Better future for inter-municipal cooperation in Montenegro?

Mar 6, 2013

Municipality of Savnik partaking in intermuncipal cooperation projects. Photo: UNDP in Montenegro

In a tiny country of 620.000 population, two small picturesque mountaineous municipalities of a few thousand inhabitants could save €35-40.000 per year by joining forces, while the second largest municipality Nikšić alone could earn around €40.000 in that way. How come that those municipalities haven’t established the inter-municipal cooperation yet? The most obvious cause and the biggest obstacle is in fact the lack of initial funding.

UNDP Montenegro has been supporting country’s inter-municipal cooperation since 2010. The same kind of support has been taking place in the region even longer, since 2007, particularly in The FYROM Macedonia. UNDP’s motivation to continue to engage in this area comes out from the following:

- the legal framework is already in place,
- there is great potential for improving the quality of municipal services and achieving budget savings,
- there is a good will and commitment of decision makers to make neccesary reforms and further decentralize the local government.

The motivation of the UNDP project team working on inter-municipal cooperation is additionally boosted by the fact that many applications came in response to the recently concluded tender of the EU Delegation to Montenegro related to inter-municipal cooperation projects.

There are municipal services that many municipalities are not able to deliver although they have the responsibility, or service provision is inadequate. Insufficient financial resources or lack of capacity are frequently cited reasons for weak service delivery. In addition, many municipalities have small population and subsequently limited ability to individually support big infrastructure projects (waste water, water supply, etc.) and raise private investors’ interest. Inter-municipal cooperation enables municipalities facing these kinds of challenges to join forces with other municipalities.

The legal framework having been completed, the Ministry of the Interior of Montenegro, in cooperation and with the support of UNDP, prepared a publication Strengthening of inter municipal cooperation in Montenegro, reviewing the legislative framework and the situation in the country. The Ministry and UNDP also developed the Inter Municipal Cooperation Strategy (2011-2015) and the accompanying Action Plan, built on positive experiences of The FYROM Macedonia.

In addition, cost-benefit analyses have been done in four areas – communal police, billing and collection of taxes, reducing the risk of natural disasters and managing natural resources of special value (regional park). Based on data obtained from the municipalities, an assessment was conducted of potential savings if the three municipalities, for example Nikšić, Plužine and Šavnik, if they joined together to provide services to citizens in the area of communal police. The analysis showed that Plužine, Šavnik would be able to save around 70.000, while Nikšić would earn €40.000 per year. Having this in mind, the UNDP will prepare recommendations on inter-municipal communal police cooperation - a topic that is in focus because the related law is in a final stage, as well as relevant by-laws.

The recent Conference on inter-municipal cooperation held in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica was an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of Slovakia and The FYROM Macedonia in that domain, as well as more details about the related efforts in Montenegro. The conference was organized by the Slovak comany NISPAcee (Network of Schools and Institutes of Public Administration in Central and Eastern Europe), in partnership with the Local Self-Government Department of the Ministry of the Interior of Montenegro, the Union of Municipalities and the UNDP.

At the conference, Assistant Minister of the Interior Mr. Mladen Jovović stressed that the EU launched a €1.9 million tender for development of inter-municipal projects in support to the regional cooperation in Montenegro. The tender was financed from the IPA 2011 funds, and the Strategy for development of inter-municipal cooperation envisages that the Government provides co-financing for the projects in the amount of at least 18%.

“We must admit that in Montenegro we do not have any regional inter-municipal community, and there is no formal cooperation of that kind,“ said Secretary General of the Union of Municipalities Mr. Rajko Golubović. However, he pointed out that in reality the situation is different. “My opinion is that municipalities were not avoiding cooperation, but the possible cause of gaps relating to the management of joint projects may be fear that some regions will not adequately evaluate the need for close cooperation and raising the level of services in some areas,“ said Mr. Golubović.

Ms. Sanja Bojanić, Democratic Governance Cluster Leader at the UNDP Montenegro said that besides providing services, the importance of inter-municipal cooperation is great in terms of managing natural resources, especially of regional parks, because the environment knows no municipal boundaries. “That is why UNDP in the previous year, except for strategic support, provided assistance to a group of municipalities in their preparation of inter-municipal cooperation projects for establishing the Regional Park Sinjajevina. Such projects are a potential example of how cooperation can create opportunities for development while preserving the unique environment in the northern region of Montenegro,“ Ms. Bojanić emphasized.

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