Ten years of UPP: Sharing experiences from the SEE region and beyond
NALAS Annual General Assembly Meeting
- Since 2011, the World Bank and the Government of Austria have supported the Urban Partnership Program (UPP), designed to strengthen the capacity of local governments in the SEE region to improve municipal management.
- City-to-City Dialogues (C2C) offered peer-to-peer support tailored to the local priorities of more than 90 participating cities in the Western Balkans and beyond.
- Stewardship of the Municipal Finance Self-Assessment (MFSA) online tool produced by the UPP has been handed over to NALAS (Network of Local Government Associations in South East Europe) to ensure sustainability beyond the term of the UPP.
One goal of the UPP is equipping local elected officials and city administrators with practical decision-making tools that can help them effectively manage urban development for inclusive and sustainable growth. The peer-to-peer "City-to-City (C2C) Dialogues" recognize local priorities and reflect the unique constraints and opportunities each city faces. Such programs are available in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
The Program began modestly in 2011, when municipal representatives from 10 cities came together at C2C to discuss issues of common interest: from municipal revenues to urban land development, and from transparency and accountability to investment programming.
Since then, 15 C2C Dialogues have been organized throughout the region. Today, the Program brings together more than 120 cities, of which more than 90 have taken advantage of the MFSA. In each dialogue, mayors, municipal department staff, city planners, representatives of central government, national associations of local governments, civil society organizations, and representatives of the private sector gather to share workable strategies for fostering local partnerships and more efficient, self-sufficient, and transparent governance.
On April 12, 2021, one of the side events of the 16th NALAS General Assembly was a C2C Dialogue: Sharing Experiences from the Urban Partnership Program. This year’s C2C Dialogue was unique for several reasons: it is being held online, allowing many more mayors, local government staff and practitioners to join, exchange, and learn. Organized in collaboration with NALAS, it honors a decade of the UPP.
The NALAS April C2C Dialogue brought together over 150 participants and successfully rounded out the UPP which is closing in 2021. Participants from around the region presented their experiences with using the tools generated by the program, not only the MFSA but also, e.g., Urban Audits and Citizens’ Score Cards. The event highlighted the close cooperation the program has had with NALAS and the helping hand it gives to contribute to the sustainability of UPP’s tools.
“NALAS is a unique organization, with major legitimacy and relevance,” said Ms. Catherine Farvacque-Vitkovic, World Bank retiree and one of the co-founders of UPP. “I see three main roles for NALAS in the future: 1. As a repository of knowledge, 2. As an accelerator for innovation, and 3. As a catalyst for training local staff on issues.”
Mr. Elton Stafa, NALAS Project Manager, introduced the NALAS Regional Decentralization Observatory (see https://nalas-observatory.eu), where the MFSA online tool will soon be hosted. “This is a comprehensive data repository on local government issues in South-East Europe,” he said, “which supports creation of better policies and providing better local services to citizens.”
Ms. Božana Šljivar, City of Banja Luka in BiH, and Ms. Marina Jandrevska, Municipality of Kisela Voda, Skopje, North Macedonia, spoke about the importance of the MFSA for planning capital investments, emphasizing that it enables municipal officers to project different scenarios over different time horizons, to inform decision-making by the Mayor and the City Council.
Mr. Krste Micalevski, Municipality of Resen, North Macedonia, who is part of the MSIP2 (Municipal Services Improvement Project) World Bank project, spoke about how the Urban Audit helped the municipality with prioritization, but noted the problems involved in finding the relevant data. However, he emphasized that the most important benefit was enabling citizens’ participation throughout the process.
Representatives from Shkoder, Albania; Budva and Mojkovac, Montenegro; and BiH elaborated on the use of MFSA for assessing the impact of COVID-19. They concluded that it is equally useful for ordinary and extraordinary situations in that through scenarios and simulations it enables municipalities to analyze how even catastrophic events may affect municipal finances.
During the session on Citizen Engagement, Mr. Sasho Trajkov, Gazi Baba Municipality, Skopje, North Macedonia; Ms. Vesna Garvanlieva, Centre for Economic Analysis, North Macedonia; and Ms. Sandra Kdolsky, World Bank consultant, discussed how to engage citizens in the development of their communities and the use of Citizens’ Score Cards.
In the closing session, representatives of local government associations and other experts identified financial challenges and opportunities they expect to see in the Western Balkans in 2021: Post COVID-19 social and economic recovery, for instance, will require serious cuts in municipal budgets. However, opportunities can also arise as relations between the central and local level improve; and real decentralization will enable local governments to respond directly to citizens’ immediate needs and ensure community development. Other opportunities will arise from regional cooperation, local governments learning from each other, and the inevitable digitalization. A central role for local government associations will continue to be safeguarding local government finances and ensuring the high quality of local services.
The C2C Dialogues have been successful in bringing the region together to discuss achievements and current issues. NALAS in ensuring sustainability carries the achievements of the UPP into the future.