Viorel Girbu, Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova, NALAS – Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe
Relevance of the Practice
The practice describes the integrated model for territorial and administrative reform in Moldova, proposed by CALM, the Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova. The model is proposed as an alternative to the top-down approach proposed by the national authorities in earlier years. The model is based on three basic elements defined as priorities: Administrative Decentralization (DA), Inter-municipal Cooperation (CI) and Voluntary Amalgamation (A). The DACIA model comes as an alternative to the top-down approach of territorial reform discussed and proposed by subsequent central governments in Moldova over the past two decades.
From this perspective, this practice cuts across with the key issues elaborated in the other report sections, as regards local government functions and service delivery (section 2), local government finance (section 3), intergovernmental dialogue (section 5) and citizen participation (section 6). The practice shows relevant disparities in terms of service provision and local administrative management across the spectrum of smaller and larger local public administrations in Moldova.
Description of the Practice
From June to October 2017, CALM organized a broad consultation process with its members at the regional level in about 20 rayons regarding local government and administrative-territorial reforms, in order to develop its own vision and model of such complex reforms. As a result of these consultations, with about 500 mayors, presidents of the rayons and other local government representatives, CALM has defined the concept of the reform model called DACIA. This is a theoretical model that still requires adjustment of the normative framework in order to promote and make possible its application.
The model is based on three basic elements defined as priorities: Administrative Decentralization (DA), Inter-municipal Cooperation (CI) and Voluntary Amalgamation (A).
The DACIA model of local government (LG) reform suggested by CALM is a comprehensive one including several important, closely correlated and interdependent factors and areas. The model proposes a visionary, step-by-step approach, grounded in Moldovan realities and in the needs of the LG system in Moldova. At the same time, taking into account the importance of the political factor and the previous experiences, the concept tries to touch upon less sensitive approaches aiming at a broad national consensus needed to ensure sustainability and continuity of the reforms in this area. In particular, the following main directions are proposed:
- delimitation of the areas of competence and attributions of the central public administration and the local public administration with the main goal for LPAs to become the exclusive holders of most areas of competence of local and/or regional importance;
- spatial planning, recalibration and territorial organization of public services (administrative, communal, and social) and development of the voluntary amalgamation institution, and development of the inter-municipal cooperation institution;
- organizational and institutional decentralization to ensure real and total autonomy for local public administration authorities to organize their activity, by establishing their own structure and organization chart; ensuring the autonomy and the right of LPA to their own remuneration systems;
- financial decentralization to increase and consolidate the LPAs own income base and establishing by organic law of a minimum level of fiscal revenues, estimated as a share in the gross domestic product to be provided annually to LPA; but also enlarging the fiscal capacity concept that would take into account the available economic resources, geographical location, simplification of the real estate taxation system (focusing it on a national minimum, multiplied by coefficients set for geographical areas at the level of locality or region, determined on the basis of the degree of access to public infrastructure – implicitly the stock and current expenses financed annually for its operation);
- patrimonial decentralization with the main goal to achieve clear delimitation of state public property and its taxation at the same rate with private property;
- economic decentralization in order to create a healthy competition environment between LPAs and the development of a stimulating budget system that would reward performance by changing the distribution of the funds of the balancing fund to encourage in particular the localities that make the best use of existing resources and ensure a high degree of utilization of available resources;
- local e-government by implementing one-stop-shops in the provision of public services and ensuring LPAs access to government databases;
- administrative control by the elimination of excessive administrative, political, judicial control over LPAs;
- the institutional framework of the reform by creating a broad, inclusive and permanent platform at CALM, which will discuss all important aspects in the process of developing a generally acceptable reform concept closely connected with the realities and needs of the Republic of Moldova in modernizing public administration.
This model helps creating a system for reform that is dynamic, adjustable and constantly evolving that can be continuously complemented by concrete proposals and draft legislative modifications within current and potential future governmental timeframes. However, the DACIA model is challenged by several factors – lacking political will and commitment at the central level to advance political and financial decentralization, political instability and diverted focus due to the pandemic crisis.
Assessment of the Practice
The model proposed by CALM reflects the vision of local constituencies and is provides for an alternative to the top-down approach proposed in earlier years. At the end of 2018, a Report on Administrative-Territorial Reform Scenarios was developed (and informally backed by the government) proposing three scenarios for local administration reform: (i) moderate consolidation with a final number of 231 first-tier LPAs, (ii) intermediary consolidation – 154 first-tier LPAs, and (iii) compact consolidation– 93 first-tier LPAs. The report takes into account several indicators to describe the benefits of the proposed reform scenarios such as population; proximity to administrative centers (estimated between 8 and 12.5 km); average number of staff units; the degree of professionalization/specialization of the staff; and the reduction of administrative expenses.
The report, however, does not make any specific reference to any methodological guidance for the assessment of the situation in the local public administration in Moldova. Nor does it include any theoretical assessment of good practices or any scientific arguments or substantiation. There are also concerns that the principals and provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government are not considered as a guidance framework for the Report. Overall, the model is focused on cost reduction scenarios rather than on best available option for high quality public services delivery settings. CALM assesses that the report ignores the dimension of intergovernmental relations in Moldova, including findings of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe with respect to the situation of local and regional democracy in Moldova. Ultimately, the spatial scenarios for the territorial and administrative reform are based on few parameters that aim primarily to significantly reduce the number of LPAs, through a top-down approach. The decentralization domain and major problems faced in this area by Moldova seem to be neglected at this stage by local policymakers. While there certainly is room for improvement in the operational efficiency of first-tier LPAs, it must be recognized that the key challenges that Moldovan LPAs face are the incomplete political, administrative and fiscal decentralization reforms that have resulted in an inconsistent distribution of responsibilities across levels of government, inadequate funding and excessive interferences and controls from higher levels of government. All these dimensions play a fundamental role in determining the ability of first-tier LPAs to provide services to their citizens. Without adequate resources, simply changing the number and boundaries of first-tier LPAs may end up simply creating clusters of former small but still poor LPAs.
Additionally, a top-down approach to territorial reform, in the background of high political instability and polarization, and therefore developed without sufficient consensus between policymakers at national and local level would jeopardize the sustainability of the reform itself. Furthermore, high polarization does not allow for an effective consultation with local communities, which will be mostly affected by the changes.
The argument of the simple reduction in the number of first-tier LPAs without addressing the more fundamental challenges that Moldovan local governments face is very simplistic. It is important that the discussion on the territorial reform should be linked to considerations of the overall distribution of public resources at and from the national level and the size of public investment necessary for the effective delivery of the local public services that currently present significant territorial disparities. Given these shortcomings, the implementation of top-down amalgamation measures under the central government guidance may result even a hazardous exercise.
References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications
Beschieru I and others, ‘Studiu privind scenariile de reformă administrativ-teritorială’ (2018) <https://cancelaria.gov.md/sites/default/files/studiul_privind_scenariile_de_reforma_administrativ-teritoriala_elaborat_in_decembrie_2018.pdf>
Court of Accounts, ‘Eficiența gestiunii economico-financiare și administrării patrimoniului de către întreprinderile care prestează servicii de aprovizionare cu apă a populației’ (2017)
Meleștean I, ‘Clientelismul politic în alocarea resurselor publice din Bugetul de Stat către autoritățile publice locale’ (Expert Grup 2018)
Osadci A, Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova, ‘Status Report on Local Public Administration Reform in Moldova’ (NALAS, PLATFORMA and CALM 2021)
 Ion Beschieru and others, ‘Studiu privind scenariile de reformă administrativ-teritorială’ (2018) <https://cancelaria.gov.md/sites/default/files/studiul_privind_scenariile_de_reforma_administrativ-teritoriala_elaborat_in_decembrie_2018.pdf>.