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Lima's Participatory Budget Expands to Include All City Residents

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, July 3 2013

Participatory budgets give voice to Peru's poor, if they know to vote (Wikipedia)

Since 2003, municipalities in Peru have created budgets with input from representatives of civil society called “participating agents.” Last month, however, Lima expanded the participatory budget to include the general population. Approximately 20,000 residents voted; that's a vast improvement when compared to the handful of “participating agents,” but only a drop in the bucket considering Lima's eight million residents.

In the first week of June, city residents could go to an online portal and vote for the projects they thought most deserving of funding. More than 40 projects were divided into groups by subject: human development, economic development, governance and the environment.

Susana Villarán, the mayor of Lima and an experienced human rights advocate, was behind the big push for a more participatory budget.

But the use of technology is what made the big leap possible: Internet penetration is high, and for those without access the government set up voting stations in high pedestrian traffic areas, like shopping malls.

Jacob Bathanti, a freelance writer based in Peru, wrote about Lima's participatory budget. He had the opportunity to witness civil society participating in action:

During the week of the consulta, I visited the roving voting modules at a major plaza and in a shopping mall. The atmosphere was bustling as small lines formed and teams of volunteers actively engaged passersby in conversation. This outreach both represented the most heartening thing about the consulta virtual, and showcased the greatest obstacle to the process: spreading the word.

Participatory budgeting in Peru got its start in 2001, when the municipality of Villa El Salvador made a participatory budget part of municipal law. The success of the venture was a factor in making a participatory budget for municipalities a national requirement in 2002.

As the first country to require a participatory budget – followed by Bolivia and the Dominican Republic – Peru has been the focus of a number of studies on participatory budgets.

In 2006 a paper on gender sensitive participatory budgets found the model in Villa el Salvador was “unsurprisingly gender-insensitive on a number of levels.” The author found that, although women spent most of their time in the community and developed both knowledge of and interest in the community's needs, their knowledge and contributions were overlooked when the participatory budget was implemented.

One article from 2012 asserts that “only 10% of researchers who have studied Peru's PB initiative have found it to be a genuine participatory process.” This is because the government committees in charge of incorporating civil society's suggestions have the ability to alter or even reject the suggestions.

Clearly participatory budgets in Peru aren't perfect, but the gesture is a positive one. And considering the new initiative in Lima, the country is still moving in the right direction.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.