Quality administration at the local level: Supporting pillar of good public administration

May 31, 2022 – Today in Belgrade, a hybrid conference Quality administration at the local level: Supporting pillar of good public administration was held in Belgrade, organized by CEP. The participants of the conference discussed in two panels why it is necessary to place greater emphasis on public administration at the local level, how to empower civil society to be able to participate in the process of creating policies and monitoring their implementation, what are the experiences of activists in local civil society organizations and what citizens have a say about their local government.

The conference was opened by Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of the Board of Directors of CEP, Martin Klauke, Head of the Operational Sector II of the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia, Ljiljana Uzelac, Head of the Department for Public and e-Governance and Senior Advisor in the Sector for Good Governance in the Ministry of State Administration and local governments (MDULS), Nikola Tarbuk, Secretary General of the Permanent Conference of Cities and Municipalities (SKGO).

Martin Klauke, Head of Operational Sector II of the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia

In his opening address, Majstorović explained why local government is important and why it is necessary to have a strong local civil society.

“A large number of services are provided by local governments and citizens depend on them, not on the central level.” However, local self-government units remain the last points where the results of the reform reach in traces, as a consequence of the centralized state, financial and organizational inefficiency, and uneven regional development. Civil society is still insufficiently empowered to actively and continuously participate in the monitoring of public administration reform – local organizations do not have the capacity, the focus of large projects and large organizations has so far mostly been public administration at the central level. That’s why, in addition to examining the views of citizens and providing information, this is the focus of the Pratim JA initiative,” said Majstorović.

“There is a noticeable unevenness in the application of laws and other acts at the local level, but also the fact that citizens do not know what services the local self-government provides.” The actions of this project are important, because they give MDULS an insight into the attitudes of citizens and provide a clearer picture of the situation on the ground,” said Uzelac.

“Every local government makes our life better, although we often take them for granted.” Therefore, good governance is a fundamental value of democracy, which encourages equality and efficiency of services, used by all, whose quality is a common goal that transcends all social and political differences,” Tarbuck said.

Klauke pointed out that the reform of public administration, including local administration, is one of the topics of great importance to the European Union, which is why the EU also supports initiatives like this one.

In the first panel, Local administration from the perspective of civil society,the panelists were Milica Marković, senior advisor in the Sector for Registers and Local Self-Government in the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government, Hana Salihagić, Head of the Department for Information of the City of Novi Pazar, Marija Lukić, Head of the Department for Good Governance, Permanent Conference of Cities and Municipalities and >Daniel Dašić, director of the National Coalition for Decentralization, Vladimir Mihajlović, researcher at CEP. The panel was moderated by Milena Lazarevic, programme director of CEP.

“Nevertheless, in some areas there is a dominant negative perception, so 83% of those surveyed believe that nepotism is crucial when hiring. Also, citizens are insufficiently involved in decision-making and do not contribute enough even when they are involved,” he added.

Marković pointed out that the amendments to the Law on Local Self-Governments led to many examples of good practice, because they increased the participation of citizens in public discussions and the adoption of decisions.

“The employment problem is a ‘cancer of the wound’, and we must work to depoliticize public administration as much as we can.” The Ministry is also investing more and more in training and professionalization of officials,” she added.

Marković also emphasized that local self-government units should be more proactive and invite citizens to participate in the work, as well as motivate citizens and officials to be initiators of change.

Salihagić, as a representative of the city that won the first place for the transparency of municipalities and cities in Serbia, points out that political will and support are key, while civil society organizations were a corrective factor that enabled the success that Novi Pazar achieved.

“Once you start promoting – all the steps interpenetrate each other and influence each other.” Once started, the reform can only go forward and there is no turning back, because when one thing improves, it leads to the improvement of another, and so on,” said Salihagić.

Through the principles of responsibility and transparency, SKGO encourages local self-government units to cooperate with civil society and to build sustainable relations, Lukić pointed out.

Dašić said that the biggest problem is that there is a lack of dialogue between the authorities and citizens and that citizens do not trust the authorities or civil society organizations.

“Citizens do not know what their rights are, nor how to use them. The administration hides in a large number of regulations, but, in the end, when the working hours of the officers are over, we are all users of services and it should matter to us what they are,” Dašić pointed out.

The second panel, How would we organize our local government: citizens have a say dealt with the topic of citizens’ views on local government – why they have a negative or positive attitude, what they most resent , as well as what, on the other hand, they like, whether and how informed and active they are in their local governments, what the ideal local government looks like for them and how they would organize their local government if they had the power to decide. As part of the Pratim JA initiative, citizens had the opportunity to express their experiences with local government in a creative way. The four best evoked experiences (two positive and two negative each), previously selected by the jury and then by the votes of the audience online, were awarded at the competition. During this panel discussion, the best contributions were presented, and the conversation was led by award winners and local activists who participated in Following JA public actions. The panelists were Ana Aćimov, a citizen, Bojana Petrović from the Committee for Human Rights from Niš, Iljaza Šaćirović from Urban Inn from Novi Pazar, and Dajana Đurić, from Club Ars Nova from Valjevo. The panel was moderated by Jelena Petrović, a journalist from N1 television. You can find the winning entries at initiative site.

The event was organised as part of the initiative Monitoring public administration towards better local management – Pratim JA, which CEP implements with partners with the support of the EU Delegation to Serbia and the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue.