Local self-government is usually the most accessible entry point for citizens, government and the private sector to collaboratively build more accountable, capable and transparent institutions.
How do we better utilize and improve existing institutions and citizen participation mechanisms and practices in the regions of Azerbaijan? What currently works? These were among the questions asked during focus groups organized by the Socio-Economic Development Activity (SEDA) in Azerbaijan.
On June 19, 2012, the East-West Management Institute and International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, conducted the first of two focus groups on citizen participation in Azerbaijan. They aimed to gather qualitative information about local level citizen participation. The information gathered will help stakeholders develop recommendations for improving citizen participation.
The meeting itself exemplified successful citizen participation, bringing together local community leaders, representatives of local Executive Committees, municipal officials and civil society organizations from Guba-Khachmaz region. The diverse participants arrived at a consensus regarding the primary challenges to participatory governance in their region. They cited the recent decline in the role and powers of municipalities; the scarcity of funds for civil society and municipalities; and the distribution of most development resources to central government bodies. Participants favored giving municipalities more control over their budgets. They had witnessed inefficient spending by central government bodies and felt that local authorities could put funds to better use.
“This meeting raised concerns about municipalities, and it is good that these matters were discussed with a Guba Executive Committee representative,” said Amirsultan Aliyev, a community leader from Zardabi.
By discussing challenges to citizen participation with local political leaders, citizens and officials had the opportunity to identify solutions together. Drawing from challenges identified at this and other focus groups, SEDA advocates for transparent and sustainable legal infrastructure for citizens to benefit from development resources.
The focus groups are part of a broader initiative, though which SEDA is engaging civil society, executive decision-makers and municipalities in discussing the legal infrastructure for citizen participation. Such first-hand experiences of participatory democracy empower Azerbaijani citizens to engage with the government, the first step towards self-governance.