When we visited the rural commune of Molota about 115 km (70 miles) north-east of the Guinean capital of Conakry, the commune council members explained to us that they were happily surprised to see about 1,600,000 Guinean Francs had been contributed by their population in less than a week after conducting a participatory budgeting exercise. It was a small ($160) but clearly positive and tangible change given the fact that, the previous year, there had been “zero” Guinean Francs collected as local revenue in their budget.
For the participatory budgeting pilot activity, supported by the Third Village Community Support Project (troisième Programme d’Appui aux Communautés Villageoises, PACV3), each of the 10 districts in the Molota commune held discussions about the development initiatives needed in their localities. Representatives of the districts then gathered with these ideas and voted for their priorities for the entire commune of Molota. Finally, they went back to their respective districts, and explained the process and the outcomes of the discussions to their constituents.
“Now we understand better what the council does with the budget,” a representative from one of the districts noted. “We have identified what we wanted to see in our commune, but we learned that the council did not have enough money, so we decided to contribute with our own money.”
Participation beyond microprojects
The Village Community Support Project (PACV) has been implemented since 2000 in Guinea by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization with support from the World Bank and the Agence française de développement. It has successfully applied a community-driven development approach, and by the current third phase launched in 2016, had materialized some 1,500 microprojects across rural Guinea, including the building of schools, markets, and health centers.
These microprojects—chosen and managed collectively by the local communities—are also aligned with the communes’ annual investment programs developed through participatory, bottom-up processes supported by the PACV. The processes are being institutionalized across the 304 rural communes in Guinea in an evolving partnership with national and local authorities.
Although still relatively small, pilot activities like the one in Molota are delivering tangible results beyond the planning processes and microproject stages, with shared information, active participation, and budget contributions made by the local populations. In another commune of Sangarédi in western Guinea, for example, the local revenue collection significantly increased after a participatory budgeting exercise–from 300,000 to 3,000,000 Guinean Francs.
Through these activities, citizens are finding that they are part of good local governance and can make positive and concrete contributions to their communities. Local authorities are also learning that, by proactively sharing information and engaging local citizens, they can better mobilize financial resources and increase people’s willingness to participate in the governance process, thus increasing their sense of ownership and accountability.
Collective evaluation for better local services
Another pilot tool currently being implemented by the PACV3 in Guinea is participatory monitoring and evaluation, where local stakeholders form focus groups to discuss the quality of a selected public service in the commune and, after their discussions, gather again to come up with an action plan.
For example, when residents in Damankania, a commune near Molota, decided to review the service at a local health center, local stakeholders—including service providers, members of civil society and of the community-based health committee, local residents, and council members—each held focus group discussions to present their views.
In their collective discussions, they concluded that, while the quality of service providers was satisfactory overall, the committee members lacked capacity and the health center needed better infrastructure. Thus, the commune developed an action plan that included a training program for the committee and negotiations with the prefectural authorities for additional funding to improve the infrastructure.
These tools can be improved upon, both to forge stronger links with the prefectures on the findings and action items of these exercises, and to build up capacity at the local level to take action rather than waiting for external resources.
In its consolidation phase, PACV3 intends to institutionalize its gains by actively contributing to the government’s efforts to establish the National Fund for Local Development (Fonds National de Développement Local, FNDL)—a national funding mechanism to promote local development—as well as to the National Agency for Financing Local Development (Agence Nationale de Financement des Collectivités Locales), a managing body for the FNDL. In this context, the citizen engagement pilot activities play an important role in promoting and sustaining good local governance.
Participatory budgeting and monitoring and evaluation activities are currently carried out every quarter in 35 rural communes in Guinea, with a plan to expand to all rural communes by 2020.