I am honoured to open the Annual Meeting of the General Assembly of NALAS, especially as Moldova takes over, for the first time, the presidency of NALAS. I am confident that the presidency held by CALM - the Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova - will bring value to the whole network of regional and local authorities from South-East Europe, and will also contribute to strengthening Moldovan communities and local governments.
In South-East Europe, we often encounter similar challenges. But we also share similar goals, and similar aspirations. That is to get closer to the European family of nations and ensure EU living standards for our people.
Our common goal is to create thriving and strong communities, with job opportunities, access to water and sanitation, healthcare and education services. In Moldova we have too many people leaving the country in search of a better life. We want people to stay and we want those who left to return. And we know that to achieve this we need to build Europe at home. Our dream is to create European villages and cities here in Moldova and I have made a strong commitment during the presidential campaign to help local public administration achieve this objective.
How do we get there? First, we need to provide for equitable access to public funding to all communities, which unfortunately is still not the case in Moldova because of, sometimes, irresponsible political decisions. Moreover, at times, even the external funding is being used by political parties in power to reward or to punish local public administration. For several years already, I have been asking the donor community, and especially the EU institutions, to come up with new assistance mechanisms which would provide support directly to the local communities, avoiding central governments, when these fail to ensure fairness in the distribution of funds.
Second, fiscal decentralization is key. Today the budgets of many communities have little or no resources at all for development projects. To give an example, the majority of communities have yearly budgets which account for less than 10% of the cost of a water supply project. This means that the community needs to wait for at least 10 years to provide for water supply for its residents. That’s why, many of our communities have been relying heavily on external assistance to solve their main problems.
The European Village program, that we are currently working on, is an attempt to put together various funds and streamline the funding mechanisms, which would improve fairness and increase rural communities’s access to financing for development projects. Also, we would like this fund to support the development of local businesses. The Covid crisis has delayed our efforts with respect to the program, but we are hopeful to launch it soon, together with the economic recovery program of the country.
In Moldova people put a lot of trust in their local authorities - mayoralities are the second most trusted institutions. Being strongly connected with people in the community, being present in their daily lives is both a big advantage for making a difference in the quality of life, and also a great responsibility. Mayors who work to improve the lives of those they represent need our full support.
Unfortunately, over the years, corrupt and undemocratic regimes in Moldova have been putting political pressure and harassing mayors using prosecution and other law enforcement institutions or denying access to funding to those who did not want to fulfil political orders. Using mayors for political gains has not only weakened our democratic system but has also hindered genuine efforts to work in the service of people and bring resources to the local communities.
I strongly believe that independent and strong local administration is an important pillar of democracy. Hence, I will continue to support the independence of local public authorities and will work towards building independent and responsible justice and prosecution. We will continue our efforts to ensure decentralization and to foster the financial independence of local authorities.
Today Moldova is facing significant challenges. In addition to overcoming the pandemic, we need to reform justice and stop corruption. We need to provide for economic opportunities at home and better living standards. And the central authorities can do this only by working together with and supporting local public authorities.
Few weeks ago, the Moldovan Presidency and CALM signed an Agreement of cooperation. We also support the signing of a Roadmap for the implementation of the Committee of Regions’ recommendations. The draft document was developed with the full support of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. The adoption and implementation of the document is to start as soon as we have a functional Government supported by a responsible majority in the Parliament.
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage representatives of local public administration from all the countries in the region to keep up the good work, to build partnerships, to support each other and share good practices.
I would like to also express my appreciation for NALAS. NALAS is a strong partner for our local authorities, having also a strong contribution in the creation and strengthening of CALM. We are grateful for NALAS expertise and guidance, which has been contributing to enhancing the capacity of our local authorities to grow stronger and more independent. I am also grateful to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe for constantly monitoring and making recommendations which defended local democracy during the most difficult times.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our partners, the Council of Europe, the European countries, and all the development partners supporting local and regional projects in Moldova.