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Igor Boțan: Local administration reform is needed, but society not ready

Moldova needs a local administration reform, but the authorities understand that society is not ready for it, and what the government is trying to achieve with the so-called “voluntary amalgamation of localities” is a timid step in the right direction, stated Igor Boțan, during an IPN debate on Monday.

“I would be hard-pressed to name another reform that has been so on-and-off since Moldova gained independence. In 1990, the likes of Victor Popa and Mihai Cotorobai came up with legislative proposals in the first Parliament for a robust local public administration. It was discussed at length, but eventually rejected. In 1994, as the term of the local Soviets elected in 1990 drew to an end, elections had to be held and the first local administration reform was carried out hastily. There were heated debates about the word ‘județ’ (Romanian for county). Whatever. An electoral cycle passed, and in 1998 we had another reform, relatively well-designed, but with big hurdles. The Communists won the election, and the reform saw a complete U-turn. Then there was the anti-reform of 2002 and the intervention of the Constitutional Court. Then the European Integration Alliance came to power, and the reform was revived in April 2012. The reform dragged and in 2016 another reform was announced, which also started to drag, and here we are today with a renewed bid to get things off the ground. This is a very tedious matter, but the authorities seem to be drawing conclusions from the past experience and problems”, said Igor Boțan.

According to the expert, the reform of 1998 was quite good, but it had some drawbacks that caused people to build a negative opinion about it. Now the authorities have learned their lesson and are acting very carefully.

“There’s a whole mythology around the notion that the 1998 reform was bad, but I beg to disagree. The reform was actually working: there were some problems, but they were being worked on. What happened was that the Communist Party won a constitutional majority. They came and said: we want to go back to the Soviet heritage. That was their argument essentially. People were never asked. Admittedly, many people were saying: ‘After the reform, it takes us more time to get to the district center; the distances are greater’. To which my question would be: ‘True, but what is it that you are looking for in the district center? What business do you have that needs to be tended there?’ Many years have passed since, and with this whole digitization process, I really can’t understand why people would necessarily need to have a town hall in their small village. If there is no other option, so be it, but if things can be optimized, let them be optimized”, said Igor Boțan.

The voluntary amalgamation of localities, on the other hand, is “a first step in the right direction”, added Boțan , “albeit timid and uncertain”. “There are a lot of pitfalls to be wary of. At the end of the day, it’s the people who should decide if they need better services and if one way to achieve this is this amalgamation of localities. If not, let things remain as they are, or alternatively let’s seek improvements based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government”, Igor Boțan concluded.

The debate was the 288th installment of the Political Culture Series, run by IPN with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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