As part of its “Participatory Budgeting” project, BIRN Serbia and local municipal officials held budget forums last week in Raška and Kuršumlija, where they presented the 2013 budget for each municipality and received input from residents.
Prior to the Forums, those municipalities conducted citizens’ survey on priorities to be funded out from 2013 Budget. Among proposed, citizens could pick 3 projects of highest priority, by their opinion.
The forums allowed local residents to comment on the draft 2013 budgets and get answers from top local government officials about administration’s plans for the coming year.
More than 20 local residents took part in the debate in Raška, and Mayor Jovan Čorbić stressed the importance of their participation. He told those gathered that it is important for all citizens to show initiative when it comes to examining the budget because it affects the life of the community.
“Let’s determine together what is the most important and find out how to achieve it. It is useless to promise that it is possible to do everything in one year. Therefore, it is necessary to set priorities,” said Čorbić.
Zagorka Šumarac, who heads the budget department in Raška, presented the draft 2013 budget in a “citizen budget” format, which gives residents a comprehensive look at the projects and plans that have been funded.
Zorica Nišavić from the NGO Women Raška said she was pleased that for the first time residents had an opportunity to be informed about the budget.
“I hope that in the coming years we will again have a chance to talk about the budget and give our suggestions,” she said. Nišavić’s thoughts on the process were echoed by several other participants.
Meanwhile in Kuršumlija, more than 40 residents and local community representatives participated in the budget debate. Mayor Radoljub Vidić expressed his satisfaction with the large turnout for the debate and the questionnaire “Your money, our responsibility”.
Local participation is crucial, Vidic said, because municipal officials can use the feedback from residents as an instrument to ensure the allocation of resources in accordance with local needs.
“The suggestions and complaints of residents push the local authorities to work on creating quality living conditions for all residents of our municipality,” said Vidić.
The draft budget for 2013 was presented by Deputy Mayor Nebojša Jović, who stressed that this budget put forward 100 million dinars more than was planned in 2012.
“In 2013 we focused on priorities related to agricultural development and entrepreneurship, and some resources will be allocated for scholarships for high school and university students. The plan is to improve the living conditions of the citizens by reducing public spending and putting more funds into investments,” said Jović.
Milivoje Perović, a local beekeeper, told the forum participants that Kuršumlija has the potential to be a substantial producer of organic honey, which would create new jobs, and suggested that this be considered in the next budget cycle.
The conclusions reached during the local budget forums will be presented to members of the Raška and Kuršumlija municipal councils, and BIRN signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the mayors that confirms further cooperation in this field in the future.
The project of implementing the practice of participatory budgeting at the local level through the European Partnership Programme with EU PROGRES municipalities in 25 municipalities in the south and southwest Serbia is supported by the European Union, the Swiss and the Serbian government.