Town of Bernex, Switzerland.
Bernex is a town of about 10 000 people near the City of Geneva, in the French-speaking area of Switzerland.
In 2019, the municipal government of the town decided that it would be good for the community to get a loan for about 2 million US dollars to add 5 stops to the streetcar line of the TCOB. The TCOB is a transportation system that serves the City of Geneva and its surroundings.
After reviewing the reports by the municipal Committee of Economy and Safety, and also the Committee of Finances and Administration, the Municipal Council felt that the development of the 5 streetcar stops was a project that would benefit the town.
In view of that, the municipal council of Bernex approved the decision to apply for a loan of 1 960 000.00 Swiss Francs (2 178 000.00 US Dollars) to finance building the stops.
The project approved by the Council detailed the size of the stops, the solar electric panels that would cover the stops. The project stated the solar power generated would save the town 556 000.00 US Dollars in its power bill over 30 years. The stops would also have selective recycling bins and local information panels, as well as places to park bicycles, etc.
The Council approved the decision, with 12 votes in favor and 10 against.
In other places, probably in your town, that would be the end, and the project would go ahead. But in Switzerland is not like in most places. In Switzerland, ordinary citizens can call a referendum. I mean, the citizens call the referendum, not the Municipal Council. It is not a consultative referendum either; one of those the authorities can ignore. In Switzerland, the results of a referendum are binding. The people are the ultimate authority.
This means that if a majority of the residents of Bernex vote “non” (Bernex is in French-speaking Switzerland), then there will be no loan and no streetcar stops. If the majority votes “oui”, then the decision of the municipal government will go ahead.
In Bernex, if a person or a group of friends gets 8% of the residents to sign the demand for a referendum, then the town must hold a binding referendum.
In the case of Bernex, which has a population of 10 000, 800 signatures were necessary. The proponents of the referendum also had to collect the signatures within 4 months of the publication of the decision by the Municipal Council.
The group of citizens collected the required 800 signatures, and they did it within the 4-month deadline.
The citizens arguing against the plan argued that the size of the stops was unnecessarily large and that this went against the Town’s environmental goals.
They also stated the municipal council underestimated the cost of the solar panels and that the overall cost of the project was excessive.
The citizens proposed an alternative plan to save the town 1 667 000.00 US Dollars.
The town called the referendum and published the document explaining the contents of the municipal council proposal. The document also included the proposal presented by the concerned citizens who oppose the project.
The documentation also included the recommendations of the local political parties. Some parties were in favour of the project, some weren’t.
In the document, the municipal council asked the citizens to vote “oui” to the plan approved by the council.
Also, in the document, the citizens asked voters to reject the project and vote “non”.
The people voted on Sept 28, 2020. The turnout was 58.78%. 39.58% of voters said “oui” to the municipal council proposal, 60.42% voted “non”.
This means that the project, as presented by the authorities, is dead.
Why can’t you decide in your town like the people of Bernex decided in Bernex, and like they also do all over Switzerland, in towns, cities, even at the national level?
You pay the taxes, shouldn’t you decide?. Why are you unable to stop the building of a new street, a new roundabout, a new school, etc.? Why can’t you propose projects and bylaws in your town?
You can’t because the politicians in your town and country do not want you to curtail their power to decide.
The Swiss people had to press, press, and press their politicians until they relented. Do that too in your country, to give yourselves genuine power.