Ambassador Christopher Dell’s Remarks at the USAID/DEMI New Municipalities’ Conference
May 31, 2012
Good morning everybody. It’s really a delight to be here today to see so many friends in the room. From my travels around Kosovo I have had a chance to meet so many of you in your municipalities to learn first-hand of your problems and your challenges and your opportunities. It has truly been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here and it’s great to have you all together in this room today to discuss some of the most important issues concerning the political stability of Kosovo and improvements to quality of life in the new municipalities.
This conference will serve as a forum in which national and local government leaders can seek solutions to problems and share news of successful collaborations. We view decentralization as a positive development in Kosovo, and the best path toward creating a country that is peaceful, democratic, prosperous, tolerant, and which provides opportunities for everyone - regardless of their religion, gender or ethnicity - to enjoy a brighter future.
I know a lot of planning has gone into organizing today’s discussions. This conference is an important occasion to analyze what has worked and just as importantly, what has not worked, in terms of decentralization, to come up with new approaches, and to establish a blueprint for the way forward. I want to congratulate Deputy Prime Minister Petrovic and the Ministry of Local Government Administration for the work it has done to develop these action plans. And I would like to give a special word of thanks to Agron Kuci, the Mayor of Junik, who, during a visit I had out to his municipality, suggested the idea of this conference and planted the seed that led to this event taking place today. And I think we all owe the Mayor a word of thanks for having this very good idea which has brought you together to exchange your experiences.
Many successes have been achieved in the newly established municipalities that are represented here today. A number of you enjoy new or improved Citizen Services Centers, which have been established with the support of the U.S. Government.
These centers offer local residents one location, a single location, where questions, compliments or complaints concerning local government services can be answered and addressed in an efficient and satisfactory manner. Problems with utilities, or issues involving building permits, licenses, taxes, birth and marriage certificates – these are things that can drive citizens crazy when they have to wait days at a time and hours at a time to get the services. And this is what makes them lose faith in local government. In every municipality that I have visited that has established a Citizens Services Center, the story is the same. Waiting times go down. Delivery of documents and services are improved. It is sped up. Citizens report fewer efforts to extort money from them for services to which they have a right and satisfaction with the performance of the government overall has improved. Those of you who have not yet established a Citizens’ Services Center, I would urge you to look at it, exchange the views with your colleagues here today, share their experiences and your think seriously about establishing one of these for your municipality. I think it is one of the very best things you can do to immediately have a tremendously high impact on the delivery of services for your citizens.
The process of decentralization has done much to preserve and expand a certain level of autonomy for your municipalities. Through decentralization, municipalities are able to manage their regional bus stations. Decentralization has given you the opportunity to use land for economic development. And you obtained the right to be represented in 50 percent of the seats on regional water boards so that you have more of a voice in the management of water resources for your citizens. You have obtained the power to establish and administer your own sanitation companies. We believe that local government probably knows best what local citizens need and what they want. Therefore, local government should have substantial control over local affairs. That’s, in essence, what decentralization is all about.
No doubt there are still some pending issues to resolve; and some issues concerning the transfer of competencies that the Deputy Prime Minister alluded to. Those issues can be addressed, as long as all sides are committed to engaging in dialogue and taking ownership for their particular responsibilities in the process.
More broadly, this year brings a milestone in the development of Kosovo as a nation – the end of supervised independence. That transition process that you are about to embark upon, has obvious implications for the municipalities. For you, the end of supervised independence will bring greater responsibilities. You will need to become more self-reliant, not less. You must find new avenues for raising revenue to support capital investment and to improve public services. This might be disconcerting to some of you, outside of what we call “your comfort zone”- the familiar, comfortable ways with which you have worked. But it also represents a tremendous opportunity. And I think the fact that this conference is taking place today, on the eve of the end of supervised independence, along with the establishment recently, the government’s announcement of its intention to establish the new municipal office for north Mitrovica, are the clearest possible indications of the commitment of the Government of Kosovo to continue these processes in the post-independence phase. And the fact that we have new municipalities represented here today, including non-Serb new municipalities, I think also underscores very importantly, this process is not about ethnicity, this not about Serbs or Albanians, this about how the Government of Kosovo provides the best possible degree and level of services to all of its citizens in the places where they live, in the municipalities.
You, those of you who represent these municipalities,will have to become more accountable to your citizens, in the post-supervised independence phase, because you will have greater control over local affairs, all of the things that are important to them, close to home. It will be much harder for you to point the finger at the central government when your citizens are unhappy and they complain. The responsibility will rest on your shoulders.
But this transition process also will bring new opportunities to build on the successes you have already achieved. You, the new municipalities, are not weighed down by the past. You haven’t inherited bad practices or excessively large bureaucracies. You can map out your future using a clean slate, a clean map
So, I say to you, be creative when it comes to generating local and municipal revenues. Don’t wait for the central government to fund your local industry. Tourism or a service industry can make your municipality attractive to investors and to new residents. For you, the possibilities are endless. It just requires imagination.
As you go forward, work hand-in-hand with your citizens. Be up-front. Be transparent. Be open about what you are doing, and why. There is no room in this scenario for cronyism or paying off your close friends, family and buddies.
Maintain your integrity and be responsive to citizens’ concerns. If you can obtain the confidence of local residents, you will get their cooperation. And THAT will enhance your freedom of action and your authority to bring about change in your municipalities.
As decentralization moves forward, it is important to keep doing what we are here to do today – to talk to one another, to share your ideas, to share your experiences. We encourage you to “borrow” success stories, successful methods from other municipalities. We encourage you to learn from their mistakes and not repeat them; to improve upon their performance.
And by all means, we encourage you to please to share these discussions and what you have learned with your counterparts north of the Ibar river. Communicate what you have achieved under decentralization to the citizens of northern Kosovo. For this process to really work in the north, all of you must participate, and if you do, everyone in Kosovo will benefit.
The success stories that we share today should serve as an example to the people in northern Kosovo that decentralization can and that it does work, and that the Government of Kosovo is committed to supporting all of the municipalities to improve the quality of life for all of the citizens of Kosovo regardless of where they live and what their ethnicity is.
The United States Government has been and will remain a strong partner with your central and local governments in moving decentralization forward. Our goal is a strong, independent, self-reliant Kosovo that is a prosperous home for all of its citizens and that brings the government as close as possible to its citizens so that government feels in turn that it is responsible for and responsive to those citizens.
So I wish you good luck today in your discussions. I hope that a lot of creative ideas emerge from this.
My colleagues from AID will be here all day taking good note of the ideas that flow from your discussions. I hope that will provide us some, like the Mayor of Junik’s idea of holding this conference, will provide us a lot of rich material to work with as we carry forward in future phases the fine work that DEMI and the rest of the AID programs have done thus far
Thank you very much indeed and good luck today.