|Bolyarovo and Straldzha integrated development planning|
|Service Areas:||Socio-Economic Development|
|Contact persons:||Atanaska Hristova, Hristo Hristov|
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.
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
Straldzha & Bolyarovo: BGN13,000
Average project funding
SDC: 48 percent
Straldzha & Bolyarovo: 11 percent
Project partners: 30 percent
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
The main success factors:
For the partner municipalities
For the citizens
Four projects were implemented to improve the social environment, at a total cost of BGN123,554.
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.
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:
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.
The Forum process:
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.
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.
The information about this practice was collected and presented by Rossitsa Raycheva.