- Description of the context
Four years on, the TAR objective of increasing the efficiency of local government, improving the quality of services provided and stimulating a more balanced socio-economic development remains a challenge. Meeting such objectives and challenges particularly in presence of increased functions and competences, requires a smart, well planned use of the limited public resources and most importantly, it calls for local budgets that are efficient, effective and responsive to citizens’ perceptions.
Currently, the local governments generate about Euro 162 million from taxes and fees collected from local constituencies, and receive approximately Euro 443 million from the central government in the form of intergovernmental transfers. In total, the budget for providing services to citizens and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure amounts to about Euro 605 million, which represents about 3.4% of nominal GDP or 18.8% of total budget of the country (based on data for 2017).
In order to increase the transparency in the way local finances are managed by the local authorities, the first systematic, easily accessible platform, www.financatvendore.al, was established in 2015. The platform, which started as a cooperation between Co-PLAN, OSFA, the Ministry of Finances, and later supported by LevizAlbania, aimed at informing stakeholders such as CSOs, media, citizens, institutions of the financial system, the municipalities themselves, research institutes, universities on how public funds are used. Currently, the municipal data platform offers a complete picture on the status of local finances: revenues - how much in taxes and tariffs is paid by citizens, and expenditures – where does this money go in each municipality. The data is updated with quarterly frequency in the platform and a detailed report is prepared for every quarter. Also, documents of municipal budgets and Medium-Term Budget Programs (MTBPs) are provided.
Since its operationalisation, the platform has served as a useful and essential tool in monitoring the financial performance of municipalities in Albania and in advocating for informed policies. It has enabled users, including international institutions such as the World Bank, to monitor the financial performance of municipalities in Albania, referenced in numerous studies and research papers.
2. Goal and specific objectives
Having grown into a reference source of data for most national and international institutions, including the media, the platform has matured to a stage that it requires an additional dimension which data alone cannot reveal. While significant amounts of financial resources are spent locally every year, it is difficult to show and measure whether this has resulted in increased quality of public services as perceived from citizens. In fact, feedback received by users over the past three years, often has raised the following question: Do higher local expenditures translated into improved quality of public services? In order to answer this question, we propose complementing the current dataset on public local finances offered by the platform, with a systematic (annual), nation-wide survey of citizen perception on the quality of public service delivery in each of the 61 municipalities. The purpose of enriching the platform with systematic citizen perception surveys is to assess efficiency and effectiveness in addressing local community priorities vis-à-vis public service delivery. More specifically, it aims to:
- To obtain a systematic (annual), nation-wide assessment of the citizen perception on the delivery of local services, as one of the key TAR objectives. The first-round survey will create the baseline, against which compare and monitor perceived improvement in the following periods (especially the start of new mandates following June 2019 elections);
- To enable local constituencies to influence the municipality’s decisions on how public money is spent based on specific community’s priorities;
- To offer a reliable, methodologically sound source of information, to all stakeholders including the municipalities, CSOs, citizens, experts, media, etc., for improved planning, and further detailed investigations into local governance issues.
It is important to note that, the current offering of the platform paired with the citizens’ perception survey enables civil society actors, LevizAlbania and other actors advancing local democracy in Albania to have available, updated and transparent information on fiscal, financial and service provision performance of local governments to better advocate for good governance at local level. More specifically, the platform will provide indicators on:
- Fiscal/Financial autonomy, an indicator reflecting the autonomy of a municipality in generating revenues from own sources (taxes and tariffs). This indicator shows the extent to which municipalities exercise their competences in implementing their local fiscal policy. Most importantly, this constitutes a universal indicator which can be used to for comparisons on a regional level (Balkans). NALAS currently uses such an indicator as part of a Balkan wide report it produces;
- Investment Effort, an indicator used to assess the percentage of the municipal budget deployed for investments. This is also a universally comparable indicator, which shows the trend, and to what extent local constituencies’ pressure has caused higher investments;
- Perception of Citizens on local services provision, a nation-wide annual survey representative at municipal level. This survey will be conducted annually, and can be used to assess not only the citizens’ perception on public services, but also, the extent to which LevizAlbania has contributed to increasing bottom-up pressure of citizens towards local governments.
The newly introduced features to our platform are designed to be complementary with any relevant ongoing initiatives. To this end, we shall engage in consultations with representatives from a number of initiatives, including: (1) “Bashki të Forta” to discuss on possible complementarities between the platform’s focus and their scope of work, specifically focusing on municipality performance measurement from the budgetary point of view; (2) the ongoing SECO project on public financial management; (3) the recently started UNDP project on measuring the performance of municipalities in public services; (4) the EU funded “Municipalities for Europe” project.
Most of the aforementioned initiatives focus on institutional municipal performance monitoring, complementing very well with our proposed surveys, which focus exclusively on public perception (local constituencies). In addition, this information from the demand side (the demand for services) will complement the information obtained from the supply side (financial data of municipalities) enabling us to assess:
- To what extent the demand and supply side is aligned and the “social contract” is respected by both parties, meaning, to what extent municipalities are addressing community needs, and to what extent communities are paying to receive such services?
- The efficiency and effectiveness of governance at local level, meaning, whether money has improved living conditions of a specific local community.
- Gender specific nuances, issues and considerations related to public service provision in a given local community.
- Furthermore, public perception-based surveys enable the community itself as well as various open data platform users, including, media, and local organizations, activists, to raise issues important to the community and connected to local democracy.
The local finance platform is well established now and working processes are consolidated. The working methodology can be summarized in four important steps:
- Content development and technical maintenance
- Raw dataset extraction from the Treasury and re-classification based on platform architecture. Raw database extracted from the Treasury Directorate in MoFE will be processed and re-classified in compliance with the architecture of the platform. This process will be repeated with quarterly frequency over the four years of the project;
- Data processing and periodical quarterly update & upload for all items included in broad categories: revenues, expenditures and financial indicators. Following database transformations, it will be processed to meet broad categories of revenues, expenditures and financial indicators and uploaded in the platform;
- Diversification and extension of the number of services provided by the platform as a dynamic process based on users’ feedback;
- Preparation and publishing of quarterly reports on general developments in local finances for 61 municipalities in the country. All quarterly reports (the fourth quarter report will be the Local Finances Status Report) will be uploaded in the publication section in the web-site. Annual reports will be disseminated/made available and potential synergies will be explored with international institutions dealing with subnational finances like the World Bank (Urban Partnership Program III), OECD (World Observatory on Subnational Government Finance and Investment) etc.
- Enrichment of the platforms with related reports, papers, budget documents, regulatory framework documents, informative materials inherent local governance. In order to serve as a knowledge hub for all users, we will continue to update the publications section with relevant publications to the local governance;
- Update of municipal profiles (61) as an instrument for a first quick glance into municipal finances.
- Continuous monitoring and technical maintenance of the platform to ensure the operationalization and running of the platform all time.
- Surveys on citizens’ perception
- Methodology design and testing including: sampling technique (relevance at municipal level), sample size (min. number of observations 2,000) and survey implementation technique; Questionnaire design, testing and reviewing in order to ensure clarity, comprehensiveness, and understandable;
- Survey implementation including training of the survey team that will be engaged in the implementation stage of the survey (which will be conducted through direct interviews in order to ensure for reliable results);
- Database processing and reporting including: questionnaire coding, data entry and cleaning in order to have a final dataset; dataset processing and reliability tests; data analysis and report preparation to show main findings at municipality level.
- Outreach and visibility
- Social media promotion such as Facebook, Instagram etc.;
- Articles on local governance issues referencing the platform;
- Media programs to promote public debate on local finances;
- Annual forum/conference on the status of public local finances as an event aimed at bringing together different actors.
- Project management
- Platform hosting and domain expenses to ensure continuity in services provision;
- Printing materials used for promotional activities;
- Periodic reporting both narrative and financial as requested.
Given that the platform www.financatvendore.al will be anchored within the larger LevizAlbania project framework, it has in its focus all the municipalities of the country, and the implementation period is 48 months, which also coincides with the implementation period of the project for the Promotion of Local Democracy.
- Expected Results and/or Impact
Complementing financial management with citizens’ perceptions on service delivery is expected to generate the following results:
- Increased transparency in governance, mainly on a local level, through dissemination and sharing of data for CSOs, citizens and other interested stakeholders;
- Factored the role of citizen perception in qualitative assessment of public service delivery in each municipality;
- Increased reliability and accountability of local government, by generating and making public a series of comparisons, as between local governments within the country and in the region, citizens and other stakeholders concerned, by giving a clear analysis of the situation and financial performance of LGUs;
- Improved decision-making practices pertinent or related to the field of local finances, that are evidence and perception based;
- Construct a set of indicators that can be used to assess LevizAlbania support for increasing the demand for improved local democracy.
- Continuity and sustainability
The platform for local finances, builds on data (of the Treasury) provided in a systematic way by the MoFE, processed, simplified and made available online with the ultimate aim to be accessed and used by a number of the larger users. Two of the possible risks that may condition the continuation of the instrument during the implementation are:
- The will and disposition of the MoFE to provide access to raw database (supply);
- The number of users of each group of beneficiaries (demand);
Given that the risks are identified at an early stage of the design platform, their mitigation has been made possible through the chosen methodology and planned activities. The MoFE is one of the key partners of the initiative for the design of the platform, part of the working group and a provider of financial data on local budgets for the period 2008-2018, thus enabling financial data for local governments before and after the administrative territorial reform. MoFE has expressed its readiness not only to provide updated data in a systematic way, but also to provide information on the platform through its official channels of communication online (anchoring the official website of the MoFE). Partnership with the Ministry of Finance to further consolidate the platform comes at an appropriate time when budget transparency is a priority within the Strategy of Public Finance Management for 2014-2020. As far as the demand is concerned, the platform will be systematically promoted to each group of beneficiaries, through outreach activities, training and encouragement of products that build on the information generated from the platform. Furthermore, we aim to partner with ASLG, in order to ensure institutional endorsement and sustainability.
The functioning of the platform over time, beyond the scope of LevizAlbania, will be guaranteed as follows:
- The instrument will further develop building on a partnership approach such as with the MoFE, CSOs and local government units;
- The development and enrichment of the platform will be oriented towards the concept of a "knowledge hub" becoming an indispensable source of information for its targeted groups;
- Given the nationwide scope of the survey and related costs, to ensure optimization and cost efficiency, Co-PLAN will closely collaborate with Polis University and its resources (including students and facilities);
- The local finances platform will be anchored in Co-PLAN, ensuring for content update and technical maintenance. While for citizen’s perceptions on local public services perceptions, Co-PLAN will engage in creating an on-line survey in order to minimize costs beyond LA project and ensure nation-wide coverage.