Municipalities non-transparent – citizens uninformed
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Zelenikovo Municipality is the only municipality in the Skopje region that has no website, although it is an obligation of transparency to citizens. Over 5,000 residents live in this local unit near the capital and it has been independent for 18 years as in 2004 with the draft law on municipal territorial organization the proposal municipality Zelenikovo to be annexed to the municipality of Petrovec failed, explaining that as an independent municipality it would have greater development opportunities. Inbox 7 tried to get in touch with the mayor Vele Gruevski for whom on the phone we were told that had an open day every Thursday, but that before we came we would have to re-call to help us join the list because it was crowded. When we asked when we could address them on the municipality website, they told us they did not know when the website would be ready, but surely not before New Year.
This reticence of municipalities creates apathy among citizens for joint action at the local level and it was shown by the survey results of the NGO “Coalition for Budget Monitoring” that monitors Skopje municipalities Karpos, Aerodrom, Gjorce Petrov, Chair, Suto Orizari and Zelenikovo.
“Municipalities of the Skopje region that ZIP Institute monitors are not the best example in terms of transparency and accountability to citizens. According to the preliminary results from the first quarter of monitoring, there are municipalities that do not use any means of communication with citizens, which clearly shows the degree of apathy and indifference in both parties for joint action on important issues at the local level.
Besides the lack of website by one of the municipalities, another problem arises with those municipalities that have a website, but they are irregularly updated thus the access to public documents is largely disabled. It happens for a simple document such as the municipality statute to have to apply for access to public information, as it (although it should), is not publicly available on the website of the municipality”, says for Inbox7 Agim Selami of “ZIP Institute”.
Inbox 7 checked some of the websites of the municipal units. On the web portal of the municipality Aerodrom, for example, on the first page is the link to the accountability for the period 2009 – 1012 and after two-three clicks there is the publication of the draft budget for 2015. The site is rich in information available in six languages, apart from the Macedonian, there is also translation in German, English, French, Italian and Spanish, but not in Albanian.
On service.aerodrom.gov.mk there is recommendation to the citizens with the following content:
“You no longer need to call and wait for someone to answer the phone and serve you and in the meantime needlessly waste a lot of time. As soon as possible services on duty solve the problems on fieldwork. Within 48 hours you will receive a response on the status of solving your problem”.
With mayor Elvis Bajram citizens of Suto Orizari can neither schedule a meeting online, nor get informed about the work of departments and sectors as they are unavailable. And as far as the budget is concerned, last published report is the one of last year.
At meeting with the mayor
However, some of the local government units manifest their availability to citizens through web portals where they can directly apply for a meeting with the mayor.
This is the request that citizens need to fill in for municipal services to make an appointment with the department or the mayor of Kumanovo Zoran Damjanovski.
Unlike Damjanovski, Zoran Zaev, Mayor of Strumica, has published an online form with numerous details of the applicant, such as education, employment, etc., stating that every citizen should personally fill it in.
We could neither get Azem Sadiki, Mayor of Studenicani, on the phone, nor could we find on their website terms of visiting days. On the site it can be noticed that not all the texts are available in Macedonian and Albanian, Albanian is dominate. Even the biography of the mayor is not available in Macedonian.
The first page of the web portal of municipality Berovo states that the mayor is available to citizens every working day from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, as if it were the only obligation of the head of the municipality. However, when you click on that link in order to make an appointment, in the new window it is written that Dragi Nadzinski has a visiting day for the citizens of Berovo every third Thursday of the month, or once a month.
We tried to find out when citizens of Makedonska Kamenica have a meeting with the city father Darko Mitevski, but as there was no such data published on their website, on the phone they told us that usually Friday was a visiting day for the mayor, but that Friday he was going on a business trip in Skopje.
Citizens of Struga cannot send an email to the mayor Zijadin Sela as he has no email address, so they can only phone him. In the window “public information” appears “error 404”. However, the website has announced a Public call for allocation of funds from the budget of the Municipality of Struga for 2015, which has been open for ten days, as of 26th November 2014.
Ohrid website is bilingual, both in English and Macedonian, the budget refers to 2008-2014 .
For the end of this internet research by Inbox7 we checked the website of municipality Arachinovo. The entire website is in Albanian, thus breaking the law on local self-government, there are neither projects, nor history, nor Mayor’s biography.
Citizens out of budget planning
NGOs survey concluded that citizens are not consulted or involved at all in the budget processes at the local level.
“There are several reasons. Municipal authorities do not consider citizens as important stakeholders in the budget process and cannot realize the importance of consultations with them which provides greater transparency, greater democracy and better governance at the local level. On the other hand, citizens are not sufficiently aware of their rights and obligations and do not consider municipal money as theirs”, says Selami.
According to him, non-preparation of the so-called civil budget (municipal budget prepared in easily understandable language for ordinary citizens), by municipalities, encourages apathy among citizens.
“Those who want to participate in the budget process often complain that the classifications and terminology used in the budget documents is complex and incomprehensible”, Selami conveys the conclusions from the survey of the NGO “Coalition for budget monitoring”.
To improve the image of local government in Macedonia, NGO community recommends municipalities to use all channels of communication with citizens on a daily basis, especially the website and social media.
“To begin publishing civil budgets in order citizens to understand the budget documents more easily. To announce the meetings of Council promptly via their channels of communication with citizens and with the announcement to attach agenda to encourage more citizens, other important stakeholders to closely follow the Council’s work, especially when the agenda has important issues related to the budget”, says Selami.
At the same time it is necessary citizens to establish more common communication with municipal authorities, to express interest in monitoring budget processes. Selami says that citizens should be associated with each other for monitoring and control of how and where public money is spent, which by the way is their money.
Citizens say that apart from promises, no actions are taken
Citizens have different experiences with their communication with the local government. Some of them are unhappy with expedience in solving their application by the local government, some are pleased with the work of the relevant municipal departments, and some have never sought any services from the mayor. Such is the image in the capital, according to the survey of Inbox7 on the experiences of citizens in contacts with municipal authorities.
In the replies we got, citizens, mainly from the central city area of Skopje, say they face a few problems – excessive noise, pollution from locals in the ground-floor rooms of the apartment buildings, and untimely removal of garbage. Dissatisfied with the inefficiency of local government, citizens mention presence of nepotism and mayors have openly told them that the problems they are complaining about are insoluble.
Few citizens submit their applications online, and more numerous are those who say that the municipal building is close to the place of residence, so they opt to personally submit their requests. Citizens’ experience shows that they are disappointed with the meetings with the city fathers as apart from the promises they take no actions.
Internet communication is intensified in some of the municipalities
From the City of Skopje, which unites 10 municipalities, for Inbox 7 they explain their wide range of applications that arrive from citizens – various approvals, permits, certificates, both for individuals and for businesses.
For example licenses for fees are issued, certificates of correct address, permits for placement of furniture in public areas, permits for cutting trees, for using public spaces for public events, and many other documents of that type. In addition, the City of Skopje services calculations and collection of property tax and utility tax business signage, and other utility fees, so the communication with citizens on a daily basis is very big. The City of Skopje issues thirty different documents of this kind.
“In the course of a calendar year, all cases that are worked on in all municipalities in Skopje for obtaining building permits come to the City of Skopje for calculation and preparation of a contract for payment of utilities. More than 10,000 requests arrive for obtaining a certificate of correct address, all contracts for sale of real property and inheritances, etc. …”, it is said in a letter by the City of Skopje to Inbox7.
According to them, the number of internet users of the City of Skopje has increased and more frequent is the image citizens to have all the documents ready to submit coming to the City of Skopje. They announce that the next step will be to enable citizens to apply electronically.
” The email address of the City of Skopje is used a lot exclusively for the media and on it we have annual exchange of specialized media content of about 2,000 e-mails in both directions“, they say from the City of Skopje.
From Strumica Municipality, however, they say that they manage to realize about 90% of citizens’ requests over a month.
There citizens usually turn to solve problems in the communal area, urban planning and unemployment.
“Monthly about 150 citizens address the mayor Zoran Zaev via the Internet with a request. Through the Department of citizen services and local government, with standardized forms, citizens submit 170 requests on the average “, they inform for Inbox 7 from Strumica Municipality.
According to municipal services, increased practice of internet communication is noted, as well as via the Department of citizen services and contact center, system 48 with a free phone line, by post office or directly.
The experts who Inbox 7 contacted indicate that according to the number, the administration, whether it is on local or national level, is big enough to answer all questions and requests of citizens. They emphasize that citizens should be well informed to argue for implementation of their requests.
“I think we have big administration and it should answer all questions. There is progress in the internet access. According to me, it should have been done a lot faster and with fewer people because in other countries bureaucracy participation is minimized in all segments”, said recently in an interview for Inbox7 Aleksandar Krzalovski, first Executive Director of the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC).
Editor: Stojanka Mitreska