Mixed Practice but Good Experience in Decentralization Efforts in the Balkan Region

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The aim of the meeting was to bring together BCSDN members and other regional civil society, government and international stakeholders to exchange experience in decentralization practices in the region and identify possibilities for further exchange and cooperation in this area. The meeting was organized under the umbrella of Balkan Civil Society Development Network and its Working Group on special issues, which aims at promoting dialogue, exchange and regional cooperation in areas of special interest to civil society. The lead partner of the Working Group on decentralization is Macedonian Center for International Cooperation. The meeting was divided into four sessions: the first was dedicated to experiences in Albania and SCG; second, to Macedonia; third, international practices (EAR, EWI); and fourth, experiences from Croatia and BiH.

Opening Session
Aleksandar Krzalovski, MCIC Programme Coordinator opened the meeting and wel¬co¬med participants. A short presentation of the NGO Fair and WG on decentralization followed. Participants introduced themselves in a short round of introductions. Participants agreed with the draft Agenda.

Regional Perspectives in Local Democratization & Development (Albania & SCG)
Enis Sulstarova, Programme Manager from Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Albania was the first to introduce the work of his organization in decentralization. The main de¬cen¬tra¬li¬sa¬ti¬on challenges iden¬tified in Albania are: lack of civic involvement, lack of basic skills know¬led¬ge, and weak struc¬tures. IDM works with improving involvement of community-based groups in the decision-making process on the local level and has had some success in this field. The most visible work done are introduction of monthly meetings between local leaders and police representatives and support to small-scale citizen initiative such as initiative to improve the neighbourhood park in city of Laci. In both cases, IDM acts as facilitator of communication and processes. Such positive grass-root practices give hope for possible improvements in civic participation and ownership of development and democratization processes on the local level.

Srdjan Brajovic, representative of Center for Development of NGOs (CRNVO), Montenegro, presented experience of his organization in improving relations between CSOs and local authorities. The main problems faced in Montenegro are: poverty and lack of clear division of responsibilities between central and local government. CRNVO has therefore concentrated its work on monitoring and lobbying of legal framework relating to decentralization process and is currently monitoring the process of its implementation. The detailed conclusions and recommendation have been produced into an annual report on the relations between the government and NGOs. Report contains many remarks and points for improvement, which may be useful in other Balkan countries as well.

Last representative in this session was Marija Parnicki, Project Assistant, and Ecumenical Hu¬ma¬ni¬ta¬ri¬an Organization (EHO), Vojvodina. Her presentation concentrated on experience of her organisation in coope¬ra¬tion with the local authorities. In Vojvodina, the legal framework concerning the work of CSOs as well as cooperation with local authorities is chaotic, which results in difficult cooperation. The¬re¬fore, cooperation is equal to receiving work permissions for CSOs. EHO has more positive experience in cooperating with republic-level institutions (Republic of Serbia), through the Social Innovation Fund geared at supporting social welfare reform and includes cooperation with CSOs at local level. Under the fund, EHO in cooperation with the Social Welfare Center and the Executive Board of Novi Sad Council initiated project to establish a volunteer services with a grant of amount 21,000 Euros. It was stressed in the debate that followed, that most hindering factors on grass-root level are motivation of people to be engaged in initiatives for improvement of local situation as well as the fact that successful initiatives usually require work with small community-based groups (up to 10 people).

Decentralization in Macedonia: How Far are We?
The main aim of the panel organized together with Forum – Center for Strategic Re¬sea¬rch and Documentation was to share positive and negative experiences in de¬cen¬tra¬li¬zation process in Macedonia. Andrej Petrov, President of Association of Macedonian Munici¬pa¬lities (ZELS), started his presentation with outlining good cooperation with NGOs, repre¬sen¬ta¬tives from international organizations and foundations in the country. Problematic issues he men¬tioned were: financing, management, and the obvious influence of political parties and their selection of personnel in educational institutions. Izet Medzeti presented problems in urbanization, legal frame¬work and sharing of finances with the Municipality of Skopje. Vlado Tolevski, Mayor of Mu¬ni¬cipality Kicevo, pointed out problems with the staff transfers that had to be made, in order for the Municipality to function in the new system. Zoran Damjanovski, Mayor of Municipality Kumanovo, pointed out the main benefit of the decentralization process is the possibility for ordinary citizens’ to take initiatives in solving their problems. There have been 3,5 Million Euros invested in different projects, yet they face problems with heating in the schools. His goal in the coming year is to invest in development and employment. Remzi Merko, Mayor of Municipality Struga, called attention to the fact that it takes time to take over the respon¬si¬bi¬lities, since four other municipalities were included in Municipality Struga. Other than that, his views were very positive towards decentralization. Nevzat Bejta, Mayor of Municipality Gos¬ti¬var, presented his experience with decentralization as extremely positive. The Minister of local self-government used Mayor Nevzat Bejta as a positive example to all other mayors. At the end, Minister Rizvan Sulejmani, talked about the three phases municipalities are going through at the moment: transfer of responsibilities, strengthening of the local self-government, and development of true local democracy. He concluded that other countries beginning the process of decentralization should look at Macedonia as a positive model for exchange.

International Perspectives in Local Democratization and Development
The main aim of this panel session was to present current possibilities for funding of CSOs/municipality initiatives and practical experience by international organizations in the field.

Irena Ivanova, Assistant to Head of Center, European Agency for Reconstruction, Skopje, gave a presentation about the new EU instrument-Neighbourhood Programmes-which is geared at supporting cross-border and trans-national cooperation, as a way of pre¬ven¬ting the formation of new dividing lines between non-/to-be and EU Members States. The new Programme, running from 2004-2006 (second phase will continue beyond 2007 as a single instrument) supports initiatives for joint projects in one or more countries for solving joint problems or sharing of experience. The Programme is at different stages in different countries. However, on the overall level, 1st calls for proposals are being or are scheduled to be launched in the coming months. It is planned that one call for proposals would be launched each year. The target group at which the Programme is aimed are local and regional public authorities, chambers of commerce, universities, as well as CSOs. The expected overall budget for Macedonia 2004-6 is 3 million Euros, or 1 million Euros annually. Out of this, 300,000 Euros will be distributed as grants for “people-to-people” activities (mainly relating to CSOs) in smaller grants of 10,000-15,000 Euros. All countries of the region are covered by the Neighbourhood Programme so this presentation was very informative for future funding opportunities for all participants.

Christine Hirst, Project Manager, East West Institute, GPKT Trans-frontier Project, gave a presentation on her experience in leading a cross-border initiative Kosovo-Serbia-Ma¬ce¬donia. The initiative started in 2002, aimed at conflict prevention through cross-border co¬ope¬ration between municipalities and CSOs. The initiative involves 4 municipalities (Gnjilane, Presevo, Kumanovo, Trgoviste) and functions at 3 levels: policy; municipal and community. The main positive achievement as result of the initiative was reducing of tensions from the Kosovo conflict in 1999, as a main precondition for economic and social development of these regions. In the debate that followed, it was stressed that as the cross-border regions and mu¬ni¬cipalities are mainly marginalized or are not given special attention in the decentralization pro¬cess, it is important that any initiative necessarily includes building of capacities of mu¬ni¬ci¬pa¬lities and other institutions (including CSOs). The case of Croatia, where only 30% of available funds have been used so far by municipalities is demonstrative.

Regional Perspectives in Local Democratization & Development (Croatia and BiH)
Marija Raos, Director of NIT, Croatia gave a presentation of Local Government Reform Pro¬ject (LGRP) financed by USAID and implemented by Urban Institute in Croatia. The aim of the project running from 2000-2007 is to support decentralization and build the managerial and administrative capacity of local governments in preparation for Croatia’s accession in the EU. In the pilot phase 2000-2004, the project was tried out in 5 pilot cities, using 5 managerial mo¬dels (asset management, citizen participation, economic development, financial management, information management). In 2003, Croatian Association of Local and Regional Government Consultants (HUKON) was launched to provide training and other consultancy expertise for municipalities through a cost-share programme. Through this programme, more municipalities would be included in the LGRP, but based on their financial participation which in turn should also provide real ownership of skills attained and development plans that were being created. NIT’s experience as local consultant in LGRP was positive but there are many challenges: it is a time-consuming process ands needs to be real community-based process. NIT’s role has also been to share experience in Serbia and Kosovo in using LGRP models in developing municipalities in other countries in the region.

Dusko Krsmanovic, youth activities and former Director, the Upper Drina Youth Council presented his experience in development grass-root youth initiatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Upper Drina Youth Council was the first initiative to bring together young people in two ethnically-divided entities in Eastern Bosnia in promoting young peoples as resource for development with the aim to rise the educational and employment level in the region. In creating network of youth council through BiH, they based their work on the European Charter on participation of youth in local and regional life. They also developed broad partnerships on local, regional and international level. In Visegrad, a concrete example of cooperation with local authorities was presented. Realizing that the Youth Council is a serious and motivated organization, the local authorities requested the Council to take over the project in creating a centre for psycho-sociological development in cooperation with and Italian NGO and local authority. The project has allowed them with financial sustainability as the premises of the centre became theirs as well as the ownership of the project. Finally, this project also demonstrated a positive example of transfer from international to local and business-support oriented initiative.

Conclusions
Aleksandar Krzalovski summarized main points of each presentation delivered during the meeting. Tanja Hafner Ademi, BCSDN Coordinator gave general conclusions of the meeting. The main points stressed were:

There is a mixed picture and experience in the region in terms of:
– political/legal framework: in some parts passed legislation, challenges faced on implementation level (e.g. Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia), while in other parts chaotic legal framework due to unclear political status, which hinders existence of CSOs and cooperation with municipalities (e.g. Vojvodina);

– practice: difference in bottom-up vs. top-down processes as well as models (e.g. cross-border cooperation, community-based groups) used in promoting cooperation and inclusion of CSOs in decentralization process;

– future: funding possibilities for cross-border regions and municipalities mainly from EU (new Neighbourhood Programme), while capacities need to be developed on local level to absorb these funds.

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