Municipalities cooperate to deliver better services

 Men at a marketplace in FYR of Macedonia.
New funds have gone into a refurbished marketplace in the center of Krivogastani, where citizens can find an array of goods and services. Photo: UNDP

Accurate maps to guide fire fighters, better roads and water systems, training for teachers of special needs children - these are among the many public services that smaller municipalities in the former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia can now offer their citizens.

As part of a UNDP-supported project, municipalities with limited resources have formed joint administrative bodies. Through cooperation, they have been able to better serve their citizens, reduce costs and improve tax collection and management.

Highlights

  • 800,000 people have benefited from better public services.
  • 3/4 of all municipalities in FYR of Macedonia participate in inter-municipal cooperation.
  • Tax collection rates have increased by up to 60 percent.
  • Public expenditures have fallen, partly through staff reductions.

According to Zaklina Zitosanska, a civil servant from the joint tax collection agency of the towns of Krivogastani and Dolneni, new tax administration skills and an updated taxpayers database have helped increase revenues by 30 percent.

“We have much greater abilities now to raise the resources we need to work for our communities,” she says.

Towards local participation

After the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement ended internal conflict in FYR of Macedonia, the Government, looking to meet the requirements for accession to the European Union, embarked on ambitious reforms to decentralize its administration. It aimed to boost education, healthcare and social protection services, as well as improve urban planning, environmental protection and economic development in all of the country’s 85 municipalities.

The reforms moved forward smoothly in larger cities. However, smaller towns and villages struggled. As disparities between municipalities grew, people living in struggling areas grew restive.

To reduce tensions and move the process forward more equitably, UNDP proposed a solution: Municipalities could pool resources through inter-municipal cooperation.

Piloting new partnerships

To demonstrate this strategy, UNDP helped implement a pilot project in Bosilovo, Vasilevo and Novo Selo, three small municipalities in the south of FYR of Macedonia. The project formed three joint administrative bodies to manage taxation, urban planning, and public inspections of licensing and compliance with local regulations. Each municipality hosted and staffed one of the joint bodies.

The project also provided training for the municipalities’ civil servants and increased public outreach by opening citizens’ service centres, setting up government websites for each town, and providing vehicles to help civil servants access remote areas. 

Within two years, Novo Selo had improved telecommunications, water, electrical and transportation infrastructure, Bosilovo had repaved roads and purchased new school equipment, and Vasilevo had repaired water and sewer systems. Tax collection rates within the three municipalities increased by 60 percent, while expenditures fell by 12 percent.

Success goes national

Impressed by the pilot’s success, the Government adopted its cooperation model for a national rollout.

By early 2011, 62 municipalities had signed on to participate in 26 inter-municipal partnerships. UNDP continued to help train more than 800 local officials, and worked to set up a grant strategy to provide seed money for innovations in service delivery.

Today, FYR of Macedonia is a regional leader in inter-municipal cooperation. Over 800,000 people have benefitted from initiatives like the formal agreement in the town of Zajas to prioritize social protection for vulnerable groups.

“Before the project, it seemed no one from the local authorities cared about these people,” says Lutfi Osmani, president of the Zajas village council. “Now with the municipalities visibly working together to map their needs, there is a lot more hope.”