Ensuring population’s access to basic services is one of the concerns of the Local Authorities. Facing financial difficulties in this area, the creation of a complementary currency is suggested by Jean Luc Roux, consultant and independent researcher in complementary currency. In this interview, he presents the advantages of this option.
Mr. Roux, you made a presentation on complementary currencies to the attention of the members of the Executive Committee of UCLG Africa, during its 14th Session, 10 May 2016. Which benefit can complementary currencies bring to local communities?
I realized that a few years ago with the prevailing austerity, Governments, Authorities, and Cities have lost theirfinancial power. Thus, the budgets for education, health care, mobility, waste management, suffer unfortunately wide deficit. Today, cities have learned in some countries, in certain continents, they can redo the budget cash by creating and setting a complementary currency area that do not necessarily require to be managed in conventional currency. I take the example of the city of Bristol, England. It is a city of about one million inhabitants. Its Mayor in agreement with the people, decided to create a currency, the “Bristol Pound” which is affected mainly to exchanges between the local businesses of the city, to exchanges of populations with all foodstuffs, to trade that the population with energy companies. All these services are now paid for in Bristol Pound. So the City Council doesn’t spend more livre sterling for these sectors and it was able to increase its budget in the budget lines which cannot be managed by Bristol Pound. For example the computer system, the technical installations in hospitals, it requires large budgets and these are types of expenses that cannot be made in local currency.
The Complementary currency model is also suitable for big cities?
Bigger is the size of the municipality, more are the chances for the complementary currency to succeed. Firstly, what is important is the determination of the Mayor and elected officials, secondly, the encounter with motivated citizens to work together to create a currency at the service of the citizens. A currency that will facilitate trade in food sector, health, education. It is a matter of will and motivation. This is not a matter of size of the community. The size allows the currency to have greater stability.
How to get the authorization to place on the market a complementary currency. The State can oppose?
I would say that we must have the courage of civil disobedience. I’ll give you an example. When I was a young Belgian activist, it was not allowed to create its transmitter. I was a student and with classmates, we bought a transmitter, and we started to put music and information for students. This was not allowed. Six months after, the transmitter has been confiscated and we bought another. When the police intended crack down again, we warned all our auditors and in a few minutes there were 3500 citizens around our radio station who did not permit to the police to close the radio station and two years later it was legalized in Belgium. Sometimes we need the courage of civil disobedience, to open new sections of activities in a society in which the legislature had not thought. We need the courage of daring men. I know that there are mayors who are daring. Whether in Germany, in Belgium, in France, in Africa also. I am thinking about the city of Mombasa in Kenya where a complementary currency was created. It should be noted that we are not quite at the level of illegality, but we are in a case that the law do not mention. This is what I call crisis material.
So, what are the essential steps to launch a complementary currency?
The first thing is training. Mayors accompanied by of representatives of civil society should have specific training in the creation of these complementary currencies. Because they are very diverse unlike the conventional currency, which is a monoculture and are produced in the same way everywhere in the world. Complementary currencies are currencies that are adapted to each situation. They have a wide variety of different aspects. We must learn to know the model to use based on the needs we want to complete. I have for example given with the Economist Bernard Lietaer, a training of this type at the University of Zurich, three years ago. Enabled 30 people go back to their countries and become what I call architects of the complementary monetary structures. This training can be done on a period of 3 or 5 days.
As a second step: motivation. Motivation is the essential engine. Third step: identify the needs that are to be covered by this currency. We cannot do everything. Then you must select what is in crisis in your town. What does not work in my town because I have a lack of medium where just because I have populations that are excluded from the economic activity. They cannot buy drugs in pharmacy; they may not have access to school, etc. If these people are priority in the management of my city, I will make a currency that will be assigned to develop these sectors.
Then we must think about the technicality. Will I do a currency in paper form or in electronic form? Across the world, today most currencies are not in paper form but in electronic form. It works well in business to business between business. When citizens are involved, it is nice to have a paper currency. Then, decide if this paper currency is convertible or not. These are decisions that are discussed with the Committee responsible of the creation of this currency, which is still a Joint Committee.
After that, who should inform the citizens about the device we are going to be put in place via the media. Another important step is the local Charter of the complementary currencies. This Charter will define the framework of the currency, the populations concerned by this currency, the governance of the currency (it is important to determine who takes the decisions). We’ll see that for a currency to work well, decisions must always be taken with the group responsible for the creation. Once the Charter is established, the type of currency established, we move to a phase test. That is, it was decided to test the currency in a district of the city to see how it goes. Between the decision to make a currency and its first application you must wait 2 years. Two years is the preparation period to bring a currency to maturity before the test. The phase test is usually 6 months. We see if the citizens have understood how to use it. We report on this test phase, we tune the process and then we proceed with the final operational phase. And regularly, every 6 months, we report on the evaluation of the system to adapt it each time we encounter difficulties.
Your last word…
I will says dare the change. Dare to change because it is not in the current framework you will find solutions to the social, economic and environmental crisis? Mayors who have dared this change, I think to the mayors of Bristol, Nantes, Toulouse now find themselves in better competitive situations to those of their colleagues in other cities who have remained timid. We realize today that to equal policy there is no solutions to the crises that arise. It is in change, in audacity, to try new tools, to innovate, that solutions can be found to the various crises faced by the mayors.