Citizens Participation


The primary purpose of the “Citizens Participation” political review paper, prepared by the “Uluchay” Social-Economic Innovation Center, is to provide decision-makers, local government, and state agencies with recommendations and proposals for citizens to participate in decision-making processes actively.

Community leaders, non-governmental agencies, and media representatives have closely participated in the preparation of this paper. Their insights and comments, as well as insights and observations of well-known experts, are given in this document.

Due to working with the local population and communities, the “Uluchay” Social-Economic Innovation Center plays a role of a bridge between them and decision-makers.  Thus, citizens get an opportunity to present their recommendations and proposals regarding social and economic issues of communities to appropriate government bodies and decision-makers.

Political review

Citizens participation

Influential citizen’s participation is characterized by the fact that citizens are provided with full access to information about the decisions made by the government and its affiliates, their implementation, possible outcomes, risks, and benefits, and at the same time, citizens become one of the parties involved in these processes. Citizens show initiative in their decisions and use legal bases and mechanisms that ensure the implementation of these decisions.

In the modern world, citizen participation creates mechanisms and tools that make it possible for each willing, interested citizen, Civil Society Organization to participate in decision-making and implementation processes in government agencies. This is the access of public representatives to information and participation in the decision-making process and human rights systems and non-judicial remedies of human rights infringements (“Aarhus Convention”).

Forms of citizens participation:

– public debates

– public hearing

– public opinion research

– consideration of legislative acts projects and

– advisory letters.

All these procedures are reflected in the Law “On public participation” (22.11.2013). In short, the Law on citizens’ participation fully provides active participation of citizens in the consideration and discussion of specific problems. This Law highlights that state and local self-governing bodies, civil society institutes, public councils, and individual citizens can initiate public hearings and debates.

Although citizen participation is fully approved by the Law, active participation in political and economic processes, one of our country’s essential democratic processes, is not observed. This do-nothingism leads to certain troubles. Because the active participation of citizens in guiding different viewpoints and providing various interests is one of the most significant and maybe the primary attributes, we cannot observe that people living in the region have a constructive and pragmatic approach to protecting their political and economic rights.

Although public participation is of great importance in forming a democratic state government, the creation of social harmony in society, dialogue, and cooperation between citizens and the different levels of bodies making decisions for their interests and responsible for implementing these decisions is weak.

Practical examples of dialogue and cooperation between civil society and government bodies are rarely seen. Facilitation of this mutual activity, expansion of opportunities, and participation of citizens in democratic processes on local and regional levels are not desirable.

Even though the form and specific mechanisms of citizen participation are fully reflected in national legislation, currently, citizen participation is mainly associated with the activities of Civil Society Organizations.

In our region, there is no experience of public hearings or debates of individual citizens on citizenship issues with their initiatives using the rights granted them by the legislation. If it occurs, it has a nature to the report. And primary purposes of that are unawareness, lack of belief, and the lack of experience organizing these events.

However, existing legislation allows citizens to express their position through public hearings and debates on active public, social, and economic issues. In other words, along with the organizations, citizens also are given these rights. It would be more effective for citizens to use this right.  Unfortunately, state bodies and Civil Society Organizations ignore this aspect regarding citizen participation. Notwithstanding the current situation relating to citizens’ participation in decision-making, the government and the authorized representatives of our state legislative body have different points of view on this issue.

According to officials representing the government, participation of civil society in the adoption of laws has been organized in Azerbaijan. Still, discussions show that more work should be done in this direction to move forward. They note that citizens’ participation in the adoption of laws in Azerbaijan is the main requirement of the 1st part of article 54 of the Constitution, and appropriate measures have been taken in this direction, among which we can specify the establishment of Public Councils in central, local executive and local self-governing bodies for implementation of this requirement. Currently, there are 15 Public Councils, each representing 5-15 people, and the Law doesn’t limit the realization of citizens’ participation in the form of public councils (5.2). Government representatives consider this a unique approach.

Either researches or feedbacks from professional experts show that even though Civil Society subjects consider organizing Public Councils inappropriate government agencies, the main participants of the process are Civil Society Organizations.

Therefore, the effectiveness of Public Councils is all about the existence of a solid sector of Civil Society Organizations. In recent years, adopting laws restricting this sector’s activity has led to the limitation of monitoring and research opportunities of these institutions and the weakening of public control and criticisms.

On the other hand, except for some government agencies, despite creating a Public Council section on web pages of most ministries and committees, municipal, regional executive powers, and local self-governing bodies, this section contains general information or complete another type of information. When it comes to the content of Public Councils, it turns out that these entities have been created just for show. So, most members are representatives of local government agencies and veterans of labor and war under government tutelage, such organizations as trade unions, etc. Within these structures, it is only possible to find a Civil Society Organization with an independent position and objectively and realistically focused on different issues, not from the point of view of a particular group. Mentioned groups (Public Councils) cannot present a quality product to gain society’s trust. There is no platform for debates and dialogues, and the chaotic processes have no scientific and practical ground.

We can speak about the effectiveness and uniqueness of Public Councils only when we have open debates, normally expected, opportunities for expressing critical opinions and taking appropriate measures as a result of this criticism, finding out different viewpoints, and transferring from theory to action. It seems impossible for Public Councils to function independently and effectively and to gain efficient results without different perspectives and approaches.

Representatives of international organizations reasoned regarding citizens’ participation in the adoption of laws that the existing legislation in Azerbaijan should be further developed. Its development should be ensured according to the current pace. This Law should be slightly improved for the possibility of organizing citizens’ participation more easily.

Another concern is a significant gap in the relationship between government officials and citizens. Citizens do not benefit from their constitutional rights and are less inclined to participate in the adoption of laws by demonstration passivity. Researches show that citizens, along with voting for representatives of different parties in elections, do not benefit from their rights to make decisions on various issues of general, local and regional importance using democratic tools. One of the issues at the root of this problem is that the officials in the localities consider the process of citizen participation as a political act rather than a democratic one. Regardless of the consent of Civil Society Organizations with the political position of the state, they cannot connect functions between citizens and government bodies on a desirable level because of certain restrictions.

There should be conditions for conducting research on one issue, organizing public debates, and submitting constructive proposals for solutions to different problems. In other words, it’s possible to achieve a consensus that will satisfy the parties in regulating many issues due to the separation of political activism from political activities in citizen participation.

Obviously, when citizens’ participation in decision-making is arranged based on instructions and assignments from above, the process is more formal. And usually, it is needed to create fertile conditions to make it possible to form this process from below.

In this case, the institutionalization of civic initiatives and activism occurs in society. In short, citizens’ participation should not be imitation but should be transferred from the value form to the basic format by a new approach. Otherwise, it prevents development and leads to public tension and social conflicts. Public debates and public hearings being a significant indicator, lead to the balancing of cause-and-effect relationships and, at the same time, improve the quality of adopted laws addressed to the rights and interests of citizens.

For this purpose, open and constructive dialogue should be improved between the government and civil society. In this case, it’s possible to clear out priority issues of social development and find out good decisions and this approach fully satisfies the interests of both parties.

The most optimal way to achieve these goals is cooperation (some experts believe that a platform for debates and dialogues is needed), mainly in adopting legislation because it forms the basis.

It should be emphasized that in recent years there has been a positive tendency in cooperation of several government agencies with the public sector, i.e., experts in relevant fields. Most experts appreciate this cooperation and claim that such cooperation is a successfully tested mechanism in the world and allows us to assess the impact of taken decisions more objectively.

According to their conclusion, government agencies should refrain from restricting this activity with experts. They should involve Civil Society Organizations in this process because terms require this of the international platform of Open Government Partnership. And Civil Society Organizations actually cannot function at present. The reason for this is Civil Society Organizations and restrictive changes to the granted legislation in 2014. Civil Society Organizations are not only workplaces, agencies, and currency suppliers of the country but also institutes that play a significant role in forming an expert base. Therefore the government should pave the way for the function of Civil Society Organizations. Professional experts also emphasize the need to focus on “think tanks” and experts’ communities, pay more attention to citizens’ participation in decision-making, and attach particular importance to strengthening cooperation in reforming the diversification of the economy.

Based on this, it can be concluded that the most essential, fundamental, and functional significance of citizen participation is to collect, discuss and apply exciting insights into the society that lead to the rise of public welfare and strengthening cooperation. Community involvement in decision-making and implementation makes it possible to discuss insights covering various profiles and select more effective and innovative ones.

During the research on citizen participation, the Center for Social Research (CSR) new agency for researching public issues, was established according to the decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The primary purpose of this Center is to investigate general problems and create additional tools for learning public opinion, improving the efficiency of analysis, research, and forecast in this sphere, and expanding the use of social investigations, modern information technologies, and advanced scientific methodological approaches.

According to this decree, CSR will function as a public-legal person and carry out systemic analysis of public relations development dynamics, defining current tendencies and forecasting changes in this sphere. The establishment of such a center is critical and commendable. However, it should be noted that if this Center works closely with Civil Society Organizations engaged in research and investigations in various fields, collaborates with professional experts, and creates platforms for debates and dialogues. It will be possible to achieve long-term and sustainable results. Cooperation with Civil Society Organizations with a fund of experience and human resources can improve the effectiveness of public relations development dynamics. This cooperation can be made more productive and dynamic due to regulating the harmonic function of Civil Society Organizations, i.e., the elimination of restrictions in legislation.

Looking at the process of citizens’ participation in decision-making in European countries, we face an exciting and practical experience. For instance, in Valencia, Spain, the local municipality addresses citizens for suggestions and invests part of its budget income (€ 7 million) in electronic (online) form for transparent and innovative ideas. Ideas suggested by citizens are selected via online vote and implemented. Moreover, electronic reports on local budget incomes formed from tax incomes from citizens and local budget expenditures are brought to public debate. As a result, there are no improper and inefficient budgetary expenditures. Indeed, this approach leads to a positive image of self-governing bodies and increased incomes.

Another example: in Switzerland, if seven citizens want to evaluate any project of government or make any proposal, they gather and conduct public discussions and, at the same time, make their proposal to the government by collecting 50.000 signatures. And the government, in its turn, together with this group, carries out an evaluation. If it turns out that the public proposal is more reasonable, then it makes steps by this proposal. In short, the government and society are satisfied with this procedure.

Researches show an excellent need for institutional development of Civil Society Organizations that play a crucial role in citizens’ participation. Because currently, most Civil Society Organizations have a cooperation system. Almost all experts claim that the development of any separate region coincides with the existence of professional Civil Society Organizations operating in that area.

World practice shows few social conflicts and tensions in countries where public dialogue and social partnership and its principal element – public debates and hearings are conducted regularly.

While focusing on the processes, it can be seen that the relevant government agencies think that Civil Society Organizations can carry out only small projects, so they believe these organizations do not have the capacity and potential to implement large projects. This approach is formed their function because of restricting laws.

It should be noted that citizens’ participation in our country – public debates and public hearings did not carry out due to the lack of proper experience. One of the main reasons for this is the incomplete formation of structuring and institutional development of Civil Society Organizations. However, it doesn’t mean we must refuse the intergovernmental relations methodology. On the contrary, the government should share its political authority with civil society institutes. This would develop and strengthen dialogue between the government and the people.

There is a severe need for the following activities to achieve progress in this direction and to increase the value and principles of citizens participation:

  • To involve persons who are interested in solution of one or another issues and have a direct impact on the processes;
  • To develop mechanisms for expansion public participation of citizens;
  • Detailed awareness of citizens about the on-site solution of important issues;
  • To achieve a mutual dialogue with authorized persons who are responsible for implementation of adopted decisions;
  • To create opportunities for citizens to individual participation in processes;
  • To explain citizens that they should contribute to improvement of decision-making mechanisms;
  • To analyze the impact of citizens to decisions taken on a regular basis;
  • To provide citizens with proper opportunities for their contributions to the decisions taken;
  • To advance independent and objective position;
  • Objective and realistic approach to the issues, not from the point of view of certain groups;
  • To create proper platforms for debates and dialogue;
  • To conduct open debates, prepare necessaryconcluding documents, create opportunities for critical opinions and make appropriate steps by drawing conclusions from these criticisms.

At the same time, using advanced and practical codes in citizens’ decision-making process increases the quality, transparency and effectiveness of decisions taken.

These are:

  • Participation in decision-making, collecting information and analysis of different views of interested parties;
  • Mutual trust and cooperation between different players and sectors;
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability in cooperation of parties;
  • Free and independent activity of Civil Society Organizations, thus, it’s very important in the establishment of mutual relations and obtaining trust;
  • Openness and accessibility of government and local self-governing bodies with citizens in decision-making process;
  • Organization of accessibility of reports on decisions made in the framework of mutual cooperation and consultations and on effectiveness and ineffectiveness of obtained results;
  • Implementation of individual positions regarding the range of interests of the government or local self-governing bodies for show and mandatory non-involvement of Civil Society Organizations into these processes to give them a democratic image, etc.

Moreover, the following approaches are very significant to support citizens participation in implementing adopted laws and taken decisions:

  • Support public activity of citizens
  • Increase opportunities and business skills of civil groups (subjects) for solving public issues;
  • Ensuring harmonic function of Civil Society Organizations.

In case all the procedures mentioned above, activities, and recommendations are implemented:

  • Self-attitude and respect of citizens will increase;
  • They will spend their internal energy for positive changes in society;
  • It will cause the formation of a new view to the problem solution of citizens, obtaining information, knowledge, and experience;
  • It will lead to increase of effectiveness of decisions taken;

Implementation of successful and sustainable projects will be possible and easy by facilitating the work of local government bodies.

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