Discussion Forum in Elbasan: TAR-Challenges and recommendations for implementation

European Movement in Albania in cooperation with University of Elbasan “Aleksandër Xhuvani”, in the framework of the initiative supported by National Endowment for Democracy (NED): Building bridges – a new cooperation culture between local institutions and their communities, organised on 20 June 2017 at the city of Elbasan a structured discussion forum on the main themes related to the Territorial- Administrative Reform (TAR).

After the first informative session on the implementation and challenges of TAR and the role of the new municipalities and citizens’ involvement through information, the second activity held in Elbasan by EMA prompted the need in the production of a series of recommendations regarding local policies and measures and how to implement them in a proper way. These recommendations suggest the appropriate developing and effective policies highlighting the development of legislation, innovations and challenges that Reform brings, also focused on strengthening the partnership between citizens, civil society and local and central authorities 

Mr. Gledis Gjipali, Executive Director of the European Movement in Albania, clarified the purpose of this activity as a continuation of the information activity conducted in Elbasan a few weeks ago. The discussion forum aims not only to inform on the innovations, challenges and issues of this reform given the Elbasan case, but also providing opportunities and an open space for interest groups, experts and citizens to express their suggestions and their recommendations regarding the improvement and how to effectively implement  this Reform. On the other hand, Mr. Gjipali made a presentation of the work carried out by EMA so far, presenting in details the Informative Manual on TAR as a good tool for getting general knowledge about this reform and the innovation it brings. An important element in this publication is to put some recommendations not only for Local Government actors but also for other relevant stakeholders such as central government, as well as citizens themselves. These recommendations aim to encourage the increase of debates, accountability and engagement of citizens in public and community life.

Mrs. Majlinda Peza, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Human Sciences at the University of Elbasan and a member of the City Council in Elbasan, considered the project and the reform itself as one of the most debated in recent years. One of the advantages and positive novelties TAR brought according to Mrs. Peza was the increase of the efficiency of municipalities and of the transparency in the decision-making process. Elbasan, according to her, is an interesting case, due to the fact it was chosen a pilot city  to implement the idea of social accountability. To Mrs. Peza, citizens are now aware about the importance of being active and involved in important local level processes that directly affect their daily activity.

Mr. Asim Sula, Elbasan Regional Coordinator for TAR, considered this reform as a necessity given the fact that   more than 50% of  the former municipalities did not provide efficient services and did not allow for further development. TAR on the other hand has brought an increase in the performance of administrative units, improved  democracy at the local level. On the other hand, to Mr. Sula the fact that the administrative division was made based on demographic changes occurring in our country, and based on other geographical, historical or cultural affiliation between communities means that TAR will enhance the development in regional level. Regarding TAR expectations, they consist of several issues including: capacity building, direct democracy, strengthening of community structures, improving services and increasing citizens’ access and financial resources. On the other hand, TAR is facing different challenges, when Mr. Sula questioned how efficient the whole process will be and how long it will need to be fully implemented. It is necessary to increase the capacity and human resources, and the opportunity to successfully conduct all the services that have been given to local authorities nowadays.

Mr. Shefqet Bullari, Director of Coordination with Administrative Units of the Municipality of Elbasan, in his speech initially argued why TAR was necessary, mentioning some problems encountered in the past such as: – lack of control of the territory, unskilled staff, low fiscal and monetary administration , the lack of urban planning and visible disparity between municipalities and communes, as well as missing  of the information technology. According to him, this Reform will bring government closer to the citizens by improving and increasing the control and influence of public opinion in this process. Thus TAR has brought some improvements to the daily work of the administrative units where responsibilities and their actions have been increased, including provision of new services: such as administration of forests, pre-school education, fire brigade service, civil emergencies, etc. On the other hand, is expected that the autonomy of the local units to be enhanced as well. As for the case of Elbasan, he reflected some of the work done so far including the increase of human capacities, absorption of  foreign grants by the European Union and others international funders, boost of revenue allocation, even though that the level of taxes have not been raised, establishment of Offices on land management. In the continuation of the discussion section, many recommendations, problems and suggestions on how to resolve them were put out among the participants.