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80% of people in Sofia want active involvement in decision-making concerning their city

Large-scale online discussion of the idea of a civic budget launched on 5 October

| updated on 9/29/20 9:02 AM
Teodora Zareva
Photo: dnevnik.bg

Even though there have been improvements in the urban environment in recent years, life in Bulgaria’s capital city continues to bring citizens face to face with all kinds of problems that require the intervention of various institutions. Unlit streets with potholes, environmental pollution from the burning of trash, waste transportation problems in different parts of the city – these are just some of the problems that can be reported to Sofia municipality’s contact centre. Other ways that the public can communicate with the local authorities include submitting complaints and proposals to the Metropolitan Inspectorate of Sofia by telephone or by email.

Citizens’ contacts with the municipality usually come down to complaints of all kind.

“A survey we conducted shows that 80% of the people living in Sofia want to take a more active part in the decision-making process concerning the city but they see no way they can do this,” said Teodora Zareva from the Civic Budget initiative for Radio Bulgaria. Her aim is to actively involve the people living in the city in the process of problem-solving by stimulating their creativity and willingness to put forward their views, in the form of projects, on how different issues can be resolved.

“Introducing a “civic budget” programme means the municipality is taking responsibility and is promising that the public’s decisions will be taken into consideration in the discussions of the plans for the maintenance, development and improvement of the urban environment. It is a mechanism of involvement that is different from other such mechanisms and the municipality is making a commitment from the very start. What makes this a good practice is not the projects that will be implemented by the end of each year, but the new way of conducting a dialogue and the cooperation between citizens and the municipality. Something that in Sofia right now, is very much a negative affair.”

The idea to have such a budget is part of the strategic document for the development of the capital city “Vision for Sofia”, where the deadline for its introduction is set at 2027.

“According to “Vision for Sofia” it is supposed to be introduced in 2027 but in the international initiative “Open Government Partnership”, of which Bulgaria is part, the year in which the introduction of a pilot civic budget for the capital city was set down is 2017,” Teodora Zareva says. “A civic budget is not a uniform formula that can be transposed to Sofia. What is important to us is to plan it together with the citizens, the town councilors and the administration. We have so far conducted a social survey with several focus groups, and now we are launching a large-scale online discussion on 5 October. We invite all people living in Sofia, whatever their expertise to join the discussion and say how they think such a model can work in the capital city.”

There are more than 2,000 European cities, among them the capitals Paris, Prague, Warsaw, Madrid, where this form of civic engagement in the urban development decision-making process exists. The money earmarked for it usually accounts for 1 to 10% of the municipalities’ budgets. On the basis of the civic proposals that have come in, the municipality checks which are feasible, develops them together with the people who made them, and then puts them to the vote, in which the people from the entire city take part. Those that are given the highest degree of approval are ultimately implemented.

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