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Targovishte centre for regional development

From Municipal Cooperation

Targovishte centre for regional development
Service Areas: Socio-Economic Development, Infrastructure
Country: Bulgaria
Municipalities: Antonovo, Omurtag, Opaka, Popovo, Targovishte
Contact persons: Dr. Krasimir Mirev, Ekaterina Milislavova
Legal form: Private law association
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Coordinates: 43° 26' 35" N, 26° 9' 53" E
Photo 1 Good Practice Form for IMC Targovishte-FINAL.JPG
Photo 2 Good Practice Form for IMC Targovishte-FINAL.jpg
Photo 3 Good Practice Form for IMC Targovishte-FINAL.JPG

Description of the problem/need for IMC

After the local elections in 1999, the Municipalities of Antonovo, Omurtag, Opaka, Popovo and Targovishte came together to overcome deficiencies of human capacity and skills in developing sound projects for infrastructure improvements (e.g. rehabilitation of school buildings, development of business-related infrastructure, renovation of urban environment). They decided to partner and share resources in order to achieve better territorial cohesiveness and more rapid advancement. They therefore set up a partnership as a joint non-governmental organization (NGO) under the name of the Centre for Regional Development. The NGO seeks to achieve balanced and sustainable regional development for all the partner municipalities and their citizens.

More specifically, the practice has succeeded in:

  • improving the administrative competence of the municipal staff to communicate better with citizens;
  • providing better services for the business community;
  • improving team work among the partner municipalities;
  • establishing nine sustainable partnerships among the municipalities, three NGOs and two professional organizations.

Currently, the Centre also provides high-quality consultation services for developing and implementing EU-funded projects. Clients are not only municipalities and other NGOs, but local businesses as well. In general, the Centre’s portfolio includes:

  • drafting of project applications to be submitted under the Operational Programmes in Bulgaria;
  • training needs assessment and performance of suitable trainings and qualification courses;
  • public relations services and advertisement;
  • strategic planning and analysis;
  • human resource management and development.

Description of the IMC practice

The IMC practice has focused on enhancing the competences of the municipalities to implement sustainable regional development in Targovishte District. Examples include the involvement of the Centre’s staff in drafting and discussing the Municipal Development Plans, seminars on building administrative and programming capacity of the local administrations, training on how to organize community development and discussions on EU sustainable development policies.

In 2002, the partnership negotiations among the municipalities led to the court registration of an NGO, the Centre for Regional Development, Targovishte.

The members of the entity are the five municipalities and the Managing Body consists of their mayors. The Chairperson is Dr. Krasimir Mirev, the Mayor of Targovishte. The Managing Body appoints the Executive Director of the Centre with a simple majority. The Annual Programme of the organization is discussed among the NGO members and approved. The Director of the Centre administers and coordinates its operations as well as the implementation of the Programme. He or she also appoints the administrative personnel and secures good communication with all the members.

The Centre is hosted cost-free in in a 150 m2 office of the Targovishte Municipality, fully equipped with computers, photocopy machines and five work stations

The services in the Centre are managed by three professionally qualified and experienced experts on permanent contract. To better tailor the specific services to a client, the Centre could partner with other professionals.

The Centre’s team has also been involved in networking with other local, regional and national NGOs to expand the scope of the provided services and consultations. For example, up to now about 56 consultants with various professional competences have contributed in, inter alia:

  • drafting applications for EU-funded projects – 13 experts;
  • business consultations – 3 experts;
  • drafting procurement documents and tender management – 7 experts;
  • lawyers – 3 experts;
  • construction design and planning – 1 expert.

To achieve its goals, the entity accumulates income from the following financial sources:

  • membership fees, collected from the member-municipalities, which come to 0.30 stotinki per citizen;
  • fees for developing applications for different beneficiaries;
  • managing EU-funded projects for beneficiaries;
  • developing EU-funded projects to benefit the Centre itself;
  • consultation services.

The total budget for 2008, for example, amounts to BGL 110,000 , most of which comes from consultations services and collected membership fees.

The established NGO and the Centre have been operating for seven years now irrespective of political changes of the local authorities. The municipalities have been unconditionally supporting the operations of the Centre, and since the main revenues come from membership fees and consultation services, the IMC has enjoyed financial stability and sound budgeting.

There is another factor that contributes to the sustainability of the practice: the reliable coordination of the Centre operation with the local authorities. The legal provisions in the Statute of the NGO also provide for the continuity of the Managing Body representation and policy. In addition, discussions and negotiations on the Annual Programme contribute to the sustainability of staff efforts.

The Centre maintains regular communications with the local, regional and national media. Information on all the services and implemented projects is constantly updated on its website. The Centre annually publishes leaflets and brochures to report on progress. These publications are distributed in all the settlements of the region in order to reach out to a broader audience.

Further, the experts working at the Centre have been actively involved in all kinds of public initiatives and social life. Some of them were elected councillors and responsibly participate in a number of City Council Standing Committees. They provide technical expertise and professionalism in municipal strategic planning. To ensure accountability of their actions and feedback, these councillors arrange regular meetings with their constituency.

A General Assembly of the NGO is annually held in accordance with the Statute. The members of the Assembly discuss the annual report and negotiate a new Programme for the current year. These measures are legally established and complied to. In addition, for each project, the Managing Body organizes a monitoring team to secure proper management and reporting of the funded activities.

Establishment of the IMC practice

In 2002, five municipalities from Targovishte District decided to network and establish the NGO, the Centre for Regional Development, Targovishte, as a pilot model to introduce positive practices in the provision of public services for citizens, businesses and other organizations.

It was Dr. Krasimir Mirev, the Mayor of Targovishte and Vice President of the Committee of Regions, who initiated the institutionalization of the joint municipal efforts for regional development.

After preliminary negotiations, the five local governments held a General Assembly to draft and approve the court registration documents. The latter were duly submitted to the District Court in Targovishte.

Next, some consultations with other nationally presented organizations were held, such as the Foundation for Local Government Reform, to discuss the business plan, daily operations and responsibilities of the Centre’s team.

After the local elections in 1999, the Municipalities of Antonovo, Omurtag, Opaka, Popovo and Targovishte came together in a partnership, ignoring their political affiliations. All mayors agreed that they needed to overcome the weaknesses of the projects for infrastructure improvements rather than fight over political preferences. They joined efforts to achieve better territorial cohesiveness and more rapid progress. The established NGO and the Centre have been in operations for seven years now regardless of political changes.

External expert assistance was needed to fuel the operation of the Centre. The team enjoyed assistance and guidelines primarily from the Municipality of Targovishte.

In addition, the Centre’s project ‘Information Bridge to Partnership’ received a grant under a programme of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), administered by the Foundation for Local Government Reform. Its activities included staff training on the provision of business-related services, publishing information materials and setting up a computer database on the economic profile of the region. This donor support proved to be both timely and effective. Although the Centre might have been able to start operating in any case, the grant empowered the management team to better structure its services and to streamline its efforts. Due to the donor support, the staff could adequately define the regional needs in economic development and focused its human and financial resources on developing pilot initiatives for improving business-related infrastructure.

At the beginning, the District Government seemed to ignore the joint initiative. Later, the District Governor publicly stated his support and recognition of the Centre’s success. Due to the municipal and public support, the Centre’s team has had no serious obstacles to its effective operations.

The main success factors were:

  • the clear and shared mission of the Centre;
  • active partnership and networking with the founding members;
  • a roster of reliable experts to support work of the Centre’s team in a variety of professional areas;
  • sustainable communication with users

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

For the partner municipalities

For more than three years, the Centre has been successfully providing the founding members with current and accurate information and technical expertise on EU, World Bank and state budget tenders for financing beneficiaries’ projects. The team has been assisting local authorities and other clients in all stages of project cycle management by drafting tender documents and business plans. To be truly effective and secure adequate support, the Centre’s experts have established daily communication with all the EU integration departments in the local administrations.

For the citizens

The Centre’s team also addresses citizens’ needs in a timely manner and supports their efforts to acquire updated information, thus providing free access to EU-related information concerning human rights, EU legislation and policies. Furthermore, the experts support and assist local businesses in developing project applications under the Operational Programmes. Thus, they also contribute to new job retention and expansion.

The projects’ estimate reveals that almost 80 percent of the project applications, drafted by the Centre experts, have received funding.

The initial costs to establish and organize the set-up of the Centre have been reimbursed over time as a result of the IMC.

Shortcomings

For the partner municipalities

The only clear obstacle is the difficulty in securing co-financing or matching funds, required by each donor-funded programme. This limitation in the Centre’s financial capacity is a constraint to the submitted project proposals. To date, the experts have managed to provide the required financial resources as a result of fundraising efforts.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

The legal entity ‘The Centre for Regional Development’ has successfully gained ground, not only in Targovishte District, but in the whole country, as a positive model for enhancing the adoption of EU standards and practices in administering services for citizens and businesses.

Currently, the Centre has been acting as the third party in the regionally established public-private partnership. It offers the private partner an admirable portfolio of consultation services in all stages of project cycle management. The Centre also contributes to the promotion of the regional image as an economic development hub.

Future plans include expanding team and management skills by implementing actions for social services.

The number of IMC partner municipalities has been expanding due to the quality of the partnership. No changes in the current legal form of cooperation have been discussed.

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

  • A centre providing consultation services in the country can be just as qualified as similar services provided in the capital city (Sofia).
  • Networking among a number of key experts results in quality outcomes in all stages of project management cycle.
  • Reliable communication and active partnership among all the community stakeholders positively impact and boost the development of the whole region.

It should be pointed out that replicated initiatives have already been launched in other municipalities and the Central Government should ensure better administration and performance of its commitments towards IMC.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

The Centre is willing to share its experiences both in organizing seminars and or making available experts’ database.

Acknowledgment

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