European best practices of citizens' involvement in decision-making applied in Cimislia

28 July 2020

In the city of Cimislia, a group of citizens came up with initiatives to develop the locality, and following a competition, their ideas took shape.

In the city of Cimislia, a group of citizens came up with initiatives for the development of the locality, and following a competition, their ideas took shape. The town hall allocated half of the project money, and the initiative group - another half. Through their joint efforts, they managed to build a gazebo in the courtyard of a residential block and a pavilion in the local kindergarten. The proposal that Cimislia City Hall provide money for citizens' projects was welcomed by many of the town's residents, including Victoria Cîrlan. The woman worked abroad for several years, where she saw the creativity and involvement of European citizens in the life of the community. In 2012 she returned home and when the opportunity arose to propose a project for funding, she thought that the front of the block where she lives should have a gazebo, where elderly people and children could relax. Especially as there are some beautiful trees nearby, and a landscaped seating area would be a perfect fit. Initially the residents were reluctant to contribute to the project. "I had a really hard time getting people involved. You should know that some citizens are sick with a disease, that of carelessness... Now I can see them constantly in the fold, those who criticised my initiative and said that the city must do everything. This experience has convinced me that you can't do anything on your own. And now I'm talking to people, convincing them not to wait for someone else to develop our locality, but to do it ourselves," says Victoria Cîrlan, who also ran for local councillor because she wants to make changes in the locality. The pavilion was set up at the initiative and with the help of Tatiana Codreanu's parents, and it was by chance that she found out about the town hall's intention to involve citizens in the development of the locality. Outraged that the kindergarten children in the local kindergarten did not have a place to play, she looked for solutions. "I have a three-year-old boy who was in kindergarten at the time. I noticed that whenever they went outside, the children had nowhere and nothing to play with: no pavilion, no slides. It was autumn and it affected me so much that the little ones, if they had nothing to do, would gather twigs and leaves around the nursery. We talked to several parents and went to the town hall to complain," the woman says. That's when she also found out that Cimislia City Hall had allocated a sum of money for projects proposed by citizens. The authorities bought the slides, but they also needed a pavilion. Tatiana soon submitted a project to build a pavilion so that the children could carry out their outdoor activities. The town hall allocated 10,000 lei on one condition: parents and grandparents should mobilise and contribute a similar amount. The parents' contribution was quantified either in building materials or in days of work to install and set up the pavilion. Thus, thanks to the involvement of the citizens, today the nursery has a modern pavilion and the children can play at will. Ideas from Europe applied in Moldova Vasile Sidor, a specialist in attracting investment at Cimislia City Hall, says that the practice of involving citizens in the development and modernisation of the community has been adopted from other countries. City hall employees have benefited from international training, where they learned how to revitalise run-down urban areas. On a study visit to Poland, he saw the benefits of involving citizens in the decision-making process, and on his return he put this knowledge into practice, convincing the local government to allocate a certain amount of money to citizen-initiated projects. "In 2019, the City Council has allocated 100 thousand lei for citizens' projects and we have approved a regulation on how to allocate the funds on a competitive basis. The maximum amount of 10 thousand lei was granted for a project, and citizens had to contribute at least 5 thousand lei. It was allowed that people's contribution did not necessarily have to be in money, but we accepted building materials or help as labour", explains Vasile Sidor. "The town hall is just a service provider, with a budget made up of citizens' money" According to Vlada Ciobanu of the "My Town Hall" Association, many people are unaware of the benefits of citizen involvement. "Both the local public administration and the business community, and even some non-governmental organisations, do not understand the point of consulting citizens. We still live with the perception that citizens don't know what they need and someone in an office understands better. But people, regardless of age, gender, income, education and so on know much better what they need, and their involvement should be valued. There is a need to change the general perception of the role of city hall. City Hall is a service provider, with a budget made up of citizens' money. Citizens need to be involved not only in civil budgeting, but also in many other activities, and not only through public discussions," says the expert. Vlada is convinced that transparency is an asset in the work of local public administrations: "Obviously, there is the issue of resources: administrations need to have communication specialists, well-designed and managed websites, but also a real dedication to transparency, so as to encourage interaction with citizens. Naturally, they need to be assisted with financial resources, training and mentoring. At present, however, most local governments do not even publish their decisions, let alone organise participatory budgeting processes." Lilia Zaharia