on the referendum based on Article 71 of the Law on Local Self-Government.
The Code of Good Practices on Referendums, adopted by the Council for Democratic Elections at the 19th meeting (Venice, December 16, 2006) and the Venice Commission at its 70th plenary session (Venice, 16-17 March 2007) is the reference document reflecting the principles of the European electoral heritage on the subject of referenda. At the national level, in the Republic of Moldova there are no guidelines on how to organise referenda, including at the local level, and/or regarding participation in them.
The Central Electoral Commission, as a specialised body in electoral matters, draws up and publishes in the context of general local, parliamentary or presidential elections guidelines for the members of lower-level electoral bodies, voters, observers, journalists, etc. However, there are no guidelines that would reflect the special nature of the organisation, conduct and the behavior of various actors in the election campaign for local referenda.
The analysis of the legal and normative framework carried out by Promo-LEX emphasizes the fact that specifically at the level of implementation of the legislation certain clarifications are needed for all participants in the process: electoral bodies, participants, voters, observers, other interested parties. To this end, the electoral authority must draw up and make available guidelines to participants that would facilitate the understanding of the procedures and make the process more predictable and legitimate. The issues to be clarified, according to the observers, are as follows: registration of the participants at the referendum, the issue of voters who have domicile and residence simultaneously in the context of a referendum, the use of the certificate for the right to vote.
One of the good practices is the Localgate.al initiative (www.portavendore.al), which functions as a platform in support of local democracy. This is an initiative of the Open Society Foundation for Albania (OSFA) and ‘Lëviz Albania’ (‘Move Albania’), implemented with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which aims to provide information to the citizens and civil society organisations regarding the function, competencies and specifics of local self-government units.
The platform aims to promote referenda as a form of local democracy and provides simplified information on how to conduct referenda (including local ones).
In 2015 the first phase of the amalgamation process of Armenian communities took place. In May 2015 local referenda were held, resulted in conclusion that 6 out of 22 communities including Haghartsin, Teghut, Gosh were against the change to community boundaries. However, the negative opinion of these communities was not taken into account. In 2016, 118 communities were merged, and 15 multi-settlement communities were formed. In 2017, 325 communities were merged, and 34 multi-settlement communities were formed. In 2016 and 2017 no local referenda were held and community opinion was not heard.
At the moment there are no examples of relevant case law.
Due to the lack of the Law on Referendum, there have been no cases or good practice regarding this issue.
At the local level, in the last decade, in the Republic of Moldova seven local referendums were held, of which four were started at the initiative of citizens. For comparison, not even one referendum at the national level of those three conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Code were started by citizens.
The most recent example when the will of more than 10% of the citizens eligible to vote got materialized into a local referendum took place in Chisinau municipality. The group that initiated the procedure collected 75,442 valid signatures and initiated the process of organising the referendum of 19 November 2017 on the dismissal of the Chisinau General Mayor.
Although local referendums are a good example of citizens’ involvement at the local level, the absence of referendums organised for the purpose of consultation on issues of special interest for the locality shows that citizens’ participation in political life is not yet sufficiently developed in the Republic of Moldova. Direct involvement of citizens in decision-making processes remains a challenge hindering social development and cohesion.