What is the Programme about?
Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD) is a regional initiative financed by the European Union and implemented by UNDP is six Western Balkans countries, namely: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, the North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The Programme aims to strengthen participatory democracies and the EU integration process in the Western Balkans by empowering civil society to actively take part in decision making and by stimulating an enabling legal and financial environment for civil society and pluralistic media. Moreover, its objective is to strengthen partnerships between local governments (LG) and civil society in the Western Balkans by scaling-up a successful model of transparent and project-based Civil Society Organizations (CSO) funding from local government budgets towards greater civic engagement in decision-making and improvement of local service delivery.
The main results to be achieved under this Programme are:
· Local governments and CSOs have basic understanding on the comprehensive transparent model for funding of CSOs from municipal budgets.
· A model of transparent and project-based funding of CSOs by local governments is introduced and institutionalized in all participating LGs, and thus promoted and anchored across Western Balkan countries.
· Services delivered by CSOs addressing the needs of local communities within partner LGs across the Western Balkans countries.
· The capacity of CSOs and LGs in implementation of municipal grant schemes and delivering of good quality projects is strengthened.
· Enhanced regional networking and dialogue of CSOs and LGs across the Western Balkan countries enable multiplication of good practices.
· Diversified dialogue and cooperation mechanisms between LGs and CSOs.
In Albania, in general, local government lacks adequate capacity to ensure proper cooperation and funding of civil society. This statement was reconfirmed in the EC Albania 2016 Progress report, noting the need for adequate resources to implement training plans for the staff in the new municipalities. It also emphasized that the fiscal framework regulating the activity of civil society organisations was still not conducive to their development and needs to be revised. On the other hand, public funding remained limited and is not legally regulated at central and local level.
The Albanian Government has made clear its commitment to establishing healthy environment that will encourage civil society independence, efficiency and sustainability. To that end, the Government programme 2013-2017 emphasizes the necessity of reforms about: i. Improving legal and fiscal framework for the activities of non-profit organisations; ii. Increasing transparency of work of public institutions through publicizing opportunities for cooperation as well as rules and procedures for applying for public funding of non-profit organisations’ projects; iii. Submitting new legal initiatives to a broad consultative process with the civil society, iv. Building capacities of civil society organisations to provide services which the State is incapable of delivering yet.
To this end, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Albania approved on May 27, 2015 the Road Map for Drafting Policy and Measures for Enabling Environment to Civil Society. This document sets out a targeted programme of priority areas of action that the Albanian Government is taking to improve environment for cooperation with civil society.
In order to address these challenges, the Programme will support 10 municipalities through a grant of EURO 1.130.952, from which 80% is the contribution of the Programme and 20% the contribution from municipalities that will part of the Programme in a three years period.
The beneficiaries of the grant scheme will be the Civil Society Organisations that will be encouraged to implement projects related with the local development strategies. The aim is to enforce the participatory democracy in local level as well improvement of quality of life for citizens.
The initiative is an important step of participating countries towards transparent project-based funding for CSOs, enabled through regional scaling up of a successful model and characterised by intensive cross-country dialogue and exchange. It also makes important contributions to a more mature level of collaboration between local governments and civil society, fostering local democracy and vibrant communities.
 This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.
What have we achieved so far?
All project structures: Board of Partners, Advisory Group and Project team were established/selected in the first year of project implementation. The Board of Partners for Albania includes representatives of Delegation of European Union to Albania, Ministry of Finance and Economy, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Agency for Support of Civil Society, Albanian Association of Municipalities, Association for Local Autonomy, European Movement Albania/CSO, TACSO and UNDP. These institutions represent the main bodies dealing with local government and civil society organisations both in central and local level. All project structures have been working together in close collaboration and in three years of implementation and the following activities are realized:
- A model of transparent and project-based funding of CSOs by local governments is introduced and institutionalized in all participating local governments
A call for proposal was launched for selection of partner municipalities in Albania in 2017. In total 35 municipalities applied to be part of the Action, constituting around 62% of total number of municipalities. The selection process was competitive and transparent. The ReLOaD team in Albania reviewed all applications in conformity with the agreed criteria and provided detailed information to the BoP for each of the applicant municipalities.
Considering the high interest of municipalities and their needs, the BoP decided to select 12 top ranked municipalities instead of 10 foreseen as partner in the Action for Albania: Durres, Diber, Elbasan, Korce, Librazhd, Prrenjas, Tropoje, Permet, Lezhe, Shkoder and Tirana. All partner municipalities committed to co finance 20% to 25% of the budget granted. Memorandum of Understandings between mayors of 12 municipalities and UNDP Country Director were signed on 1 November 2017 in a public event.
During the project implementation two assessment were conducted. The first investigated existing financing mechanism and regulations for disbursement of public funds to CSOs in Albania was finalised on August 2017. It included a detailed analysis of the situation at the central and local level on the procedures and mechanisms in place to finance CSOs from public funds. Findings and recommendations for improvement and alignment of practices with EU rules and standards, especially those foreseen in the LOD Methodology are included in this Assessment. The second assessment was conducted after selection of 12 partner municipalities a detailed assessment on existing mechanisms in these municipalities. It presents a tableau of the situation in partner municipalities and a comparison between existing procedures and LOD requirements. The assessment outlines a series of recommendations for full alignment with LOD methodology for each of municipality.
LOD Methodology was approved by Municipality Councils of 12 partner municipalities. However, based on recommendations set in both Assessments on financial mechanisms for disbursement of public funds to CSOs in Albania it is noted the need for further alignment of internal procedures to standards set up in LOD In Albania the legislative and financial environment for funding CSOs is very challenging. The main financial mechanism for financing CSOs from public funds is the annual grant distributed by the Agency for support of civil society through an open call, while the donors are the main contributors for funding CSOs.
The project team has undertaken a series of meetings with municipalities representatives including mayors, to introduce the Methodology to inform them on the advantages of using unified and transparent tools for funding CSOs. On the other side, Methodology is presented to CSOs during information sessions, Open day events and trainings.
- Services delivered by civil society organisations address the needs of local communities within partner local governments
24 consultative meetings with CSOs were held in the 12 partner municipalities to define the priority development areas for each municipality. 140 CSOs actively participated in these meetings which led to the identification of priorities topics for 24 public calls. 71 projects were awarded from 323 applications received.
The First round of public call for CSOs in Albania was organized in Jan-March 2018 and the second round was organized in February-July 2019 in all partner municipalities. The public Calls remained open for minimum of four weeks. Open day events were organised in each municipality during this period, aiming to inform the CSOs on the details of the Call. More than 300 representatives from CSOs participated actively in these events. In the same time, a two days training on PCM was provided to CSOs, focusing on LOD Methodology principles and the package of application.
The evaluation committees were established through formal decisions of Mayors in each municipality. The evaluation committees consisted of: 2 representatives from each municipality, 2 from UNDP, 1 CSO representative as evaluation committee member and the second CSO representative as alternative member. The Committees evaluated all received CSOs project proposals and provided recommendations to the Board of Partners, as the final structure that approved projects for funding.
The granted projects were specific interventions that reached more than 28.000 beneficiaries including children, people with disabilities, women, vulnerable groups, youth etc. The projects tackled community needs in following fields:
· 23 projects on environment and tourism
· 14 projects on advancing social inclusion
· 6 projects on boosting local democracy
· 18 projects on youth empowerment and participation
· 10 projects on strengthening human rights and empowerment of women
Among many activities performed in the granted projects, more than 20 local studies/plans were developed, 1500 saplings and ﬂowers were planted, 10 local fairs were organized, more than 50 artisanal products and one official city brand was developed, more than 30 interventions promoted local tourism, 4 public buildings became disability friendly, 2 databases CWD were created, 5 youth councils were established and 1 platform for citizens’ participation in local policies was created.
During the difficult times of the Earthquake of November 2019 and the pandemic situation in 2020, the project through all its structures strived to respond to the needs of the communities in the partner LGs. In these regards, 11 small projects were granted within a closed call for COVID-19 Response and 2 projects were extended in Durres municipality for assisting people impacted by the earthquake.
Independent calls – An important achievement of ReLOaD in Albania has been the launch and management of Independent Calls in 8 partner municipalities. These calls were not only implemented entirely by LGs structures, but they are fully financed by local budgets. The public calls have been implemented in a transparent and competitive approach in accordance to LOD methodology. The total budged for these calls was more than 28,000,000 ALL and 26 projects were granted till November 2020. Three public calls are under implementation.
- The capacity of civil society organisations and local governments in implementation of municipal grant schemes and delivering of good quality projects is strengthened.
To strengthen the capacities of municipalities staff, specialized training on Project Cycle Management were designed and organised in each year of project implementation. More than 100 representatives from 12 partner municipalities and 5 non-partner municipalities participated in trainings.
Considering the capacities of CSOs, especially small-scale CSOs, the Action had foreseen a dedicated component to strengthen their capacities. Therefore, during the First and second call for proposal, PCM training were organised with participation of around 300 representatives from 150 CSOs in 12 partner municipalities. Trainings were organised during the open call periods and they focused on project proposal writing, logical framework, visibility, monitoring, reporting, etc. during the second call, mentoring sessions were organized to clarify the components of the calls and project cycle management.
Open day events were organised in 12 partner municipalities, with the participation of 250 representatives from CSOs, aiming at informing them on the technicalities of the first and second public call. CSOs were encouraged to send questions on any uncertainties to ReLOaD project e-mail address. A document with frequently asked questions was prepared and published in UNDP webpage www.al.undp.org.
Monitoring and evaluation of the 82 projects implemented within ReLOaD has been conceptualized within the capacity building component for CSOs and LG representatives. In these regards, a full guide was created based on EU practices for management of funds and tailored for the legal and financial environment in Albania. All 58 partner CSOs of ReLOaD were trained on project implementation based in LOD and the Implementation Guide. Moreover, all 222 monitoring visits were considered a possibility to check thoroughly all elements of projects implementation but also train the staff of CSOs for proper execution of all requirements of the Implementation Guide. All monitoring visits were organized in collaboration with the respective partner LG.
Promotion of Action in Albania is done through different channels such as TV, social media, press etc. Main promotion activities were organised during launching of Call for partner municipalities and launching of First and Second Call for CSOs. Special attention was paid on continuous informative materials prepared during the project implementation such as factsheets and infographics. Furthermore, while the project is approaching its end some final visibility materials were producted summarizing the work of the project in Albania. All partners, especially members of the Board of Partners, such as EUD in Albania, Agency for support of civil society, Albanian Association of Municipalities, Association for Local Autonomy, etc. supported the widely dissemination of information. Promotion is done country wide and an action plan for communication and visibility is prepared by Albania office.