Esteemed Ambassador Raunig,
Good morning! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you some ideas, plans, and challenges related to the Administrative-Territorial Reform currently under preparation in Albania.
To open the discussion, I will make some remarks, accompanied by a slide presentation. You will find a more extensive version of my remarks and the slides in the briefing that we have prepared for you. Once I conclude my remarks, I will be all yours for questions and suggestions.
I. The goal
In its electoral and governing program, our government prioritized the Administrative-Territorial Reform as a key reform to be launched immediately, starting in September 2013. It appointed me as the Minister of State for Local Affairs to lead the government’s efforts related to this reform.
This reform will lead to fewer and larger local government units in Albania, capable of providing more and more efficient public services, supported by increased revenues and more efficient management of assets and resources.
The reform’s goals are in line with decentralization and local autonomy principles laid out in the Albanian Constitution and the European Charter of Local Self- Government.
I. Why does Albania need the administrative-territorial reform?
Albania has currently 12 qarks (regions), 309 communes, and 65 municipalities. The current administrative-territorial map of Albania was defined by law in 2000. This law left in place the administrative-territorial map that was first introduced in
1992. This map, largely inherited by the totalitarian regime, reflected the state centralized economic organization of the country.
The 2000 law on the country’s administrative-territorial organization did not take in consideration the dramatic demographic, economic, social, and infrastructural changes that took place in Albania starting in 1991.
The current administrative-territorial organization has led to a large number of local government units with very small population size and nearly non-existent assets and resources. This in turn:
- has limited the capacity of these local government units to carry out their functions and offer public services as required by law;
- has limited local government units capacity to generate income through local taxes and tariffs;
- has led to the inefficient use of state and local budgets to cover administrative costs of inefficient local government units; and
- has made such local government units entirely depended on central government budget transfers.
The inability of small and inefficient local government units to provide adequate public services and generate development at the local level is one of the lead causes of the intensive internal migration that has taken place in Albania in the last
22 years, mainly from the rural to the urban areas, in search of better public services and more employment opportunities.
II. Why now?
Our government is committed to expand, improve, and modernize public services in Albania. The government is also committed and working hard to pull Albania’s economy out of the ditch and move it towards sustained and sustainable growth. The administrative-territorial reform is a key strategy for achieving these major and ambitious national goals.
ATR has been:
- part of all electoral and government programs in Albania starting in 2003;
- a key recommendation by major international organizations that support
Albania’s progress towards democratization and good governance; and
- a key area of concern for local and international organizations that work on local government strengthening in Albania.
So, the administrative-territorial reform was part of the Democratic Party electoral and government programs for two terms: 2005 – 2009 and 2009 – 2013. In 2007, the then opposition (Socialist Party) agreed with the Democratic Party-led government to cooperate in developing and implementing the administrative- territorial reform. But the DP-led government took no concrete actions to advance this agenda during eight years.
The EU, Council of Europe, and OSCE have repeatedly emphasized the need for
ATR in Albania, as exemplified by the quotes you see on the slides.
In the last thirteen years, starting in 2000 when the new law on administrative- territorial organization of the country was introduced, various local and international organizations have supported decentralization and local government strengthening in Albania. Among other things, they have carried out or supported studies and reports on the need and proposed configuration for the administrative- territorial re-organization of our country. These documents provide a solid start point for developing administrative-territorial reform. You can see on the slides few quotes from these studies.
The timing for this reform is related also to the election’s calendar. The government aims to put in place a new administrative-territorial organization of the country well ahead of the local elections scheduled to take place in mid-2015.
III. Approach and progress to date
The government’s approach to the administrative-territorial reform relies on the following principles:
- Ample opportunity for political and civic consensus
- Compliance with Albanian laws, Council of Europe and EU relevant provisions, and best international practices.
- Building upon progress to date on decentralization and local government strengthening efforts
- Full transparency and efficiency
- Close cooperation with international experts and community in Albania.
To date, my office under the Prime Minister’s leadership and in close cooperation with the Parliament has taken the steps presented in the slides.
IV. Outreach to the opposition
From the start, the government made public its commitment that, despite the fact that the majority can ensure the votes needed to approve the new administrative- territorial organization of the country, we would seek to develop and implement
the reform in cooperation with the opposition. To that end, we have undertaken the following approach and actions:
- The Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and I have repeatedly and publicly invited the opposition to cooperate on the reform and have applied a positive and friendly approach despite the opposition’s rhetoric on this and other issues.
- We proposed and approved that the Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Committee be co- chaired by majority and opposition MPs and that the opposition hold veto power regarding Committee’s decisions.
- We have proactively reached out to opposition MPs and technical experts close to the Democratic Party and discussed with them about the reform and possible options for cooperating on this reform.
- We have repeatedly invited opposition representatives and experts in public discussions about the reform and have provided them with options for providing their feedback.
- We have included technical experts that are close to the opposition in the working groups on the reform at the central and local level.
- We have provided multiple avenues for public information on the reform and that gives to the opposition many opportunities to stay informed about every step in the process of developing the reform.
V. Next steps
In the next months, the administrative-territorial reform will advance in the following directions:
- We will engage in a large public consultation process to get feedback by local government units and civic stakeholders regarding the need and proposed criteria for the administrative- territorial reform.
- The Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Committee will discuss and approve the technical criteria for the reform.
- Based on the approved technical criteria, the Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Commission will decide and approve the new administrative-territorial organization map of the country.
- This map will be largely consulted with: mayors, heads of communes, and local municipal councils; civic stakeholders including the business community and civil society organizations; and citizens. This will include a nation-wide public opinion survey on the proposed map.
- Based on this public consultation process and the survey results, the draft law will be sent to the Parliamentary plenary session for discussion and approval.
- Parallel to this process, we will propose changes to the laws and by-laws related to local government functioning, if and where there is the need to do so due to administrative-territorial reform implementation and the need to advance the decentralization process.
- The law on the new administrative-territorial organization will become reality with the next local elections scheduled to take place in 2015.
In preparation for your questions, in your briefing you will find some information about the relation between administrative-territorial reform and the electoral legal framework in Albania.
A concluding remark:
The government believes that in working hard to develop and implement a thorough and inclusive ATR, we are doing the right thing for the right reasons: ATR is a much needed and delayed reform that will bring about major
improvement in public service delivery. We are preparing this reform through an inclusive and transparent process based on best local and international practices.
Unfortunately, so far, by refusing to contribute to ATR, the opposition is doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. The opposition is, indeed, not participating in a reform that they have publicly committed to for eight years, a reform that Albania greatly needs. They are doing so not because of concerns or criticism related to ATR or because they believe that they represent the public sentiment about this reform, but inspired by narrow and ad-hoc political party interests.
However, the government remains committed to reach out to the opposition and keep all options on the table for their potential contribution to and cooperation with administrative-territorial reform.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that the unfailing support by international partners provides a powerful incentive for our government’s efforts to develop and implement this complex reform. On behalf of the government and the Prime Minister, I would like to thank you for your support! Special thanks go to our friends and colleagues at the Swedish International Development Agency, USAID, Swiss Cooperation, and UNDP that support and fund many of the reform-related activities. Same goes to the Italian Cooperation that has pledged to do the same.
Thank you and the floor is yours!