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Vedi municipality union

From Municipal Cooperation

Vedi municipality union
Service Areas: Culture and Education, Socio-Economic Development, Infrastructure, Water Management
Country: Armenia
Municipalities: Aralez, Aygavan, Dashtaqar, Eghegnavan, Goravan, Lusarat, Nor-Kyanq, Nor-Ughi, Noyakert, Poqr Vedi, Shaghap, Sisavan, Surenavan, Vedi, Vedu wine factory banavan
Contact persons: Varujhan Barseghyan, Tigran Petrosyan
Legal form: Private law association
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Coordinates: 39° 53' 60" N, 44° 38' 60" E

Description of the problem/need for IMC

The overall need and the stimulus of the creation of the IMC arise from the highly fragmented nature of the local self-government system in Armenia. Specifically, small local self-government units are unable to provide basic public services to their respective inhabitants. The primary aim of the unions of municipalities, according to Armenian legislation, is to advocate the interests of its member municipalities. It is an extremely frustrating practice when the Central Government or its deconcentrated bodies (marzpetarans) unnecessarily get involved in local affairs without any appropriate authorization or legal mandate. At the same time, small rural municipalities often cannot oppose this type of intervention, mainly because of limited capacities. The joint road network, which was in very poor condition, is the other area of joint efforts. Rural municipalities of the MU very often use the network to supply the market and other services located in Vedi city, but the budgets of these municipalities are too limited to maintain it. The irrigation system is another important area of cooperation within the framework of MU. Considering that 14 of the 15 member municipalities of MU are rural, proper maintenance of the irrigation system becomes a high priority. The extra-curricular activities and joint organization of inter-municipal public cultural events are also essential components of the cooperation among MU municipalities. All the members of MU belong to the same geographical area that previously comprised one of the former rayons (administrative-territorial unit during the Soviet Union period). The population of MU member municipalities shares a common heritage and cultural traditions, which serves as a ground for the cooperation in this area.

Description of the IMC practice

The Vedi MU was established in 2004 in accordance to the Law of Local Self-Government of the Republic of Armenia. It consists of the 16 municipalities, listed above, of the Ararat region. This was the first MU established in Armenia. Currently, the partner municipalities of the Union actively cooperate in the areas of road construction and maintenance, irrigation system maintenance, extra-curricular activities (cultural, arts, sport, painting), presentations of local issues to the Government and other state institutions, capacity building and skills training of employees, organization of inter-municipal public cultural events, etc. In total, the MU has a population of 44,781 (see Annex 1 for the list and size of the Vedi MU partner municipalities). The Vedi MU was created as a union of legal entities. Its organization is supervised by an externally recruited Executive Director, and his legal work relations with partner municipalities are regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Labor Code of the Republic of Armenia and other related normative acts. In addition, all the strategic decisions and plans must be ratified by the Members’ Council, which is comprised of the heads of partner municipalities. The permanent staff of the MU includes one Finance Officer and six people working in and coordinating various projects with international/donor organizations. In addition, the MU hires additional employees on a service contract basis as the need arises.

The MU’s financial sources include participatory contributions of member municipalities from their local budgets and international donor organizations, as shown in detail in the following section per activity.

The participatory financial contributions are also divided into two parts for this purpose:

  • monthly membership fees, of AMD3 (US$0.01) per person,
  • participatory contribution per activity being implemented – the amount and cost distribution mechanism depends on the specific tasks being implemented and the number of municipalities involved in their implementation. The principal approach of cost distribution is as follows: the total costs (needed to resolve a specific issue of inter-municipal importance) are divided by the entire population of the MU and multiplied by the population of each of partner municipalities.

In Armenia, there is no accountability to the citizens in the MUs. The problem is likely that the institution of MU itself is not a completely formed type of local cooperation, and the approaches and tools for true democratic, local government structures are not yet entirely in place. However, the Vedi MU fills this gap to some extent. The gist of its activities is the organization of regular lectures in the schools on the overall system of public administration and its different levels, particularly, the issue of Vedi MU operations, the challenges it faces, and the opportunities it provides for its partner municipalities. Another form of accountability is the regular meetings in various municipalities. At present, there is at least one meeting annually per municipality. In addition, when introducing a new activity and/or internationally funded project on an inter-municipal level, the Vedi MU organizes a public awareness campaign and opinion studies.

No monitoring or results evaluation is carried out in the Vedi MU.

Establishment of the IMC practice

The initiative of the Vedi MU came from the bottom up, i.e. the municipalities sharing common problems. Originally, the problem of impassable roads for the nearby municipalities, leading to the main pasture, which are actually out of the administrative territories of these municipalities, signaled the need to enhance cooperation. The first step of undertaking the establishment of a common cooperative body was the understanding that the above problem could be overcome exclusively in the form of mutual collaboration and by sharing financial and administrative responsibilities. It was later decided to call a regional conference with the municipality heads of the region, during which the forms and mechanisms of cooperation were discussed, and possible coverage of tasks was underlined. As a result of the meeting, 15 municipalities decided to join efforts. The following step was to discuss the issue of an MU establishment with the Elders’ Council of Municipalities. Finally, 15 municipalities of the region arrived at the decision to establish the Vedi MU as an NGO, which was then approved by the ratification of the Cooperation Memorandum. It was then officially registered in the Companies’ Registry of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia and the Statute was adopted.

Throughout the entire process of the MU’s creation, international organizations and their country representatives provided assistance in the form of expertise, particularly consultation and presentations of IMC’ best international experience, and financial and/or technical support. In regard to the latter, it is important to mention the crucial support of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, which contributed greatly by developing and introducing а model Statute for MUs (GTZ), providing necessary technical means to the Vedi MU Centre and creating the municipalities network.

There are other international cooperation and donor projects in which the Vedi MU is currently engaged. In addition to this capacity-building and technical assistance project, there is another international donor programme from which the Vedi MU benefits. It cooperates with Assogal Toscana, an association of seven local action groups (LAGs) operating in Tuscany, Italy. Participating institutions become real local development agencies through specific experience gained in project management of rural development. LAGs carry out consultancy for local development project design, management and reporting, and provide information and awareness systems, etc. Within the scope of the ASSOGAL Toscana-Vedi MU cooperation, there are a number of micro-projects that are either being implemented or are planned for the near future:

  1. In the area of waste management:
    1. the creation of a centralized waste collection territory;
    2. the construction of a waste processing factory;
    3. the establishment of an organization for operating the waste collection and removal for partner municipalities;
    4. the organization of the system of differentiated waste collection.
  1. In the area of support for farmers:
    1. The establishment of a tractor fleet – This project is implemented in collaboration with the local NGO Khorvirap, an association of 76 farmers with over 200 ha of land in total, which deals with the import and production of seeds. The targeted beneficiaries of this initiative are the five member municipalities of the Vedi MU, due to being those that closest to each other.
  1. In the area of agricultural production:
    1. the construction of drying and packaging production unit in association with the Urcadzor NGO.
  1. In the area of local tourism development:
    1. creation of a recreational zone near Khosrov’s gardens (1,300 m2) – After completion of the works, it is planned to establish an association with the surrounding municipalities of the zone, in which the Vedi MU will be a member and stakeholder. The profit from the business will be used for road construction/maintenance and for developing green areas and public parks.

All the above achievements and future plans would be impossible to fulfill without donor support due to the lack of both financial and administrative resources.

As the result of the about five years’ experience, the essential factor in the successful operations of the Vedi MU was the accurate identification of the common interests of the partner municipalities.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

Benefits

As stated above, there are no facts or figures that ensure the effectiveness of the MU operations and/or its different activities. It is clear that for the partner municipalities involved in various projects of the Vedi MU, the main benefit is the effectiveness of the solutions found. The citizens are glad to be provided with better public services.

Shortcomings

Although benefits of the MU are evident and indisputable, local resources were highly limited and there was great dependence on local governments for the central budgetary allocations. There were some obstacles to ensuring the smooth operations of the MU. There were cases when several municipalities refused to join the projects. This led to the exclusion of two municipalities from the MU (previously there were 17 municipalities in the Vedi MU). The decision was made merely based on the subjective motives of the heads of those municipalities who did not accept the idea of the MU and were not ready to jointly implement some of their activities under its authority.

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

The partner municipalities of the Vedi MU are planning to jointly implement some of the municipal activities, namely, the extra-curricular centres, which were considered the MU’s property, and to integrate the water supply system for common use. In the near future, there are plans to build a joint water reservoir. The objective grounds for these decisions is the possibility of sharing costs, and centralizing and increasing effectiveness of management and coordination of the listed units as well as of control and monitoring.

In regard to the expansion of the MU and involvement of new members, it must be noted that the Vedi MU does not consider the present form of its status as stable if taking into consideration the current changes in the legislation and strategies of the country with respect to the territorial and public administration. Here, this case is similar to that of the Mush MU. The future legal forms, administrative, as well as functional boundaries of the Vedi MU are questionable.

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

  • The team approach to overcoming the various problems and difficulties is more effective.
  • A clear legal environment is necessary, which sets general regulations for the IMC and defines the scope of powers and liabilities in order to exclude the contradiction with the sphere of local self-government.

Replication

At present, the IMC is of great importance both for the Central Government and local self-government bodies. The result is that in almost all regions of the country, there is a list of municipalities wishing to join a common unit for cooperation, and the experience of the Vedi MU may serve as a good example to follow. There were already some methods for replicating the Vedi MU’s practice in another two MUs (Dilijan, Ararat). This was carried out mainly through consultations, dissemination of necessary documentation and discussions of the mechanism for sharing information on the opportunities of international cooperation.

Central Government support

As one of priority fields of the Country Development Plan, the Central Government is expected to introduce several pilot programmes in different regions (Marzes), for which the Vedi MU can serve as an example.

Role of Association of Municipalities

The Vedi MU is skeptical of the role and importance of the Association of Municipalities of Armenia, and considers the crucial actor in this sphere to be the Central Government.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

The opportunities of support by the Vedi MU are limited to sharing experience and providing expertise, advice and the necessary specialists for teaching and training other MU staff.

Acknowledgment

The information about this practice was collected and presented by Aneta Babayan.