What is the programme about?
Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD) is a regional initiative financed by European Union and implemented by UNDP is six Western Balkans countries, namely: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, the Republic of 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. More over its objective is to strengthen partnerships between local governments and civil society in the Western Balkans by scaling-up a successful model of transparent and project-based Civil Society Organisations (CSO) funding from local government budgets towards greater civic engagement in decision-making and improvement of local service delivery.
ReLOaD will focus on institutionalising the interaction between local governments and CSOs, while strengthening capacities of all relevant stakeholders to engage more productively in such partnerships. Importantly, the underlying intention of the project is to replicate and sustain a transparent, development-oriented and project-based approach to funding of CSOs by municipal budgets that contributes to realisation of legitimate local priorities in line with local development strategies. Moreover, mechanisms for monitoring/evaluation of projects activities and results implemented by CSOs will be created and adopted, while a monitoring baseline for local government/CSO relations will be defined introducing appropriate tools.
The main results to be achieved under this Programme are as follows:
- 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 local governments, and thus promoted and anchored across Western Balkan countries.
- Services delivered by civil society organisations address the needs of local communities within partner local governments across the Western Balkans countries.
- The capacity of civil society organisations and local governments in implementation of municipal grant schemes and delivering of good quality projects is strengthened.
- Enhanced regional networking and dialogue of civil society and local governments across the Western Balkan countries enable multiplication of good practices.
- Diversified dialogue and cooperation mechanisms between local governments and CSOs. (specific for Bosnia and Herzegovina)
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 in regard to: 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 CS, 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 addition, the Law on the establishment and functioning of the National Council for Civil Society was adopted in November 2015 with aim to ensure institutional collaboration between government and CSOs in favour of expanding democracy, consolidation of good governance, increased transparency in public decision-making through better involvement of civil society in this process.
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.
It started on 1st of February 2017 and will be implemented in a three year period. The final beneficiaries are CSOs, citizens and local communities of participating local governments which will benefit from more inclusive and transparent local decision-making processes, as well as from improved and diversified local service delivery.
What have we achieved so far?
Within the first year of project implementation, the following activities are implemented:
Result 1. Local governments and CSOs have basic understanding on the comprehensive transparent model for funding of CSOs from municipal budgets.
1.1 Establishment of the project structures.
All project structures: Project Board, Board of Partners, Advisory Group and Project team are in place. 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 and UNDP. These institutions represent the main bodies dealing with local government and civil society organisations both in central and local level. The first meeting of Board of Partners is organised on 11 May 2017 with a focus on annual activity plan for Albania and criteria for selection of municipalities. The meeting concluded with the approval of the Annual Activity Plan and introduced some changes in the scoring criteria, to allow more municipalities to apply. The second meeting of the BoP was held on September 2017 with a focus to approve partner municipalities. 35 municipalities from 61 in total applied to be part of ReLOaD. Considering the interest and needs of municipalities, the BoP decided to grant 12 municipalities instead of 10 foreseen.
The Advisory Group (AG) of the ReLOaD project in Albania includes 23 representatives from civil society and academia. The first introductory meeting of AG is organised on 18th of July 2017. While, the AG is consistently informed and consulted by e-mail for the milestones activities of ReLOaD.
The Project team in Albania consists of the Project Officer, the Project Associate and the Governance and CSO Associate
1.2 Organization of kick-off meeting
Kick off meeting was organised in Tirana/Albania on 26th of May 2017, with the presence of around 60 participants from Delegation of European Union to Albania, Agency for Support of Civil Society, municipalities, civil society organisations, international partners, UNDP etc. The meeting aimed at informing all stakeholders on ReLOaD and discussing the modus of collaboration with all the partners. Both representatives from municipalities and civil society organisations ensure the staff for their collaboration and contribution during the implementation phase.
1.3 Promotion and awareness raising.
A draft Communication and Visibility Strategy for Albania as the key guidance document for promotional activities within the implementing region was drafted. It reflects the main principles of the Regional Strategy for communication and visibility and is in line with EU-UNDP guideline on visibility.Various communication channels targeting both local governments and CSOs to build basic understanding on a comprehensive transparent model for CSOs funding are organised.
Three regional meetings (23, 24 and 25 of May 2017) are organised with representatives of all municipalities in Albania aiming at informing them about the ReLOaD programme. The representatives of municipalities received information on the objectives and main activities of the programme including criteria for selection of municipality and LOD methodology. The meetings organised in collaboration with the Delegation of the European Union in Albania took place in the premises of EU info centre in Tirana, Shkodra and Vlora. Information material on the Action were produced and distributed to participants.
Close coordination is ensured with representatives from Albanian Association of Municipalities and Association for Local Autonomy, as two main representatives of municipalities in Albania, using their formal channels to inform municipalities but also other key stakeholders on the Action. Directors of both Associations are members of BoP.
Information on the action is regularly distributed to all partners, as well as members of the BoP. All partner municipalities launched publicly the First Call by publicizing it in their website. Local media participated in some of the Open day events held in all partner municipalities.
Result 2.A model of transparent and project-based funding of CSOs by local governments is introduced and institutionalized in all participating local governments, and thus promoted and anchored across Western Balkan countries
Activity 2.1 Selection of partner municipalities in participating WB countries - Call for proposal to be launched
Call for proposal for partner municipalities in Albania is launched at the beginning of July 2017 and remains opened for more than 4 weeks, until 4. August 2017, including predefined set of criteria (obligatory and additional) endorsed by the BoP. A competitive and transparent process took place for selection of municipalities. The Call is launched in UNDP Albania web page, EUD in Albania as well as others stakeholder’s website. Three information sessions were held in July 2017 (while the Call was opened) informing the municipalities’ representatives on the modalities of the Call.
35 from 61 municipalities in Albania 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 the needs on local level, in the meeting organised on September 2017, 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. There is a geographical distribution of partner municipalities as well as a combination of big and small municipalities. 4 municipalities are from North part, 3 from South and 5 from Central part of Albania. In terms of population size, 4 of them are large municipalities, 3 medium and 5 small municipalities.
The selection process included also field assessment in the 12 top ranked municipalities to validate the submitted documents and confirm the commitment of the mayors in the new partnership. All municipalities that submitted applications with ReLoAD were notified on the results of the selection process.
Memorandum of Understandings between mayors of 12 municipalities and UNDP Country Director were signed on 1. November 2017 in a public event.
Activity 2.2 Conduct assessment of existing in-country mechanisms for disbursement of public funds to CSOs and provide specific recommendations for improvement looking at experiences and lessons learned from the viewpoint of the principal model from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An assessment in relation to existing financing mechanism and regulations for disbursement of public funds to CSOs in Albania was finalised on August 2017. It includes a detailed analyse of the situation in central and local level on the procedures and mechanisms in place to finance CSOs from public funds. Assessment serves as a preparation for the introduction and institutionalisation of the transparent project-based funding, especially at local level as well as a baseline for the situation. 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.
2.3. Assessment of existing (budgets) mechanisms for disbursement of public funds to CSOs in each selected local government
After selection of 12 partner municipalities a detailed assessment on existing mechanisms in these municipalities was conducted. 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.
2.4. Discuss and formalize a methodology and accompanying tools, as well as monitoring framework for funding of CSOs by local governments’ budgets within all target localities.
LOD Methodology is a biding document for 12 partner municipalities, approved by Municipality Councils. 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 this regard, consultations with different stakeholders are in place to formalise a structure/template on how to align internal procedures with LOD standards. Support is needed both from central and local institutions.
Activity 2.5. Awareness-raising and familiarization of local government leadership and staff, as well as CSOs with the methodology for disbursement of public funds to 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 and Open day events. The Action is providing a five modules training on Project cycle management both for representatives of municipalities and CSOs. One module is strictly focused on LOD Methodology. Printed copies of LOD Methodology have been shared with municipalities staff while soft copies have been shared widely with CSOs representatives.
Activity 2.6 Set a financing mechanism in line with national legislations (i.e. specific municipal budget line(s)) to fund CSO activities within each participating local government
In case of Albania this is a challenge considering the legislative and financial environment for funding CSOs. 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. Albanian government is working to establish a friendly environment for civil society aiming at improving the legislation and financial mechanisms. To this effect, an inter institutional working group has been set up by the Prime Minister and is currently being supported by the EU funded Project “Technical Assistance to promote a more enabling environment for civil society organisations”.
Partner municipalities are committed to support the CSOs. The approval and implementation of the Methodology and co-financing under the First and Second call for CSO with at least 20% of the total grant given by ReLOaD are significant steps ahead. On the other hand, 12 partner municipalities have foreseen a specific amount from their budget to be used during the Third call. The Assessment for in - country mechanisms for disbursement of public funds to CSOs might be used as a guide to improve the situation.
Result 3. Services delivered by civil society organisations address the needs of local communities within partner local governments across the Western Balkans countries.
Activity 3.1 Design tailored grant schemes for CSOs in each target local government
Consultative meetings with CSOs were held in the 12 partner municipalities to define the priority development areas for each municipality. 200 representatives from grassroots CSOs actively participated in these meetings which led to the identification of 2-4 priority topics for the upcoming call for applications by civil society.
The grant scheme will be funded by the Action, including contribution from EU and UNDP (80%) and municipalities (at least 20%). Considering the needs and capacities of each municipalities it is foreseen that the amount funded by the Action will vary between 65.000$ to 100.000$. However, the final grant amount will depend on the absorption capacities of each municipality, and the number and quality of submitted project proposals.
Activity 3.2 Launch of Public Calls for CSO Proposals, selection and contracting of CSOs
The First public call for CSOs in Albania opened on 8. January 2018 by Lezha municipality, followed by other municipalities. The Call is open to all formally registered CSOs while activities will be implemented in the territory of the respective municipality. However, the focus of the grant scheme will be on local/grassroots’ CSOs, aiming to strengthen the capacities of small and inexperienced organisations working in partner municipalities.
The Call 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 250 representatives from CSOs participated actively in these events. In the same time, a two days training on PCM is provided to CSOs, focusing on Methodology principles and elements.
The evaluation committees were established through formal decisions of Mayors in each municipality. The evaluation committees consist 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 will evaluate all received CSOs project proposals and provide recommendations to the Board of Partners, as the final structure that approve projects for funding.
Result 4. The capacity of civil society organisations and local governments in implementation of municipal grant schemes and delivering of good quality projects is strengthened.
Activity 4.1 Capacity development of local government staff within targeted localities in Project Cycle Management
To strengthen the capacities of municipalities staff, specialised training on Project Cycle Management was designed and organised from November 2017 to March 2018. The curricula are prepared based on a Training need assessment, prepared in collaboration with the EU funded project “Municipalities for Europe”. The curricula included five modules as follow: (i) (i) Introduction to PCM, (ii) Logical Framework, (iii) Project preparation, (iv) Monitoring and evaluation and (v) Implementation of LOD Methodology. Two trainers are engaged for preparations and delivery of training.
At least 3 representatives from 12 partner municipalities participated in training. Representatives from municipalities that applied to be part of ReLOaD, but were not selected were invited to participate as well. Around 50 representatives (65% women and 35% men) participated in the training, including 5 non-partner municipalities, such as Pogradec, Patos, Cërrik, Çorovodë and Malësi e Madhe.
Certificates for attendance of training to participants were delivered upon completion of all five modules on March 7 and March 13, 2018.
Daily assistance to partner municipalities is provided as well, especially during the preparation of the application package for the first Call.
Activity 4.2 Capacity development of CSOs within targeted localities in Project Cycle Management
Considering the capacities of CSOs, especially small-scale CSOs, the Action foresees a component to strengthen their capacities as well. Therefore, during the First call for proposal, a two-day training on PCM is organised with participation of around 250 representatives from CSOs in 12 partner municipalities. Trainings were organised during January – March 2018, focused on project proposal writing, logical framework, visibility, monitoring, reporting, etc.
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 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.
Activity 4.3. Monitoring of CSO projects’ implementation through combined monitoring teams.
While monitoring of CSOs projects implementation will start after the signature of contracts with selected CSOs, training on PCM, both for local staff and CSOs, included one module on monitoring.
Activity 4.4 In-country promotion of the methodology for disbursement of public funds to CSOs and its tools, as well as successful practices in each participating WB country
Promotion of Action in Albania is done through different channels such as TV, social media, press etc…Main promotion activities are organised during launching of Call for partner municipalities and launching of First Call for CSOs. All partners, especially members of BoP, 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. An action plan for communication and visibility is prepared by Albania office and all the activities will be done based on this plan.
*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.