Sunday, March 27, 2016

Albanian Territorial Reform Has Created Confusion, Report

European mission says reform of local government in Albania has proceeded unevenly amid confusion over competences and accusations of bias and favouritism.

Fatjona Mejdini

A child drawing the new border's units on Albania map | Photo: BIRN/Ivana Dervishi

Territorial and administrative reform in Albania, which has changed the map of the country, reducing 400 local units to 61, is proceeding slowly and has created confusion, a mission of Congress of Local and Regional Authorities that visited Albania in February says.
The mission - part of the Council of Europe - visited the country to observe the progress of the reform enacted in July 2014 and the situation after the July 2015 local elections when 61 mayors of the new units were elected.
The report of the mission led by Dutch rapporteur Jos Wienen, vice-president of the Congress' Monitoring Committee, which BIRN has seen, said: "Despite efforts to provide support to the newly elected representatives through the 'Territorial Reform Implementation Agency' the implementation process at local level seems to be slow and at times cumbersome.
"Confusion about competencies and financial resources still seem to be widespread among local elected officials, threatening the smooth and timely implementation of the reform," the report continued.
The report is also critical when it comes to the financial resources allocated to support the reform. Although the government has allocated 3.2 per cent of GDP in 2016 for local government, the highest level ever, it is is still considered insufficient.
"Due to the delegation of the new competencies and the new administrative-territorial structure, the 2016 budget does not correspond to a net increase in the local authorities' resources," the report reads.
The delegation also noted accusations of bias in the the way that grants to finance specific projects at local level are selected.
"The transparency of the grants-awarding process is a matter of concern because the 'Regional Development Fund' is essentially managed by the central government and thus suspected of political favouritism," the report said.
The report notes opposition concerns about the way the boundaries of the new territorial units were drawn and says accusations of gerrymandering have been rejected by the government.
"Still, certain electoral district boundaries seem somehow strangely distorted (notably in Tirana and Shkodra Municipalities) without apparent empirical reason," the report reads.
Overall, the report considers Albanian local government reform to be in a transitional and difficult phase.
"The delegation received reports on considerable transitional problems in the newly formed municipalities - mainly due to a lack of information about the new competencies, considerable workforce reduction, budgetary uncertainties and inherited financial burdens at the local level," it concluded.
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