Form the very beginning of its existence in Albania in the year 1992 the Soros Foundation targeted improvement of governance both at the central and local level as one of its priority areas. From the year 1996 onwards, the Public Administration and Local Governance Program resumed the operations of a full fledged Soros Program. The rationale for designing the strategy of the Public Administration Program was based on the lack of democratic tradition of institutions in Albania inhered by the totalitarian system. Following the crisis of 1997, the need became more evident to contribute to the establishment and strengthening of public institutions and the enhancement of participatory processes in governance.
In the year 1998, the Public Administration Program expands its priorities. As a result, one of the directions of the Program was to contribute to the improving of legislation framework with regard to public administration, capacity building for both the central and local level of governance, strengthening of the newly created Associations of local authorities, and community participation in governance. The Program supported the opening up of the administration to the citizens through encouraging two way communication and the participation of citizens in decision making processes.
Following the year 2000, the Program upheld as its priority the consolidation of democratic governance through the increase of civic participation, the increase of responsibility and accountability vis-à-vis the public, improvement of public service delivery, etc. To attain these objectives, the Foundation worked in several pillars: increase of community participation in governance at grass root level, increase of transparency and access to information, support to decentralization processes, etc.
Among the most successful projects of the Public Administration Program mention can be made of:
Establishing a Public Administration Master’s Program
Support to the establishment of the Public Administration Training Institute
Establishing Citizen Information Offices at the Municipalities
Introducing Management Information Systems at the Local level
Strengthening the capacities of local government units
Strengthening community based organizations at commune and municipality level
Supporting the establishment of think tanks in the field of governance
Improving the capacities of development offices at the local level
Improving tax collection systems at the municipalities
Establishing a Master’s Program in Public Administration
Jointly with the Fellowship Program, The Public Administration Program founded the Master’s Program in Public Administration and the internationally recognized diploma in enterprise management. In 2001, OSFA made the decision to intervene in a more structured and sustainable way towards the formation of adequately trained specialists at the level of Mater’s Programs. The crisis of 1997 had shown that little progress had been made to prepare professionals to take up positions in the Albanian public administration. Besides enthusiasm, the civil servants needed to be equipped with knowledge and skills to cope with the challenges of development facing the country.
The purpose of the Master’s Program is to prepare capable individuals to strengthen and manage the public institutions in the newly created democratic state. These specialists were expected to carry out their jobs in a transparent and efficient manner. The Master’s in Public Administration is established at the University of Tirana, the Faculty of Economics. The mission of the program is to help prepare capable administrators and managers for the public sector. To create the Program, the Soros Foundation worked jointly with the Lincoln University of Nebraska in the USA and USAID. The Post graduate course for enterprise management has been set up at the Polytechnic University in Tirana. A tripartite project of the Polytechnic University, the French Foreign Ministry and the Soros Foundation, this course provides advanced knowledge in enterprise management. The Diploma awarded by this course is recognized internationally.
Establishing the Training Institute for Public Administration
TIPA mission is to upgrade the professional capacities of the Albanian public servants by providing training to the civil servants at all levels of the administration. Its mandate covers both the central and local levels of government, as well as the special sectors of the public service. Since the start of its operations in 2000, the Institute has had to cope with the challenge of designing and conducting a wide range of courses for the civil servants at both levels of the administration. Among other duties, TIPA is responsible for assessing the training needs of the public officials. In accordance with these needs TIPA designs the relevant courses to be delivered in a programmed manner. This position makes TIPA a key player in building the capacities of the Albanian public administration in response to the standards and requirements of development in the road to integration with the EU.
OSFA was involved in the preparatory phase of the establishment and consolidation of TIPA. It made available training for Institute staff and trainers, preparation of the curricula, the design and production of training materials, etc. OSFA also provided support to establishing the Institute’s library, training the librarians, establishing internet connection, constructing the Institute’s website, etc. Although not the main supporter for the Institute, OSFA has provided initial support for this new structure. Its funding has served to leverage the support of other donors. Still a long way from being a fully fledged quality training Institute, TIPA can now be considered a consolidated institution, with well developed institutional plans and programs and a clearly defined mission.
Citizen information offices at the municipalities
Originally the citizen information offices were established in the big municipalities of the country. The model was introduced by USAID in response to the need to open the municipalities up to the citizens by providing new forms and practices of communication that would enable the implementation of decentralization reforms. The slow rates of decentralization were being reflected in lack of transparency to the public, the poor quality of services and the manner of budget implementation. In order to contribute to the building of a responsible, accountable and transparent local administration, the Soros Foundation provided strong support to the creation of information centers of offices for citizens in the municipalities with demonstrated interest to have such an office. The citizen information offices are equipped and trained to implement the two-way communication between the citizens and the local governments. The OSFA Public Administraiton Program has supported the creation of citizen information centers/offices in 14 municipalities or 21, 4 per cent of the total number of municipalities in the country. The nature of these facilities is diverse. In the towns of Kucove, Gramsh, Rreshen, Lezhe, Permet and Kelcyre the offices are modest. In Elbasan, OSFA helped create a social services and information office, whereas in Kucova and Berat the offices are more specialized to handle business licensing procedures. In Durrës, Shkodër, Pogradec, Korçë and Sarandë the offices represent integrated facilities offering a wide range of information. In addition, OSFA paid due attention to the exchange of experience between similar offices in the various municipalities which contributed significantly to capacity building of local staff.
The main goal of these projects was to provide services to citizens and help them effectively solve their individual and collective problems. On the other side, the projects helped build the capacities of local staff, while making their job more efficient and less burdensome. Specifically, these offices provide information on the responsibilities of the various offices in the municipality by helping citizens to address their requests to the proper authorities; they provide information on the decisions made by the municipal council; provide information to the local media, the business community and the constituents in general. They also serve to collect the opinion of the citizens on various issues concerning community life towards ways to improve the quality of services delivered by the local government.
Computerization of municipalities
In order to enhance decentralization processes and increase transparency of local governments vis-à-vis their local constituents, the OSFA Public Adminsitration Program launched the computerization of two of the biggest municipalities in the country, i.e., the Tirana and Shkodra municipalities. The main goal was to enhance municipal management capacities towards improving the quality of services delivered to citizens. Computerization involved all of the important sectors of the municipalities: finance, economic aid (unemployment benefits), urban planning, archive and communal services. The introduction of ICT and the construction of databases represent important achievements of the project. Among other things, this step provided motivation to municipal staff to improve their skills to respond to the newly created conditions for a more efficient and professional local administration. Similar projects were implemented by OSFA in the Municipalities of Sarandë, Pogradec and Elbasan over the period 2004-2005.
Alongside projects of complete computerization, the Soros Foundaiton launched smaller scale computerization projects towards the aim of improving services in certain sectors covered by the municipality. These partial computerizations are represented by the project of computerization of the civil register office in the Municipalities of Gjirokastra and Pogradec and the Municipal Unit 11 in Tirana. These projects contributed to the full computerization of the civil registers in these local government units as a means towards achieving the goal of improving the service and setting a model of managing this sector. The created models were taken up by the Ministry of Local Government and Decentralization and the most successful aspects are being incorporated in the large scale project soon to be launched by the Albanian Government for the computerization of the citizens’ register.
Strengthening local government capacities
The decentralization process in Albania involved the transfer of responsibilities from the central level to the local level of Government. One of the difficulties encountered in the process, was lack of human resources and lack of qualified capacities to implement decentralization. Albania counts 308 communes, 65 municipalities and 12 regions. The implementation of the decentralization strategy highlighted the need for training and improving of human resources. At this point in time, there was no local capacity available in Albania to provide training and capacity building. In 1999, OSFA joined UNDP and the World Bank in an initiative to train locally elected officials in cooperation with the Polish Local Government Foundation. The program provided training to 250 locally elected officials of municipalities, communes and regions, as well as staff form the Ministry of Local Government and Decentralization plus a group of civil society representatives. Divided in groups, the participants received training over 2 weeks.
The courses provided knowledge to the locally elected (mayors of municipalities and communes, heads of municipal and communal councils) on leadership techniques. In addition to this project, in 2001 OSFA launched 3 additional projects to train the local representatives in the following modules: implementation of the civil service law at the local level, implementation of the public procurement law and citizen information regulation as a precondition for democratic governance. The projects were launched by OSFA and were implemented jointly with other institutions such as the Department of Public Administration, the Public Procurement Agency, local experts and foreign organizations such as VNG. The training involved the greatest number of municipalities in Albania.
Over 2001-2005, OSFA implemented a number of massive training courses with other organizations and donors in the field. With the Dutch organization, SNV, training was provided to the heads of communes, commune staff and council members at the regional level. The training course involved three basic modules: designing strategic development plans, human resource management and effective communication. Another training curse specially designed for the communes was “The modern budgeting process”. The program benefited 250 communes form the regions of Vlore, Fier, Tirane, Durrës, Shkodër, Lezhë, Berat, Elbasan and Korçë. In the year 2004, OSFA designed another training curricula as part of the project “Managing Public Assets”. The main objective of the project was to provide training to municipal and region’s staff to implement the newly launched reform of asset transfer to the local government units. To respond to need by local government units to improve services to people with disabilities, OSFA supported the design and implementation of another training curriculum called “Training Program for social workers dealing with disabled people”. The program aimed at providing legal and practical knowledge to local staff working directly with people with disabilities.
Strengthening community based organizations at municipality and commune level
This project represents one of the institutional cooperations of OSFA with other partners committed to the improvement of governance in Albania. In 2002 OSFA participated in funding the UNDP local government program called “Supporting community based organizations at municipalities and communes”. The essence of the program was to help community based organizations with planning, prioritization and small grants implementation as a way towards community building. As part of a greater program for strengthening local governments, this particular project was designed to promote democratization and the strengthening of community based organizations as entry point to the formulation and implementation of small projects that reduce poverty and increase human security in the respective areas of implementation. OSFA resources in the program were used to increase capabilities of community based groups in the towns and villages, with particular emphasis on the poor people in order to voice their concerns through participation in local government decision makings.
The project was implemented in the regions of Kukës, Fier and Gjirokastër. Grants made by OSFA were used to implement projects by local communities in cooperation with the local government units. These projects were identified and prioritized jointly by the community and the local authorities. The projects improved significantly the basic infrastructure for local people by improving the quality of public services such as education, health, water supply, sewerage pipes, etc. The rating of projects was made by a selection committee with representatives of all parties concerned in what was a real instance of the practical exercise of voicing and advocating for community concerns. Among impacts of the project mention can be made of the strengthening of local capacity, reduction of poverty, etc. In terms of longer run objectives, the project contributed to the building of awareness on the benefits of social change, gender equality, community action and constant communication between citizens and local government units. In addition, the project helped bring communities together by building cohesion and mutual trust. The project demonstrated a concrete model of cooperation for solving problems at the grass roots and underlined the importance of civic activism in bringing about social change and progress.
Support to the development of think tanks
In accordance with the philosophy of an open society, OSFA provided support to the strengthening of thinks tanks involved in good governance in Albania. In recognition of the role played by these organizations in the generation and mobilization of local expertise and the identification of alternative solutions towards development and democratization, good governance and social & economic progress of the country, OSFA has paid constant attention to the growth of thinks tanks and their evolvement into fully fledged institutions. In transitional countries like Albania where democracies are young and fragile, the life and activity of organizations dedicated to generation of alternative solutions for issues of importance for the country’s advancement are crucial for progress on the road to becoming consolidated states. By providing constructive reviews to governmental policies jointly with the media and the civil society organizations, the think tanks have earned a reputation as an active player in democracy for stimualting discussion at national level.
Support for the think tanks has assumed various forms in accordance with the role and the prospects of the specific applicant organizations. In the case of thinks tanks with relatively stable experience, like the Institute for Contemporary Studies, OSFA granted institutional support which was meant to provide the institute with the possibility to concentrate on its growth both in terms of specialization and professional development, but also with regard to shaping their own profile and becoming independent to voice disagreement with government. Since institutional support was given on long term basis, it yielded results in the form of studies and quality reports prepared by the Institute for Contemporary Studies in reaction to various aspects of governance both at overall and sector level. Lately, the Institute for Contemporary Studies has become an important promoter of decentralization processes by putting forth realistic alternatives and bringing together the stakeholders in the process.
On the other side, OSFA has offered support to a number of other thinks tanks on a project basis to develop studies of different types in various fields of interest. Many of the experts in the think tanks have been supported to participate in international conferences and seminars which have made them part of the international discussions and has opened up their minds and perspectives. The Fellowship program was also a very important tool in the strengthening of think tanks. In addition to fellows in the public administration, there were fellows in the think tanks who contributed to the growth and improvement of professional and organizational capacity in their respective hosts. Now the public discussions show the participation of a larger number of active civil society organizations. Also, a number of fellows who were previously trained in the think tanks have been hired either as staff or as advisors in the main ministries and governmental agencies. OSFA has the merit of institutionalization of this kind of cooperation and putting it on long term basis which in turn has led to the creation of significant networks of expertise helpful in Albania’s efforts on the road to integration with the EU and euro Atlantic structures.
Increasing the capacities of development offices in the municipalities
Presently, the local government units are being involved ever more in initiatives for the identification of necessary human resources and the use of human potentials in the process of improving the quality of services to the community. Towards that end, the municipalities have set up offices for development and coordination. The mandate of these offices is to design long term development programs through broad based participation including the business community, the civil society organizations, community members, citizen committees, etc. However, lack of knowledge and human capacity in some of the local government units had led to slow progress in this direction. To encourage some of these units to go ahead with the new structures, OSFA provided support to develop the needed capacities. The main goal of OSFA supported projects was to build capacity for the formulation and implementation of strategies for social and economic development of the towns with the participation of all stakeholders at the local level.
Projects of this nature were designed to help local staff with establishing these departments and making them operational. Technical assistance was made available to them to create job descriptions, develop cooperation platforms, etc. Significant importance was paid to training for the office staff, citizen committees and municipal councils on methodologies for drafting development policies and the exchange of experience with municipalities which had been through the same process. Communication with the citizens was given due importance. Also these offices were equipped with the necessary materials for normal operation. OSFA support for projects of this nature went primarily to the small municipalities which had not been assisted by other donors. The beneficiary local government units include Burrel, Bajram Curri, Laç, Pukë, Vlorë and Rubik. For instance, in the Municipality of Rub, OSFA supported civic participation in the design of the town’s strategic development plan alongside with capacity building for municipal staff. In addition, support went to the creation of a new information management system dedicated to local tax collection and administration. In this manner, OSFA helped create the basic infrastructure for the two way communication of the municipality staff with the citizens on policy design in accordance with the interest of local business to create job openings and increase municipal revenue and resources.
Improving municipal tax collection systems
These projects were implemented in the municipalities of Kucova and Kruja. The result was the strengthening of the capacities of tax offices in these two municipalities, improved service delivery for taxpayers, improved access to information, and increased participation on the part of citizen committees, civil society organizations and business associations which led to the improvement of governance in the areas mentioned above. These projects were co-financed by the Dutch Program “COMPASS” and the beneficiary municipalities. The training provided under these projects was of very good quality and they provided a combination of local and foreign expertise. The participants in theses courses greatly benefited from the experience of the Dutch experts, mainly representatives of Dutch municipalities.
Similar projects were implemented in the municipalities of Lushnja, Kavaja and Erseka, where the issue was placed into a broader context, i.e., generation and management of public funds. Besides tax management, assistance was provided with regard to improving participatory processes in budget formulation and implementation. Also, the finance offices in these municipalities were computerized and employees were trained to use the automated programs. Municipalities were equipped with hardware, software, network connection, etc. The processes related to tax administration, budget management, human resources, accounting and pay roll were all computerized. OSFA also assisted with data entry in the fields mentioned above.