Citizens First – Annual Conference on Decentralization and Local Governance

December 7, 2023

This year's Conference on Decentralization and Local Governance, traditionally organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Local Self-Government, focuses on citizens and improving the quality of local services. Risto Penov, Minister of Local Self-Government, emphasized that they supported 135 projects in municipalities and planning regions together with the Bureau for Regional Development this year. In his speech, he referred to the Citizen Satisfaction Survey with Local Services, conducted by the UNDP. 

"The results show that citizens are generally satisfied with the quality of life in their municipality, especially with firefighting and childcare services. However, there is a slight decrease in satisfaction with the way their municipality is governed and how their requests are approached. According to the perception of citizens, special attention should be paid to services for vulnerable groups and the risks of corruption in local communities. This should guide us in planning the next activities for improving the functionality of the local self-government system," said Penov.


The President of the Association of the Units of the Local Self-Government (ZELS) and the Mayor of Kiselа Voda, Orce Gjorgjievski, mentioned that municipalities face issues with regards to functioning, since they receive a significantly smaller degree of financial resources from the state budget than they should in order to fulfill their assigned tasks. 

"We want to offer quality services and European standards to our citizens; however, some municipalities even lack the funds to cover the potholes in local roads. There are still numerous settlements that lack water supply and sewage systems. Therefore, ZELS does not deviate from the long-standing requests for the transfer of at least 10% of VAT and 50% of personal income tax," said Gjorgjievski.


The governments of Switzerland and Sweden have been long-time supporters of local development in the country through a series of projects and initiatives, some of which are implemented by UNDP. 

"Despite important progress, many challenges remain, such as: competences transferred to the local level have not been accompanied with adequate financial resources or with sufficient human capacities; mechanisms for internal and external control as well as digitization of processes and services are either weak or lacking, contributing to increased vulnerability to corruption. This list seems to be very long, but I also visited municipalities where the situation is much better because the local authorities were committed to improve tax’s collection and budget management, to maintain in key positions professionals having the right competences, to ensure participation and transparency of decision-making processes and embark in the digital transformation," said Véronique Hulmann, Ambassador of Switzerland to North Macedonia. 

Swedish Ambassador, HE Ami Larsson Jain, highlighted the importance of decentralization as a way to enhance citizen participation, strengthen local access to services, manage conflicts and improve accountability and responsiveness at the local level. She highlighted Swedish support towards this end through the support to the Bureau for Regional Development and Ministry of Local Self-Government, implemented by UNDP, and noted that there is a need for the central government to help municipalities strengthen their financial and technical capacity, while providing them with a legal and regulatory framework that is conducive to a sustainable and equitable decentralization process.


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been working in partnership with municipalities for more than two decades, implementing comprehensive measures to improve local governance.

"Local development stands as a crucial and pivotal component in the broader advancement of the country, playing a direct and influential role in enhancing the overall quality of life for its citizens. It is with this understanding that UNDP is committed to supporting the municipal development and decentralization processes, aligning closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Our dedication extends to assisting local authorities in addressing the recommendations articulated in the EU Progress Report for the country. Numerous initiatives and interventions undertaken by UNDP are directly connected to the goal of fostering more efficient, more accountable, more transparent, and more sustainable local self-governance", stated Armen Grigoryan, UNDP Resident Representative. 


The two-day conference covered several key topics, including local governance on the path to the EU, digital transformation of municipalities, inclusive local communities, sustainable local development, fiscal decentralization, and promoting gender equality in local communities. 

UNDP is organizing the Annual Conference on Decentralization and Local Governance in partnership with the Ministry of Local Self-Government and with the support of Switzerland, Sweden, and the Bureau for Regional Development.