Our research focused on local authorities and the funding available to them in the aftermath of the pandemic, with a clear focus on recovery and development. At first, we focused on the National Reserve Fund, which is designed specifically to be accessed if a real need is identified, but has been known to be misused and misdirected in the past. Keeping up with other developments as well, it became impossible to ignore the impact the National Recovery and Resilience Plan had on the budget of local authorities. From our point of view, both offer great opportunities to investigate the mechanisms the Romanian state has set up on a central level to help municipalities, with all the included wrong turns and dysfunctionalities. We could see, for example, that the reserve fund was used in a discretionary way, and not directed towards real emergencies – but sometimes put to political use, such as we speculate it happened during 2020, a year with two election rounds. Overall, the lack of transparency and accessibility seem to be the main descriptors for the NRF (more details here).
The emergency Reserve Fund was intensively utilised in 2019 and 2020, both electoral years, as opposed to 2021.
In the case of the NRRP, whilst there is an ongoing discussion on the low absorption rate and how priorities are being set, we took a deeper look into how central authorities decide on all aspects of the Plan, starting from the proposed schedule and reforms linked to each financial allocation and ending with the obscure legislative processes that allow the Parliament and Government to claim they tick all the required boxes (more details here). By passing impactful legislation and defining a framework without involving stakeholders, central authorities don’t take into account the real needs of municipalities; while local authorities should benefit from this program, they have to fit its requirements instead of the framework being written for them.
In order to have an overview on how funds are directed towards local authorities, Funky Citizens analyses the state budget and those of municipalities, including Bucharest, on a yearly basis, as part of our current work and other project-based work. Our work primarily relies on desk research and data analysis, since we work with raw data that we process according to a methodology and then we use the conclusions gathered to either publish papers on the topic (see those mentioned previously) or to consult/ interview stakeholders. Each year, we publish case studies on budget-related topics on a national and municipal level (for the last couple of years, we measured the transparency levels of budgetary proceedings for the main 103 municipalities in Romania, while also publishing our analysis on the state budget and on Bucharest’s budget). In the case of the NRF analysis, the desk research was doubled by a series of interviews with representatives from five municipalities, in order to thoroughly measure the impact of the pandemic and recovery funding on said communities.
Transparency and accountability as a foundation
As stated previously, Funky Citizens employs substantial research and advocacy efforts for transparency, accountability and dialogue when it comes to budgets, especially on a local level, since these are more accessible to everyday citizens we aim to empower. This joint initiative on local governance is thus complementary to other projects of ours.
For example, Funky Citizens has a 20-month-long project on local budgetary transparency and accountability, through which we empower local NGOs to advocate for better spending. We do so by organising trainings and offering support to our partners and we encourage them to follow the money. Additionally to the trainings, this project allows us to analyse the state budget and the NPRR.
Funky Citizens has been advocating for years for open contracting. During this time, we have organised numerous workshops and events dedicated to citizens, NGOs, journalists and local authorities. With the help of our partners from TI Ukraine, we have shared best practices of transparency even during times of crisis.
Whilst our analysis on transparency always makes local and national headlines, it is when we have the sense that people are empowered to act in their communities that counts more. We know that the system is resistant to change and that even the best and most open-minded municipal employees still face limitations, so we appreciate when we receive feedback or questions from them, even if it’s seldom the case. Our goal is to make people, citizens and state employees alike, ask themselves if they can do any better when it comes to taking care of their community, including their attitude towards the local budget.