Katrin Schaefer

Katrin Schaefer

“The aim is to form viable structures”

For more than three years now, Katrin Schaefer has been leading the team of the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus in Armenia, which provides support to the government in implementing a large-scale territorial reform. Regional Post spoke to Ms Schaefer about the process of implementation, the main obstacles and achievements, as well as the role of women in decision-making in Armenia and Europe.

 

Interview : Karine Ghazaryan    Photo : GIZ

 

Mrs Schaefer, how did you become the team leader of the Good Local Governance Programme in Armenia?

— I joined GIZ in 2009, first in headquarters as a planning specialist. My job was to provide expertise to the field structure of GIZ in the areas of decentralization, local governance and civic participation. In 2015, I came to Armenia as a team leader for the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus. The first phase of the programme was implemented in 2013-2016. We are currently in the middle of the second phase, which will run until the end of 2019.

In your opinion, what are the tangible achievements so far?

— One of the biggest achievements is the successful support of the government in implementing the Territorial and Administrative Reform. The aim is to form viable structures at local level by merging municipalities, which have been very small, and enable them to become responsible units which can effectively fulfil their functions and provide better services to the citizens.

During the last three years the government has reduced the number of municipalities nearly by half – from 915, when the reform started, down to 502 now. And it comes along with a very successful approach towards providing better services in the consolidated municipalities. For example, citizen offices have been introduced. These are one-stop-shops where citizens can receive their services at a one single location, without a need to walk from one room to another in search of specific responsible persons. Citizen offices are also connected to the e-governance system which uses innovative tools in the municipal administration to streamline the processes. This is the flagship of the programme which is more visible also for the people in Armenia.

Could you tell about the process of implementation? What are the main obstacles?

— The process is quite complex, and it started long before the actual implementation of the reform. GIZ provided conceptual support to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development. The major milestones before the actual implementation were to design the concept and the strategy: what is the rationale behind it, why should the municipalities be merged, according to which criteria this should be done, etc. GIZ also provides advice to the Ministry in determining the ways how to inform the population about the reform and its development. Communication is very important because the Territorial Reform is not a means in itself; the idea is to form a proper structure so that the citizens will receive better services in the end. Besides, territorial and administrative reforms are always a huge transition effort encountering a lot of resistance at local level. When you merge, let’s say, seven municipalities into one, six mayors lose their positions. So, there are concerns among the local administrations on whether they will lose their jobs, as well as uncertainties among the population. One part of this problem is fully emotional: the identity of the people is connected with their villages, so they worry what will happen if their municipality is not a stand-alone independent unit anymore. Moreover, there are concerns regarding the services provided by the new administration: people don’t know if they will have to travel to another village to get those services or what will happen if the mayor is not the next-door person anymore – everything gets more distant. If you talk to people from small municipalities in Germany, where such reforms were conducted at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, they would still complain about losing their uniqueness due to the enlargement. So, it may take generations to get over this. I would not call this an obstacle, but it is a huge challenge that needs to be taken into account in order to reduce the concerns and to show the citizens that they will get positive results from the reform in the end. Of course, this has been more difficult at the beginning when the first municipalities were being merged, as there weren’t any positive examples to refer to. But now, in the second phase, the government can take the previous cases and show the citizens that not only they will not lose anything, but in fact they will benefit from the changes.

Do you work with the local population introducing to them the advantages of the reform?

— GIZ does not work with citizens directly. It is the government’s reform, and it’s the government who should communicate their reform to the population. We support the government in doing so by elaborating case studies, compiling good practices, etc.

In the frames of the Good Local Governance Programme you celebrated International Women’s Day by convening a conference on “Women and Local Governance.” What were your impressions from that day?

— We had very interesting speakers on that day, both international and Armenian. There were, of course, men who congratulated women in a usual “you-are-so-beautiful” way. They were not being offensive, just trying to be nice. But what made me glad was that women responded to that by drawing their attention to the fact that treatment towards women is often like those congratulations: taking into consideration only physical appearance and not recognizing women as people who have an opinion, skills and expertise, who have something to say and can raise their voice in local decision-making processes. Furthermore, it is this kind of behavior that hinders women from being taken seriously.

You yourself have been in a responsible position in Armenia for over three years. Have you ever encountered difficulties in this regard?

— From the very beginning I have had a very positive experience; I have never met anyone not taking me seriously because I’m a woman. Most of the people we work with – be it the minister, deputy ministers, heads of departments, mayors – are mostly men. And, not a single one of them ever treated me with lack of respect.

But is it different from working in Europe?

— I think this is also a question of where one comes from. As a planning specialist, I have been travelling a lot to the countries in the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the customs are very patriarchal. Back there I have not encountered gender discrimination either. Of course, there is a difference if you are on a field trip – being on a short mission – or if you have been living in Armenia for three years. But I think my positive experience partially comes from the fact that I am a foreigner, not a part of local culture and traditions. Maybe if there was an Armenian team leader working here, it might be different. However, I think that in most parts of the world women still have to be one step ahead,  to achieve the same level of acknowledgment as their male colleagues. That also goes for equal payment: we know that women do not negotiate as hard as men do since from the very childhood they are taught to be modest and silent – same in Armenia, same in Germany, same in Europe. So, I would encourage women to respond to the fact, and work harder, not passively accept to be overlooked, but rather get their foot in the door and make their voice heard.

 

About the Programme

The Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus advises and supports local government bodies in the South Caucasus to better carry out their responsibilities in line with the principles of good governance. The objectives of the Programme are the modernisation of the municipal administration, transparent and accountable use of public funds, regional and local development, as well as sharing knowledge and joint learning on good local governance across borders.

The Programme is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). In Armenia it is co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and carried out in close cooperation with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development (MTAD) of the Republic of Armenia.