Alegerile parlamentare din 2021 în Republica Moldova -

The territorial-administrative reform of the Republic of Moldova

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Igor Botan / April 6, 2003
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On 21 March the new Law on the Territorial-Administrative Organisation of the Republic of Moldova entered into force. To justify the proposed revision of the local public administration system, the Moldovan authorities have put forward two major arguments: the electoral promises made during the February 2001 parliamentary elections, and the need to cut out on administrative staff, and hence the expenditure incurred by local administration.

In essence, the reform consists in replacing the 10 existing counties (judete) with 33 districts (raioane). The idea to reform the territorial-administrative organisation of Moldova and its local public administration has enjoyed the support of the majority of Moldovan deputies, the government and the president. In his speech to the deputies at the end of the autumn-winter parliamentary session in 2001, President Vladimir Voronin showed his full backing of the reform, which, among other things, was intended to limit the abuses by local public officers. More recently, on 2 April 2003, in an answer to questions by the readers of the “Komsomol’skaya Pravda” newspaper, President Voronin reiterated that many citizens are not happy with the poor activity of the local public administration bodies. This, according to him, is yet another justification for the proposed territorial-administrative reform. He further stated that “four years ago when the judete were established, what happened was a de facto distancing by the government from the daily problems of ordinary people. Now the power has to go back to the former districts, deserted in the meantime, the small towns being the most affected and at present they such basic infrastructure as water and gas supply and basic sewerage”.

The law that has recently entered into force was adopted as long ago as 27 December 2001. In the meantime, the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition repeatedly contested the reform of the local public administration system. The opponents of the governing party tried to show that the arguments of the government were unfounded. They said there was no reason to assume that decreasing almost by three times the size of the territorial-administrative entities would help eliminate abuses by local officers. It is unclear why abuses by public officers, once committed, should be fought through territorial re-organisation, and not by legal ways. Likewise, it is not clear why the development of small towns and the services run in them should depend on two types of administration being located within them — the town and district ones.

The assumption that increasing the number of administrative units by reducing their size would contribute to the reduction of administrative staff seems just as unfounded. Firstly, even if the size of administrative units is reduced, the volume of duties and tasks will practically stay the same. Secondly, it is well known that the government has promised to reduce the number of officers at central level, but, paradoxically, this number keeps inflating, as does the number of ministries and departments. President Voronin himself had to draw the attention of the cabinet to this dangerous phenomenon. Why is it then believed that at the local level the opposite effect would occur?

The arguments of the government such as their concerns for the citizens who have to travel long distances to the current county centres are fiercely contested by its opponents. The latter ones believe that the authorities would do better using the funds foreseen for the come-back to the old administrative structure to train local officers so that these could provide services to their citizens on the spot.

Generally, the opponents of the reform believe that there are actually two major goals that have determined the current government to initiate it. The first is to submit the local public administrations to the control of central authorities, and prevent them from turning into relatively self-sufficient entities in financial and economic terms. According to them, this move is part of the scenario of “building the vertical element of power”, launched by the current government in early 2001. The second goal is to bring the territorial-administrative organisation in line with the structure of the territorial branches of the ruling party, which, organisationally, are based on the territorial division of the country as it was before the 1999 reform. The return to the old system would allow party officers to be promoted to public administration structures. Although this latter assumption seems unlikely, it is not totally lacking in point if one remembers a plenary session of the ruling party held soon after the 2001 elections when some leaders of field branches said they were not happy with the staff policy promoted by the party elite. Therefore, it is not excluded that the intended reform is one way of rewarding the efforts of field party activists.

However, some experts believe that the government might have to face certain unexpected side effects of the reform. At the beginning of the electoral campaign for local elections, already politically tense, a number of economic and financial problems have surfaced. The estimated cost of the reform, as presented by the author of the relevant law, the deputy Prime Minister Vasile Iovv, is almost 10 times less that the one estimated by mayor associations experts.

In any case, the reform of the system of public administration will require substantial resources. Notably, in an earlier statement, the deputy Prime Minister Vasile Iovv said he was not able to understand how cabinet members could develop new social programmes without having identified funds for their implementation first. However, none of the cabinet members dared ask the deputy prime minister how come he masterminded the public administration reform without the necessary funds being provided for in the state budget. All the more so as the issue of funds needed to carry out the reform seems to have already played a role in the worsening of Moldova’s relations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This issue is ever more important given that the execution of the 2003 budget is highly improbable, and that as long as relations with the two financial organisations do not improve, Moldova risks missing the 15 million dollar worth of grants for the alleviation of its budget deficit.

Independent experts believe that the government’s argument that the territorial-administrative reform is about fulfilling their electoral promise, is not a satisfactory justification of the reform, even though the president, parliament and government launched in 2001 a campaign of collecting signatures in its support. As for the citizens’ view on the reform, the opinion poll conducted by the Institute of Public Policies in November 2001 showed that the reform of the public administration is not one of the priorities of ordinary citizens. Instead, citizens indicated economic, social as well as security issues being of major concern to them.

Another point is that the rulers show strangely principled to fulfil their electoral promises only in selected fields, which they expect to render political gains, especially through tightening controls over the entire administrative apparatus at local level. For example, in the 2001 campaign, the ruling party has promised to review the effects of privatisation and even stop the process. Surprisingly, later on they planned in the 2002 budget returns from privatisation estimated at a record amount of 700 million MDL. Moreover, it is curious to note that in 1990, when the Soviet Union still existed, the Communist Party of Moldova, whose successor the current ruling party claims to be, initiated back then the reform of the territorial-administrative organisation to increase the efficiency of the administrative and economic lives in the republic. Three alternative proposals for the reform were considered: re-dividing the country into seven administrative units, nine units or 12 units. One can therefore state that the government’s current initiative to re-organise the country from 12 to 33 entities somehow undermines the principle of consequence.

The Moldovan Parliament of the XII legislature took over the initiative in 1990, and drafted the laws necessary to put into practice the international standards in local public administration, but the process was frozen for a long period of time. In 1995 Moldova joined the Council of Europe, and one of the conditions for joining was the modernisation of the system of local public administration according to Council of Europe’s standards.

The 1999 reforms of local public administration and territorial administration were carried out based on laws adopted in 1998 and a number of clear cut principles: territories capable to ensure relative economic self-sufficiency, financial autonomy, decentralisation of services. The key idea of the 1999 reforms was the development of 10–12 urban centres, where financial resources and economic potential were to be concentrated. The reforms could have contributed to the cultural and scientific development of those centres. Opposition members have admitted that serious errors were committed while implementing the 1999 reforms, which should be corrected, but in ways other than their complete abolishment.

It is believed that decreasing the size of administrative units would make them more economically dependent on the central administration. This will make it difficult for the principle of financial autonomy to be respected. Thus, the prospect of developing the regions emerges grim. One can hardly imagine 33 towns — administrative centres being developed in Moldova. For example, in relation to the cultural life, apart from the capital Chisinau, there are theatre halls only in two other towns, Balti and Cahul.

For these reasons it seems obvious that in a country as poor as Moldova the few resources that are available should be channelled towards a certain number of centres and in an edifying effort rather than one of uniform counter-productive dispersion.

The reform of the local public administration looks even more misplaced given the proposed federalisation of Moldova. At the moment, one does not even know the number of subjects that the proposed federation is going to have. The question that begs itself is what could possibly be the point of reforming the territorial organisation of Moldova under the current circumstances.

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