Ambassador Jacobson's Speech at the Inter-Ministerial Working Group meeting on Decentralization
As Delivered, August 28, 2012
Good morning Prime Minister Thaci, Deputy Prime Minister Petrovic, ICR Feith, Ministers, Mayors, colleagues. I’m honored to be with you here this morning for the final session of the inter-ministerial working group on decentralization.
Decentralization has been one of Kosovo’s key achievements in the four years since Kosovo declared its independence. It’s the best path for cementing Kosovo’s gains towards building a peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and tolerant society. Decentralization makes more opportunities available to more people—independent of religion, gender or ethnicity.
The capacity of towns and villages around Kosovo to provide good governance is becoming stronger day by day. At the same time, Kosovo’s national institutions continue to grow and mature, creating the conditions for a vibrant, multiethnic society.
These gains have come about thanks to the tireless work of mayors and municipal leaders—public servants who are engaged directly with their communities and committed to providing good governance. Decentralization has brought governance closer to Kosovo’s citizens and has given citizens more say in directing the futures of their communities.
I’m proud of the support the United States have provided to this process. I can assure you that we will remain a steadfast advocate for Kosovo’s municipalities. Through USAID’s Democratic Effective Municipalities Initiative (DEMI), we have supported 22 municipalities to improve the quality, capacity, and transparency of municipal administration. Nearly $3 million has been invested in the south. And over $1 million in the north.
USAID has provided technical assistance in designing over 200 pieces of legislation, and has helped municipalities identify mechanisms for boosting their own revenues. In 22 partner municipalities, local governments have increased their “own–source” revenues by 11% over the past two years.
Eight municipalities have opened Citizen Service Centers which support nearly 700,000 citizens. These centers provide local residents a single location to get needed documents like birth and marriage certificates, ID cards, and business registrations. These centers also provide an avenue where citizens can engage directly with their local government – to ask a question, or lodge a complaint or compliment.
Through our work with partner municipalities, we have seen citizens’ satisfaction with their government increase markedly. In 2010, only 34% of citizens expressed satisfaction with municipal services; now, that number has grown to 50%.
Of course, while there has been tremendous progress, there is still much work to be done. And I urge the Government of Kosovo to continue prioritizing the needs of municipal governments --with adequate support, these municipalities can develop the fiscal and human capacities they need to effectively govern.
Local governments also play an essential role in protecting and preserving Kosovo’s unique cultural heritage. Through the Laws on the Historic Center of Prizren and the Village of Velika Hoca/Hoca e Madhe, the government of Kosovo has demonstrated its commitment to preserving Kosovo’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Now, the municipal governments in Prizren and Rahovec/Orahovac – and central level institutions – must begin implementing these laws. Good-faith implementation will cultivate conditions for strong economic development and increased tourism in these areas.
The United States is committed to seeing the full implementation of the Comprehensive Settlement Proposal principles, including the establishment of the new Mitrovica North municipality. Last week, I visited the Mitrovica North Administrative Office (MNAO) and was greatly impressed with the tremendous progress that the staff and the Government of Kosovo have made in such a short period of time. MNAO has a brave team committed to serving the needs of the entire community in Mitrovica North. These are people from the community who want to improve government services for all citizens of the north, and I applaud their efforts.
The fact that hundreds of people have visited the MNAO to seek a broad range of services – from obtaining cadastral records to registering a business. Each day, the MNAO is demonstrating that legitimate and responsive institutions can provide the services that people living in the north require. It’s vitally important that this work continue.
In a few short weeks, Kosovo will reach a new milestone in its development as a nation – the end of supervised independence. This is a turning point that will demand greater responsibility from Kosovo’s government, and greater accountability to its citizens. It won’t always be easy. Much work remains to be done even after supervised independence ends on September 10. But by engaging with each other, and sharing your ideas and experiences, I’m confident that Kosovo’s local governments will succeed.
I also recommend that you share your discussions and ideas with counterparts north of the Ibar River. Communicate what you have achieved under decentralization to citizens of northern Kosovo. For this process to really work, everyone must participate. And if they do, everyone in Kosovo will benefit.
I’m looking forward to visiting municipalities around Kosovo in the coming weeks, and learning first-hand of the challenges faced and the successes achieved. I can assure you that the United States will remain your committed partner in your ongoing efforts to build a stable, pluralistic, and multi-ethnic Kosovo.
I wish you and all of Kosovo’s municipalities continued success.