Actions

Bolyarovo and Straldzha integrated development planning

From Municipal Cooperation

Bolyarovo and Straldzha integrated development planning
Service Areas: Socio-Economic Development
Country: Bulgaria
Municipalities: Bolyarovo, Straldzha
Contact persons: Atanaska Hristova, Hristo Hristov
Legal form: Informal
Loading map...
Coordinates: 42° 8' 58" N, 26° 48' 46" E
Photo 1 Good Practice Form Straldja Bolyarovo-FINAL.JPG
Photo 2 Good Practice Form Straldja Bolyarovo-FINAL.JPG
Photo 3 Good Practice Form Straldja Bolyarovo-FINAL.jpg

Description of the problem/need for IMC

In recent years, the Bulgarian municipalities have become increasingly aware of the need for IMC in carrying out joint projects, joint service delivery, access to bank credits and bonds issuance.

The need for IMC arises from the need to solve problems of common interest with a regional impact by pooling resources and avoiding a duplication of actions and expenditures. Thus, municipal leaders gradually decided to join efforts to achieve more effective and sustainable community development.

Such a process of regional development obviously requires stable cooperation between municipalities. First, the joint projects must be identified and then integrated into the state policy and regional development programmes.

Unsurprisingly, the EU Structural and Cohesion Funds play a decisive role in establishing municipal partnerships. In many cases, within the framework of a specific project, cooperation among municipalities is a compulsory criterion for funding or applying to the Operational Programmes.

In its efforts to promote comprehensive economic and social growth, the EU Structural Fund requires an integrated development regional plan for potential beneficiaries. For example, Operation 43, priority 4 ‘Small-scale investments’ from the Bulgarian Operational Programme for Regional Development 2007–2013, requires a consolidated development plan for the territory as an obligatory supporting document.

Description of the IMC practice

In its aim to promote decentralization and a strong participation of citizens in local governance, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (sdc)–Bulgaria implemented a participatory ‘Forum Programme’ in 2000–200, which. bridges private, civil and public, informal and formal segments of society.

A Forum is a public meeting of citizens to discuss important questions of mutual interest. Forum meetings are convened in a neutral place and discussions led by an independent moderator, with no direct link to the Forum.

The participants are seated at tables representing different groups of stakeholders. The structure of the Forum must be adapted to its theme and content. A Forum session with at least six participants per stakeholder group, and 6–10 tables represents a major public event, involving some 60–80 active participants. The audience can reach up to 100 persons with guests, the media and experts.

Forum discussions continue over several sessions; due to substantial preparatory work, there may be need for 4-6 week intervals. The discussion processes leads the groups to consolidate their interpretations of the issues and to agree on appropriate solutions. The groups draw up recommendations for local administrations and other institutions or strategic development plans. They also agree on project ideas, prioritize them, and develop project proposals. A joint fund is established for the financing of projects, with contributions from donors and the municipality/ies. The Forum participants implement the consensus-approved projects.

The implementation phase of the Forum-selected projects follows the conclusion of the sessions. The phase involves only the working groups in charge of relevant projects. They monitor the projects’ implementation and results.

A Forum can be realized at the municipal, sub-municipal, regional and national levels.

The programme support consisted in, among other things, moderating assistance, organization, expertise, training and financial aid. The assistant moderator and experts from the municipal administrations (three persons from each municipality) formed a local team to assist with the functioning of the Forum process.

Operational budget for the Forum sessions and the activities between sessions

SDC – BGN15,000

Straldzha & Bolyarovo – in-kind contribution of both municipalities

Project fund

SDC: BGN60,000

Straldzha & Bolyarovo: BGN13,000

Average project funding

SDC: 48 percent

Straldzha & Bolyarovo: 11 percent

Project partners: 30 percent

Sustainability factors

  • Recommendations were provided for solving specific problems of the region.
  • An integrated action plan was developed, including a list of projects eligible for funding under the Regional Operational Programme was developed.
  • Particular projects were developed and implemented.
  • Sustainable partnerships were established.
  • Local capacity for solving common problems in partnership was improved.

Accountability to citizens

A feature of the Forum is the transparency of proceedings and actions. A list of regulations is maintained on a flipchart or screen during sessions, which is accessible to external guests; members of the media are invited and a bulletin is published and distributed within the wider setting of the Forum after each session.

Monitoring and evaluation

SDC empowered two NGOs to assist and monitor the process.

Balkan Assist serves as a Forum Office. The Foundation for Local Government Reform (FLGR) serves as the Forum Programme Office. The two organizations reported regularly to the Steering Committee of SDC–Bulgaria, which monitored the process and the work of the parties involved.

The project was drafted during the Forum process, and the local governments monitored the quality of its implementation, which they financed.

Establishment of the IMC practice

In 2004–2005, the Municipality of Bolyarovo was approved on a competitive basis to take part in the Forum process at the municipal level.

After the successful completion of the process and several projects, and the announcement of the next phase of the Forum programme, Bolyarovo Municipality approached the Municipality of Straldzha to jointly apply for a regional topical forum. The topic was selected on its possible attraction of EU funds through its Operational Programme called ‘Regional Development’, Operation 43, priority 4 “Small-scale investments”.

The idea of the two municipalities was approved for funding by SDC.

The forum ‘Establishing a Partnership between Bolyarovo and Straldzha Municipalities for Solving Similar Problems through Small-Scale Investments’, was held from June 2006 an March 2007 and consisted of five sessions, held on a rotational basis in each of the municipalities, with some 60 participants each. Seven working tables (discussion groups) were organized consisting of representatives from both municipalities, including:

  • Municipal administration personnel
  • NGOs
  • Businesses
  • Cultural institutions
  • Educational institutions
  • Municipal Councils
  • Citizens.

At the first Forum session, rules for community Forum operations were adopted.

Possibilities were examined for the use of EU funds by Straldzha and Bolyarovo Municipalities under the Operational Programme ‘Regional Development’ 2007–2013, Operation 43, priority 4 ‘Small-scale investments’. The specific aspects of the joint initiatives to be included in the integrated development plan were formulated.

The Development Plan was developed, consisting of an analytical part, where the situation and the possibilities of neighbouring municipalities as a common territory and resources are described, a strengths-weaknesses-opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis and a strategic part, including these development objectives:

  • creating favourable conditions for attracting investment by improving technical infrastructure and the environment;
  • satisfying the needs of the residents in education, health and social services, cultural activities and sport;
  • developing tourism on the basis of environmental resources and cultural heritage.

A part of the Development Plan consists of nine projects, four of which were implemented within the framework of the Forum process:

Local Roads Design

Total Budget: BGN33,295

Applicant: Bolyarovo Municipality

The goal was to achieve improved conditions for citizens’ transport in Bolyarovo and Straldzha Municipalities through the development of technical projects for the reconstruction and recovery of local roads. Priority projects for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the class IV roads: Dabovo to Stefan Karadjovo village in Bolyarovo Municipality and Tamarino to Irechekovo villages in Straldzha Municipalities.

Energy Efficiency Improvement of Public Buildings

Total Budget: BGN25,470

Applicant: Straldzha Municipality

This project proposed to design plans for technical projects for the reconstruction of public buildings in Straldzha and Bolyarovo Municipalities, namely:

  • reconstruction of the building of the All-Day Kindergarten in Bolyarovo into a Centre for Social Services and Rehabilitation;
  • the construction of Straldzha Municipality – Stage II;
  • the construction of SS Kiril and Metodii Primary School in the Zimnitsa village, Straldzha Municipality.

Construction of Sport Facilities in Bolyarovo and Straldzha

Total budget: BGN19,365

Applicant: Bolyarovo Municipality

Through the construction of an open-air playground in the Straldzha Municipality and a rehabilitation centre in Bolyarovo Municipality, the project aimed to improve the conditions for community sports and recreation in both municipalities.

Public Works in the downtown residential areas of the Municipalities of Straldzha and Bolyarovo

Total budget: BGN35,424

Applicant: Straldzha Municipality

The project’s objective is to improve the general appeal of Straldzha and Bolyarovo Municipalities through public works in the downtown area of the Municipality of Straldzha and the public places of the main villages in the Municipality of Bolyarovo – Voden, Popovo and Golyamo Krushevo.

At the time when the IMC was established, no political affiliation influenced the local authorities. Regardless of political orientation, they joined efforts to seek EU funds.

External assistance was needed and provided by the following organizations:

  • Balkan Assist, which was responsible for the overall supervision and quality of the sessions and provided logistical and expert support;
  • The Foundation for Local Government Reform (FLGR) supported the activities, related to the development of projects and their implementation. It provided expert support and specialized training, and carried out programme and financial monitoring.

In the small municipalities, it is very hard to find resources to resolve its problems. For this reason, donor support is crucial; the IMC would not have succeeded with it.

The Regional Authority strongly supported the Forum process; its representatives participated in the sessions.

Experts from relevant ministries were lecturers.

Difficulties included:

  • lack of capacity to plan, draft common strategic documents and formulate priorities;
  • lack of institutionalized planning and implementation capacity.

The main success factors:

  • high motivation of the representatives of the two municipalities – local authorities, municipal councillors, business, educational and cultural organizations, NGOs and citizens – to improve living and business conditions through EU funds as a main source for investment attraction;
  • the desire of both municipalities to build an effective partnership;
  • active participation from the municipalities and the participants,–i.e. representatives of various stakeholders at the local level.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

For the partner municipalities

  • An analysis of the socio-economic status of the both municipalities was developed.
  • An Integrated Development Plan and project under the Operational Programme for Regional Development, Operation 43, priority 4 for the Municipalities of Bolyarovo and Straldzha was developed and accepted by the respective municipal councils.
  • The administrative capacity of the municipal administrations was improved.
  • Communication channels between both municipalities were improved.

For the citizens

  • A high level of citizen participation in drafting strategic documents was developed.
  • A culture of dialogue and consensus was built.
  • Experience with the Operational Programme for Regional Development was developed.

Four projects were implemented to improve the social environment, at a total cost of BGN123,554.

Shortcomings:

By the partner municipalities:

The Bolyarovo–Straldzha Forum used the Operational Programme for Regional Development. In case of possible changes, the Development Plan must be updated.

By the citizens:

The Forum process continued for several months and it was difficult for the citizens to find time to participate.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

The partnership was evaluated very positively by the citizens, NGOs, local businesses and other local stakeholders and local authorities. There are plans for its expansion through the creation of a Local Initiative Group under the LEADER approach – through common efforts of the two neighboring municipalities within the National Programme for Rural Development 2007–2013 and the application of the LEADER approach in Bulgaria. The prerequisites for eligibility for financial support are:

  • a Local Action Group (LAG) must be established that represents rural territory inhabited by at least 10– 100,000 people;
  • the LAG must be registered as an NGO;
  • Less than 50 percent of the Board Members of a LAG must be representatives of local governments;
  • The development of the local strategy for sustainable rural development (to be funded under the National Programme for Rural Development 2007–2013) must undergo public consultations with the participation of all local stakeholders, a process very similar to the Forum process.

The administration of the two municipalities is ready to comply with the state requirements for financial support under the Operational Programmes and the National Programme for Rural Development 2007–2013. In case a legal form is mandatory for receiving investment and technical support, the municipalities are willing to discuss new forms of cooperation.

Main lessons learned on how to establish IMC and make it a success

The Forum process:

  • Ensure discussions among equal partners – representatives of all stakeholders at the local level – and search for a consensus.
  • Build mutual trust for those working in the local government.
  • Show the local population that their participation in public life can make a difference.
  • Allow citizens to take democratic decisions on projects to be implemented.
  • Increase the transparency of local decision-making.
  • Provide a learning platform for local groups on how to design and implement a project/plan.

The Forum process helped the inhabitants of two neighbouring municipalities to identify and describe common problems at the regional level for finding common solutions, which is a tool for securing financial support through the EU-funded Operational Programmes.

The Forum process can be applied to every inter-municipal problem or issue. The Central Government could financially support the drafting of strategic inter-municipal documents and plans. The Association of Municipalities could share and disseminate good practices and to assist in expert/technical support.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

The representatives of the two municipalities will always be open to sharing good practices. The municipal teams have already acquired positive experiences in carrying out Forum sessions, which could be of assistance to those concerned.

Acknowledgment

The information about this practice was collected and presented by Rossitsa Raycheva.