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VOA: 10 years after territorial administrative reform. there are still conflicting assessments of the results

VOA: 10 years after territorial administrative reform. there are still

In Albania, even today, ten years after the territorial administrative reform, contradictory assessments of its results still continue.

Officials claimed at a meeting that the reform of local government is a success story, but independent researchers point out that this reform did not achieve the main goals, administration and expenses increased further, while services to the community became difficult.

During a meeting with international donors to evaluate the ten-year reform of local government, the Minister of State for Local Government, Arbjan Mazniku, emphasized that the administrative reform was an extraordinary job successfully carried out with the merger of dozens of local units in 61 municipalities and the management of integrated community life into larger units.

"The administrative reform of 2014 was one of the most state-shaping reforms, not just in relation to the local government, but in relation to the whole way the Albanian state functions, how we have the opportunity as a community of people, to offer essential services to citizens ours. Its conception was a very complex exercise", said Mr. Mazniku.

But independent researchers are critical of how the administrative reform was carried out, its initial goals and its final results. Expert Agron Haxhimihali, the head of the Institute of Municipalities of Albania, Agron Haxhimihali, who studies the functioning of local government, tells the Voice of America that the reform did not fulfill the goals for which it was launched, because there were many disparities in services between urban areas and rural areas, as well as community representation in local government, municipalities were enlarged but have no sustainable development, while public services leave much to be desired.

"Citizens are not comfortable with this territorial and administrative reform. The main indicator for this is the fact that many citizens, mainly from rural areas, even in 59 other municipalities of Albania, excluding Tirana and Durrës, citizens are abandoning rural areas and citizens, because they do not receive services in quantity and quality", says Mr. Haxhimihali.

The reform of the local government, according to Minister Mazniku, has been a difficult and daily work, which made 61 municipalities function in a stable and systematic way, thanks to the digitization of services.

He added that the municipalities need more attention, investments, laws and further reforms, as basic mechanisms of coexistence in the community, because the challenges are increasingly greater in adapting the country to European integration standards.

"I believe that very healthy foundations have been laid, which, in addition to the large and important elements that were made during this project in time, are also inherent elements of what could be the seeds of a continuation of a series of other reforms important that the local government needs the way our municipalities function", said Mr. Mazniku.

But on the other hand, Mr. Haxhimihali emphasizes for the Voice of America that the efficiency of the local government has faded after the merger of dozens of local units in 61 municipalities, the powers of the local government have decreased in terms of territorial planning for development, agriculture and tourism, while the central government in addition to the concentration of powers, it has also covered the debts of the municipalities.

He added that only 23 percent of local government funds go to investments, most of them go to salaries and administrative expenses, while the promised cuts in expenses and administration were not carried out, instead the number of employees increased significantly.

"I'm just giving you one fact: Before the territorial reform, we had 373 local government units, which really were a lot of reform that needed to be done. These institutions had about 20-21 thousand employees. While today, after the reform, we have 61 municipalities, which have 37 thousand employees, who are paid by Albanian taxpayers", says Mr. Haxhimihali.

Local government reform was supported over a decade by a series of international donors, USAID, EU and UNDP, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, an effort to revitalize Albania's administrative and territorial structures, through the STAR project, which supported the reform, for an efficient local government with integrity, to better serve the citizens.

The project also aimed at strengthening local government transparency and accountability, participatory practices, local governance and decentralization policy-making. VOA

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