New technologies improve municipal services through Albanian "one stop shops"
Qazim Sejdini, the mayor of Elbasan, Albania, stood in front of his computer. Ten kilometres away, in the village of Bradashesh, Fatmir Balla stood waiting at a "one stop shop" service centre.
Balla, the owner of small hardware store, was applying for a permit to use a small parcel of land in front of his shop. Mayor Sejdini issues many such permits every year, but this was the first one he would issue remotely through an online application system, eliminating bureaucratic red tape and the need for Balla to travel.
It took the Mayor only a few minutes to review the digital document, and after approval, a municipal clerk in the Bradashesh office printed a copy for the hardware store owner.
- To improve efficiency, Albania has reduced the number of local government units from 384 to 61.
- Around 505,881 residents will benefit from this new governmental approach.
- Elbasani’s one stop shop has provided services to an average of 70 citizens per day.
Local government units in Albania are working with UNDP to build an infrastructure of centralized services in the model of one stop shops (OSSH), helping citizens get needed services faster and reducing unnecessary travel and delays.
The OSSH approach enables the online processing of documents that need approval from different officials. The current approach requires citizens to go from one office to another to have the documents approved, signed and stamped.
The one stop shop component of the STAR project includes the design and implementation of the information technology software, training of municipal workers and the build-up of the necessary infrastructure. The project is being piloted in Durres and Elbasan municipalities.
Last March, local services were reconfigured to eliminate physical contact between citizens and public servants, better monitor public servants’ efficiency, and streamline and expedite administrative procedures. New technologies allow requests to travel digitally, so that citizens don’t have to do so physically.
Once the request is processed, the citizen receives a SMS notification. UNDP supported the design of the open source software, staff training, and the purchasing of necessary equipment to make this reconfiguration possible.
Since its opening, Elbasan's one stop shop has provided services to an average of 70 citizens per day. Most services were completed within one day, with more complicated ones like reconstruction permits served within 10 working days.
One stop shop is just one part of a US$3.7 million multi-donor initiative, co-financed by Italian Cooperation, the Swedish Government, Swiss Development Cooperation, USAID, UNDP and the Albanian Government. The Government of Albania has implemented territorial and administrative reform across the country, reducing the number of local government units from 384 to 61.
Studies showed that the local government units were a heavy burden to the economy due to high expenditures and low gains. This downsizing will strengthen the efficiency of local administration and improve the quality and standards of service delivery.
In addition, it will foster more equitable development by saving human and financial resources, increasing local responsibilities and competencies, and adopting a more transparent and participatory decision-making process. Such a local government system is proving critical for Albania’s European Integration Agenda.
One concern is that the majority of former local units were downgraded to administrative centres without decision-making powers, creating a distance between communities and services that originally were nearby. To combat this, municipalities will have to improve the delivery of services to make up for the physical distance. The development of the OSSH platform, providing services at a unique front desk, is fundamental to properly serving the citizens and optimizing municipal functions.
“The territory of our municipality increased 34 fold while its population doubled,” noted Mayor Sejdini. Elbasan municipality now includes 12 administrative units and 116 villages. “Citizens live up to one hour away from the municipality center, so it is important to provide services where people live.”
The locally designed software implemented in Elbasan is integrated with various government-run databases, including the civic and business registries. This will make services easily available and greatly cut waiting times for citizens.
“The new municipalities have a big challenge to make their services more efficient, transparent, and fair, and earn the trust of their citizens. UNDP hopes that all 61 Municipalities will soon have one stop shops,” said Brian J. Williams, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Albania.
Around 505,881 citizens live in Elbasan and Durres municipalities and will benefit from this new governmental approach. The next stage will expand this pilot and replicate one stop shop models across the country.