High level Conference: The Role of Decentralisation on the Consolidation of Democracy in Albania and European Integration
Tirana, 30-31 October 2012
Session V: “Good Governance at local level”
Sevdia UGREKHELIDZE, Vice-Chair of the Governance Committee
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It is a great pleasure for me to speak to you today on the issue which has been central to the activities of the Congress and its predecessor, the Conference of Local and Regional Authorities, since the very beginning of their existence – which is to say, since 1957.
Indeed, the notion of efficient local democracy as a prerequisite for the good functioning of democracy itself was engraved already in the Statute of the Council of Europe, leading to the creation of the European Conference of Local Authorities more than 50 years ago.
However, it is also clear that we cannot ensure the efficiency of local democracy without putting in place a system for efficient governance at local level – governance which is responsible and responsive, which is citizen-oriented and open to the input from local populations.
It has been embedded in international conventions and texts adopted at the behest of the Congress, starting with the cornerstone treaty for local democracy: the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The Charter provides for the transfer of responsibilities for public services to the level where they can be delivered most efficiently – to the level closest to the citizen – together with the financial resources necessary for their implementation.
To further good governance, the Congress elaborated the European Code of Conduct for local and regional elected representatives, which was adopted in 1999 and which deals with their specific obligations during the taking, holding and relinquishing of office.
I can also mention other Congress projects – the new European Urban Charter: Manifesto for a new urbanity which lays down principles of building and developing modern urban communities centred on the citizen and citizens’ concerns as a priority of our action, and the European Charter of Regional Democracy which sets out principles and models for regional governance, similar to the principles of self-government at local level.
In other words, we can only ensure good local governance if we do it not only FOR the citizens but also WITH the citizens. As a representative of the capital city of Georgia, I am proud to state that Mayor of Tbilisi has always paid a great attention to citizen participation in local decision-making. Since 2009 the city operates a special citizens’ participation program “lets plan city budget together”. Aim of this program is to involve local citizens in identification of spending priorities of the city’s budget. Local volunteers are conducting opinion pools among local residents and giving recommendations to the Tbilisi city hall how to plan city’s budget for the next fiscal year. This project is very popular among local residents, they actively take part in opinion pols and public hearings of local budgets. Later on, similar practice has been introduced in each municipality of Georgia, under the special “village support program”, each resident of a every tiny village in regions of Georgia has possibility to take active part in identification of priorities for public investments in local infrastructure.
It is one of many examples how local authorities may take a leading role in fostering of citizen participation. It is our natural interest to make our system of governance more transparent and more inclusive, more open to the citizens’ input. This implies, on the other end of the equation, a more active stand of our communities.
To awaken people’s activism and motivation for managing local affairs, the Congress and organises every year in October the European Week of Local Democracy which was launched in Albania on 5 October this year with a meeting organised in the framework of the Albania Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the Congress, we are convinced that informed and motivated citizens, who feel empowered and involved in the decision-making on matters which concern them, are key to the participatory democracy which we are seeking to build. Raising awareness of our citizens, explaining to them the workings of local governance, and receiving their feedback on our action is the way of inspiring their more active participation in the process of governing themselves.
In conclusion, I would like to underline that, as the theme of today’s debate suggests, good local governance is indeed a requirement for municipalities – I would add, a requirement of modern democracy – and a challenge for Europe. The work of such organisations as the Council of Europe, and its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in particular, is aimed exactly at finding and proposing possible responses to this challenge.
Our legal texts and initiatives, some of which I have just mentioned provide us with principles and recommendations for action to improve governance and the “good delivery of democracy”
The practical challenge is how to integrate these recommendations and proposals into our action plans and implement them in our daily activities at municipal level, within our communities. I am confident that this exchange of views will yield some ideas in this regard, and I am looking forward to our discussions.