Monday, July 17, 2006

Macedonia's municipalities receive boost from EU project

Local self-government in Macedonia was the focus of a two-day conference last week in Skopje. Dubbed "Building the Foundations of the Future", it was the final conference to be held as part of an EU-funded project aimed at strengthening administrative and management practices as part of the decentralisation process.

Brussels has provided 3m euros for the project, which was launched in August 2004 and managed by the European Agency for Reconstruction. All 85 of Macedonia's municipalities have received assistance under the project, with the specific goal of ensuring the proper functioning of their urban planning units.

"This project represents a significant milestone for the country on the road to achieving effective decentralisation," European Commission delegation chief Erwan Fouere said at the conference's opening on Wednesday 12 July.

"It also marks a further step in the co-operation between the EU and the government, together with local authorities, in one of the key areas aimed at bringing economic and social development to the maximum benefit of the people at a local level."

The main achievement was the establishment of a sustainable urban planning system, meant to ensure equal development opportunities and lay the groundwork for adjusting to a competitive economic marketplace.

In addition, specialised IT equipment -- including sophisticated urban planning software -- has been provided to the municipalities, and a plan for co-ordinating its use has been put into place.

According to Fouere, local authorities must bear responsibility for managing funds and promoting a municipal decision-making process that is fair, transparent and inclusive. "Successfully meeting this challenge requires optimum urban planning skills," he said.

"The connections made between the local and central government with the installation of a central database in the Ministry of Local Self-Government enables information exchange between different stakeholders in the process of urban planning. Government institutions can now receive information, including urban excerpts and other documents, from the local self-government units," said Association of Local Self-Government Units President Andrej Petrov. .

Over the past two years, training centres for municipal staff have been established in Skopje, Gostivar, Bitola and Stip. These municipalities have hosted an extensive knowledge transfer-training programme covering such subjects as Urban Planning Tools, Municipal Planning, Land Development Planning and Implementation, Human Resource Management and Geo-Informatics.

Since 1999, the EU has spent some 50m euros on projects to support local self-government in Macedonia.

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