Bogdanci, 9th of July 2021 – The Municipality of Bogdanci has improved traffic safety and finalized a new space for sports and recreation thanks to the involvement of citizens in the local development process through Community Forums, organized within the project “Empowering Municipal Councils”, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented by UNDP, in cooperation with 24 municipalities.

Today, the Ambassador of Switzerland, Sybille Suter, the UNDP Resident Representative, Narine Sahakyan, and the Deputy Minister of Local Self-Government, Zoran Dimitrovski, visited Bogdanci to see the results of these projects and to open the forum session where the citizens and the municipality reviewed the results from this joint initiative. At the same time, the delegation held a meeting with Mayor Blazhe Shapov and the President of the Municipal Council, Elena Shutarova, where the cooperation between the Government of Switzerland and the Municipality of Bogdanci with the support of UNDP in promoting the decentralization process and strengthening the municipality’s capacity for accountable and transparent work was discussed. Further opportunities for citizen involvement in decision-making processes related to local development were also discussed.

During 2020, the citizens of the Municipality of Bogdanci through a series of forum sessions decided to give priority to initiatives for building of a new open-space sports and recreation center and increase traffic safety by installing new signalization on 20 streets and changing the traffic regime with four new school zones.

The first ranked priority project “Safe Citizen, Happy Citizen – Arrangement of the traffic regime and installation of traffic signs in Bogdanci” was fully implemented at the end of last year. The project introduces a new traffic regime in front of the municipal primary school and the kindergarten. 745 different traffic signs and signs were placed. 2,800 square meters of traffic area were marked and parking lots were arranged, 3 of which were for people with disabilities, and 32 square meters of tactile plates for the people with visual impairments were installed. The project cost 2,155,413 denars. The implementation of the second ranked project “Multifunctional sports & recreational corner for children and youth” is almost completed, which emerged as a proposal from the youth in Bogdanci, and which will be implemented with the remaining part of the funds from the donor and from the municipal budget, worth 2,270,662 denars”, explained the Mayor of Bogdanci, Blazhe Shapov.

These projects were financially supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation with a total amount of 2.7 million denars. With a total amount of 3.5 million francs, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation supports the empowerment of municipal councils in 24 municipalities across the country as bodies that are crucial to the development of participatory democracy and the transparent and accountable operation of municipalities.

“These projects were the result citizens sharing their development priorities and ideas through the Community Forums which have proven to be an effective mechanism of local democracy and direct civic participation in decision-making at the local level. This is a process we have been supporting throughout the country since 2018, with a total of 24 Community Forum projects implemented with Swiss funding. Through these projects, we have helped to improve municipal services in the areas of education, environment, culture, water supply, communal services and urban planning. An additional contribution of the Forums is that they empower citizens to think of local development as a collective responsibility rather than just an institutional issue. When citizens feel they have ownership over local development projects, those projects are much more likely to be sustainable.” said Sybille Suter, Ambassador of Switzerland, in her welcoming remarks to the Forum.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation project “Empowering Municipal Councils” is implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in line with the United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals and the country’s program priorities, including strengthening of local development and self-government.

“Good governance and local democracy are one of the cornerstones of UNDP’s work here in North Macedonia, which is why I’m happy to be here today to see in person some of the great results good governance can bring. The most visible results, thanks to the financial support of our Swiss partners, are accessibility and traffic safety, as well better conditions for sport and recreation for all citizens. The biggest benefit is the gradual change in the culture of local governance in both citizens and local authorities”, noted Narine Sahakyan, UNDP Resident Representative.

The Deputy Minister of Local Self-Government, Zoran Dimitrovski also addressed the Community Forum in Bogdanci, emphasizing the importance of citizen participation in the decentralization process.

“The government is working to continue the decentralization process. The focus is on the transfer of new competencies and sufficient financial resources to implement local policies. The third most important thing is to provide conditions for transparent and accountable work of local authorities. We cannot talk about successful decentralization, transparency and accountability without the direct participation of citizens in creating local policies. Therefore, this established practice should ensure sustainability. Local governments and citizens are partners in decision making. Decisions made without the participation of citizens can be legal, but without secured legitimacy, confirmed by the citizens, mutual trust and their implementation is questioned,” said Dimitrovski.

The project is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Local Self-Government, the Ministry of Finance, ZELS, the Association of Financial Officers and the UN Body for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women). To date, a series of activities for strengthening the capacities of councillors and their networking, improving the transparency and accountability of municipalities through the application of innovative tools, and increasing civic participation in decision-making at the local level, have been implemented through the project. Starting from 2018, a total of 125 forum sessions were held in 24 municipalities, which were attended by about 8,500 citizens, residents of the selected municipalities.

Switzerland has supported North Macedonia in the political, social and economic transition since 1992. The current goal of the Swiss program in the country is to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Northern Macedonia by strengthening democratic institutions and practices, promoting inclusive economic growth and protection of natural resources. Switzerland adds value through expertise, funding and constructive engagement with long-term partners in North Macedonia. Today, Switzerland is among the largest bilateral partners of North Macedonia and remains committed to the stability and prosperity of the region.