Engaging citizens in budget process strengthens democracy
How often do we hear about declining trust in public institutions? According to a recent Edelman report, more than half the Australian population doesn’t trust the institution of government to govern for the good of the country. There can be serious implications for democracy when citizens no longer have trust in their leaders.
The 2015 Trust Barometer report shows that Australians’ trust in public institutions is at its lowest point since 2008, with trust in government at 48%, well below that of business at 57% and the media 51%.
The most common reason respondents gave for their low trust in government was its failure to contribute to the common good. We witnessed this following the release of the 2014/2105 federal budget and the public backlash over funding priorities, which led to further lowering of public trust in the capacity of government to govern for all Australians.
Public trust can be a powerful ally but deadly foe and if government wants to re-build trust, they must adopt specific attributes to do so. Key among those is a transparent and open decision-making process. One way to achieve this is by involving the public in decisions such as the allocation of public spending. It gives constituents a say in the funding priorities that directly affect their lives and helps them better understand competing priorities.
The benefits of engaging citizens in the allocation of public spending, or participatory budgeting, are many. It is practiced in a range of global cities including New York and Paris, and has been implemented in Melbourne as a way of deciding that city’s funding priorities.
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