FOURTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON DECENTRALIZATION AND LOCAL GOVERNANCE HELD TODAY
Skopje, 11 December 2020 – The fourth annual conference on decentralization and local governance – “Beyond COVID-19: Building Resilient Local Governments” was held today in Skopje, organized under the “Empowering Municipal Councils” project financed by the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC) and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The Semi-annual Report on Municipal Funding in the first half of 2020 and of the Integral Report on the Response of the Municipal Crisis Management System to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Impact on Local Services were presented at the conference. In addition, the interactive online tool for monitoring the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in the country was also presented at the conference.
The conference was opened by the Ambassador of Switzerland, Sybille Suter Tejada, the UNDP Deputy Permanent Representative, Sanja Bojanic, President of the Kochani Municipal Council and President of the ZELS Committee of Councils, Tome Solevski, the Minister of Finance, Fatmir Besimi, and the Minister of Local Government, Goran Milevski.
“We are all aware of the difficult circumstances under which all institutions operate during the pandemic, but there is no doubt that the local authorities closest to the citizens were in a particularly delicate position. They had to cope with reduced incomes, and at the same time they had to offer additional services as a consequence of COVID-19. But despite all the obstacles, I can gladly say that we managed to achieve excellent results. “From 2018 to date, more than 7,500 citizens from 24 municipalities have participated in over 100 forum sessions to discuss and choose priority projects for their communities in an open, transparent and participatory manner,” said Swiss Ambassador, Sybille Suter Tejada.
The analysis of the financial impact of COVID-19 on the municipalities indicates that the pandemic strongly affected the most significant own revenues of the municipalities in the country, i.e.: Property tax fell by 8.87% in the first quarter and by 19.14% in the second quarter in 2020; Taxes on specific services fell by 10.97% in the first quarter and by 21.18% in the second quarter; Taxes and fees where the decline in the first quarter of 2020 was 5.1%, while in the second quarter the decline is as much as 63.42%. On the revenue side, only Transfers from the central government, which grew by 27.48% in the first quarter and grew by as much as 20.25% in the second quarter in 2020, compared to 2019, amortized the impact to the municipal revenues. Municipalities at the beginning of the pandemic were especially cautious with expenditures, predicting the future impact of the pandemic on local revenues and total municipal expenditures show a significant downward trend from the first to the second quarter of 2020, namely a mere growth of only 0.76% in the first quarter of 2020/2019 in the second quarter the decline in total expenditures is as much as 17.8% (in urban municipalities the decline is as much as 28%).
“In recent months, UNDP has continued to support the country’s efforts to strengthen its local government system to be more resilient to future shocks. With the analysis of the facts that we present today, we want to support the country in making informed decisions during the crisis, in order to direct the scarce resources to the critical sectors and segments of the population, where they are most needed. In addition, through our Assessment of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, we have developed an interactive online monitoring tool (available at www.impact-covid19.mk) which will enable policy makers and implementers to monitor critical information about the impact of the crisis, so that they can make informed decisions based on those findings,” added UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Sanja Bojanic.
“Empowering Municipal Councils” project is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Local Self-Government, the Ministry of Finance, ZELS, the Association of Financial Workers and the UN Body for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). To date, a series of activities to strengthen the capacity of councilors and their networking, to improve the transparency and accountability of municipalities through the application of innovative tools, and to increase civic participation in decision-making at the local level have been implemented through the project. Starting from 2018, a total of 108 forum sessions were held within 24 forum processes throughout the country, attended by over 7,500 citizens, residents of selected municipalities. So far, priority initiatives have been fully implemented in nine municipalities, while the implementation of initiatives selected through the Community Forums in additional 15 municipalities that are part of the project “Empowering Municipal Councils” is underway.
Switzerland has been supporting North Macedonia in its political, social and economic transition since 1992. The current goal of the Swiss country programme is to improve the quality of life of citizens in North Macedonia by strengthening democratic institutions and practices, promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and protecting natural resources. Switzerland adds value through expertise, funds and constructive engagement with its long-term partners in North Macedonia. Today Switzerland ranks among the largest bilateral cooperation partners of North Macedonia and remains committed to the stability and prosperity of the region.
Empowering Municipal Councils is a new project designed to increase transparency and accountability in local government by strengthening municipal councils in their functions, particularly in overseeing local budgets. The main aim of the project is to support municipalities in achieving greater openness and inclusiveness, helping to build public trust in local institutions.