Tbilisi Mayor’s citizen budgeting effort is a good start; our suggestions for improvement
The Mayor’s Office recently launched a new website where citizens of Tbilisi can vote on what they think the city’s priorities should be for the next budget. Users can vote to increase funding, decrease funding, keep it the same, or cancel funding entirely for a wide range of city programs. We think this is a great initiative; it will encourage citizens to get involved in their government, and help to ensure that money is spent where it is most needed. We encourage everyone to visit the site and fill out the survey.
However, we want to note that we doubt the results of this year’s survey will be able to be incorporated into the final budget. The budget was supposed to be submitted by the Mayor’s Office to the Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo) on November 15th, but the citizen budgeting initiative was only announced on November 12th. Three days is probably not enough time to gather a useful number of responses. The deadline for the Sakrebulo to return the budget to the Mayor’s Office for revision is November 25th, and we encourage the Mayor’s Office to make the full survey results public well in advance of this deadline so that the Sakrebulo can incorporate public opinion into their comments.
Nonetheless, we are still pleased that the City is reaching out to the public, and we have a few other suggestions for ways the Mayor’s Office could make this useful tool even better:
- Next to each program listed in the survey, provide users with information about how much money is currently being spent on that program, as a percentage of the total budget, and as a number of laris. This will allow citizens to make more informed decisions about how to change the budget.
- Don’t require ID numbers before users can take the survey. Allowing users to remain anonymous will ensure that surveys are filled out according to citizens’ true interests, and will encourage more users to fill out the survey. Users should still be required to sign up, however, by providing an email address, to make multiple votes more difficult.
- Provide users with a confirmation number when they finish taking the survey, and when the survey period is complete, publish the full results of every survey online, with confirmation numbers, so that users can make sure that their results were properly recorded.
- Publish complete, detailed budgeting data online in the future, so that citizens can check to see if their wishes were taken into account. In addition, publish a report describing how the results of the survey affected budgeting decisions.
- Allow users to change their answers so that the results can stay up to date with citizens’ changing needs.
- Ensure that the data collected about users by connecting ID numbers with citizens’ preferences and priorities is not used for party campaign purposes ahead of the 2012 elections.
- Next year, begin the surveying process well in advance of the budget deadline so that the budget can be written with public concerns in mind. We suggest September, because self-governing entities receive their preliminary budget allocations from the Ministry of Finance in early October.