Efficiency, Transparency, Democracy

Efficiency, Transparency, Democracy

In January 2014, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, along with other partners and in cooperation with the government of Armenia, started the project of improvement of the local self-governance system in Armenia. The goals of the project are precise: efficiency, transparency, democracy.


Text: Karine Ghazaryan

In 2014, the government of Armenia announced the start of territorial administration reform in the country. Driven by the need of optimization of resources, Armenian officials initiated the process of municipality enlargement. In the first phase 142 municipalities were transformed into 18 clusters with population of 165,000. It is expected to have another wave of amalgamation with additional 34 clusters transformed from 325 municipalities. The clusters are formed in a special way: economic, geographical and demographic factors all play their role in the transformation process. Other countries’ experience have also been studied and taken into consideration. Before the amalgamation, Armenia had 915 municipalities, 49 of which were urban and 866 rural.

The municipalities are extremely unequal by the size of population: whereas Yerevan has about a million inhabitants, half of the settlements have less than 1,000, and many count no more than 50 people. As a result, numerous small communities have difficulties with providing basic public services to citizens. A detailed analysis demonstrates that financially weak authorities are simply unable to cope with problems they face and to exercise their powers.

As a member of Council of Europe, Armenia has assumed also a set of commitments and obligations towards this organization, including in the area of local self-government. In particular, during the development of the new RA law on local self-government the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which Armenia signed, were taken into account.

Since 2014, Switzerland as a member of a multi-donor consortium, committed to support the reform contributing to more democratic processes and accountability as well as to improved quality of public services. The successful implementation of the reform will pave the way for further decentralization of powers and functions to the local level. “People and local authorities on site where local specificities can be taken into account know the needs of their municipalities better, and if we encourage their participation in decision making and equip with necessary skills, they will be able to lead their communities more effectively and decisions affecting the local level will be democratically legitimate.” – says Sergey Hovhannisyan, National Program Officer at Swiss Cooperation Office South Caucasus who coordinates the program.

“All the supporting partner organizations: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation with its German (BMZ) and American (USAID) partners providing financial resources for the program, with Deutsche Gesellschaftfür Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Council of Europe (CoE), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Armenian Territorial Development Fund (ATDF) as implementers use programmatic approach, which means that we all see one goal, join our efforts and work on its fulfillment,” – Sergey Hovhannisyan notes. He adds that this kind of international and multilevel consolidation of resources is quite rare.

In enlarged municipalities the program provides technical assistance in the form of capacity building and expertise. The program also encourages women to engage in local politics. During previous municipal election, 750 women candidates were nominated, and 99 were elected. 72 successful candidates, or 73%, had participated in trainings within the framework of the program.

To strengthen the voices and participation of local governments in the policy/reform dialogue through their main legitimate representation body, the program builds up organizational capacities of the Communities Association of Armenia.

The program also makes available funding for community-driven public infrastructure projects to ensure better access to municipal services, trigger economic development, as well as improving capacities in municipal assets management. The municipalities are trained in 5-years local economic development plan elaboration, as well as in development of result oriented budgeting and annual working plans. Citizen Offices based on “one stop shop” principle equipped with the Municipal Management Information Systems enabling automatic management of information floware ensuring easier communication between citizens and municipal administration. Seven already existing Citizen Offices prove to be highly effective and appreciated by citizens: the survey showed 97% of citizens’ satisfaction with accessibility and quality of the services received.

While decentralized local self-governance has proven its efficiency in many countries, the transformation process is not at all easy. “The program conducts trainings, provides tools and information, promotes women and citizens active participation with the main aim to strengthen the capacities of the municipalities for establishment of an effective self-governance system in the country, – says Sergey Hovhannisyan. – However, it should be noted that the visible results of the reform might be expected in 4-5 years after it has been launched.”