Decentralization: imperative or challenge
Decentralization of power or reform of the local self-government system is undoubtedly one of the most important priorities of both the Government of the Republic of Macedonia and the community in general. After the reforms many things in our society will get better. In spite of the fact that Macedonia lagged behind these processes in comparison with many other countries in transition, after the completion of the process there are real chances to be more decentralized country than other countries that have been EU members for many years.
Reforms are hard, painful and contradictory. Once again is the old truth confirmed that power is sweet and difficult to let go, especially here, on the Balkans. Therefore we should not be surprised by the resistance to reforms, regardless of the brakesmen’s motives. The Government has missed the chance on time to prepare the public for the contributions that reforms will bring, before passing the Law on territorial organization of the local self-government and some other laws. They are not an end in itself, but an instrument for providing fast, quality and cheap services for the citizens through democratically elected organs and an efficient, effective and responsible municipality administration.
Often in public the opinion imposes that decentralization results from the Ohrid Agreement and that it has to be implemented under the EU, NATO and the international community’s pressure. This is completely untrue and detrimental. Decentralization is necessary for our own good, for the good of the citizens of Macedonia, for its democratization, for real relaxing multi-ethnic relations, for providing better services for citizens. What we are doing now with many years delay is already a reality in Slovenia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria and it gives excellent results. A developed local self-government is a positive factor for political stability of every country. With power redistribution from a state to local level, local power will become a real counterweight to the central power. The ministries will be relieved of the numerous non-state functions they have carried out so far, thus being able to dedicate to state functions. On the other hand, local power becomes much closer to the citizens, it involves a bigger number of citizens and becomes responsible for the conditions in its surroundings.
For the last months, they have talked a lot in the printed and electronic media about the numerous problems, omissions and inconsistencies in decentralization. There are many reasons for this. Some important laws have been passed too late (Law on buildings, Law on spatial and urban planning), and some sub-legal regulations have not been passed yet. Many municipalities are facing big debts, too much employment, lack of competent and qualified skilled staff and weak municipality capacities, as a result of the irresponsible and thriftless behavior of the previous mayors and councils. It is particularly important to emphasize that the coincidence of the reforms’ beginning with the local elections and the new territorial organization had negative effect on implementing the declared efforts. The bad coordination in the realization of training courses for the newly elected mayors, council members and employees in the municipality administration has contributed for them not to gain fast and effective training courses in order to deal easily with their new challenges.
Especially popular is the topic of elections and relieving headmasters of their duties. While the public “is having fun” with this topic, rarely someone makes real, deepened analyses of the issue what pupils and parents got with decentralization. Actually, in education and other important areas, laws are not implemented consistently and there is no real decentralization. Central government still “jealously” keeps capital subsidies for itself, although the law obliges it to transfer them on a local level.
It is good that the Government has given up the announced initiative for organizing an international donor conference for covering municipalities’ debts. We must not ask the international community for help to cover debts for negligent and irresponsible operation. As we sow, so we shall reap, on the contrary, we will send bad signals and it is not good now, when we are expecting the EU attitude for receiving a status of a candidate country for EU membership. Let’s hope that we will draw morals, if not from other’s, then from our own mistakes and that we will successfully run this important and significant process, thus improving the life quality.