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Responsible public administration as the basis of well-functioning state: Two-day conference in Tirana

2022-06-14T13:22:36+02:0009/06/ 2022|News|

A two-day conference on public administration reform (PAR), institutional integrity, accountability, and public trust in institutions was held in Tirana on the 7th and 8th of June, bringing together government officials and civil society from across the Western Balkans.

The conference titled “Pursuing integrity-driven and sustainable public administration reforms in the Western Balkans” was organised by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM, Tirana).

The conference was opened by Oriana Arapi, General Director, Prime Ministry of Albania, Florian Hauser, DG Near, European Commission, Gregor Virant, Head of Program, SIGMA – OECD, and Keida Meta from the Department of Public Administration.

“Governments need to have good people who work in civil service, and they need to make sure that the career of the civil servant is attractive to people,” said Florian Hauser. “If we don’t deliver, if we don’t provide services to citizens and businesses, then we are not relevant anymore. Better public administration works – the country will be more successful”, he added.

Keida Meta highlighted that the digitalisation of services was the top priority of the Albanian government and that they achieved good things here.

Members of civil society reminded the government that without the meaningful participation of civil society (in monitoring, coordination, etc.) there is no good public administration.

The participants then talked about the danger of public administration reform being associated with EU integration and agreed that it is dangerous because that means that reforms happen only because of the EU, but the reforms should be domestically driven and why the sectoral mainstreaming of PAR is of utmost importance.

The second day of the conference was opened by Gjergji Vurmo, Programme Director, IDM, Albania, Adea Pirdeni, Deputy Minister of Justice, Albania, Matilda Shabani, General Director, Ministry of Health and Social Protection, Albania and Petra Burcher, DCM, Head of Development Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden, Albania.

Participants then shared experiences from the implementation of the Integrity Risk Assessment methodology in the central public institutions of Albania, why it is necessary to have a code of ethics in public institutions and why we have to pay attention to administrative leadership, not only to political leadership. Also, representatives from the region talked about their own perspectives on integrity-building experiences in the public administrations of the Western Balkans.

Adea Pirdeni said how the government, by enabling the digitalisation of public services, managed to eliminate corruption on the counters, while Petra Burcher highlighted that integrity builds trust and trust is the core of a well-functioning state.

“Integrity as a concept is not only the integrity of institutions. One of the main reasons for bad implementation is connected to a lack of individual integrity. If we put efforts into this part of integrity, there is more chance to improve institutional integrity”, said Emsad Dizdarević from Transparency International.

The conference is organised within the project of the Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration – WeBER 2.0 regional project and the Serving Democracy and Citizens through Improved Public Integrity project. The WeBER 2.0 project is implemented by the Think for Europe Network (TEN) and is funded by the European Union and other donors. Serving Democracy and Citizens through Improved Public Integrity project is implemented by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation and is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Watch the event online on the Think for Europe Facebook page.

Eight Meeting of the National Working Group for monitoring Public Administration Reform in Serbia

2022-04-18T12:30:03+02:0015/04/ 2022|News|

The 8th meeting of the WeBER National Working Group for monitoring Public Administration Reform in Serbia was held in Belgrade on April 12, 2022. The meeting was organised with financial support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy and German Marshall Fund through the Balkan Trust for Democracy within the Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration (WeBER2.0) project. Milena Lazarevic, Project Team Leader and Programme Director of the European Policy Centre, opened the meeting and emphasized the importance for a greater civil society engagement in monitoring PAR at the national, regional and local levels. She pointed out that within WeBER2.0, there are also 31 projects being implemented on a lower level that are dealing with important local PAR issues.

The first part of the meeting was dedicated to the presentation of findings on some of the most urgent issues – red flag issues – which were identified within the second cycle of the National PAR Monitor in Serbia for 2019/2020Milos Djindic, Program Manager and Senior Researcher at the European Policy Centre, presented a policy brief The impact of policy on public administration in Serbia: whether and to whom it is still important. He pointed out that the findings showcase the politicisation of the civil service system in Serbia, while persons in acting positions in public administration are almost a rule. In order to achieve ambitious reform goals, there is a need for a professional public administration, ie. there is a need for professional civil servants who are elected to these positions in a transparent competition procedure.

Milica Skoric, Junior Researcher at the European Policy Centre, presented a policy brief Public Consultation and Policy Making in Serbia. She noted that public consultations are being conducted only in order to fulfill the legal demands, but without any substantial discussion and without a real influence on the creation of public policies in Serbia. Moreover, findings show that early consultations did not come to life as a practice in Serbia, while the reports on the conducted public consultations are uneven and non-standardized.

The second part of the meeting was dedicated to the preparatory activities for the participation of the WeBER National Working Group in the consultations on the Draft Report on the Implementation of the PAR Strategy. In cooperation with the representatives of the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, it was agreed that the WeBER National Working Group should participates as an interested party in the inter-ministerial working group dealing with the Draft Report.

The smaller the states, the bigger the issues? Challenges of achieving good administration

2021-12-06T14:50:47+01:0006/12/ 2021|News|

“Smallness does not justify corruption,” said Professor Tiina Randma-Liiv, guest of the fourth WeBER Talks. She is a member of the WeBER Advisory Council as well as a Chair of Public Management and Policy at Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia. Currently, Professor Radma-Liiv also serves as a Vice Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Member of the University Council.

She spoke with Milos Djindjic, WeBER Lead Researcher about how more attention must be given to the size of the state in the process of public administration reform. Smaller states have a smaller “pool” of people from which they can choose and hire experts from. Moreover, in smaller states, people know each other much better which can subsequently lead to corruption, as a high-ranking civil servant is often your neighbor or relative. Often, smaller states have a greater number of public servants per capita, making their public administrations larger than states that are bigger. Is a small state an obstacle on the way to a quality public administration or are two variables not correlated? Does the size of the country affect state functioning?

Third WeBER Talks episode

By |2021-12-06T14:10:45+01:0015/11/ 2021|News|

Welcome to the third episode of the WeBER podcast series of European Talks podcast, a new communication tool in the regional WeBER initiative context. Each podcast episode will be devised around a relevant public administration reform and civil society related topic in the region. With this series, we mainly target civil society, experts, government officials and external interested audience (rather than public).

In this episode, Long and Winding Road to professional civil service in the Western Balkans,  Jan-Hinrik Meyer-Sahling, Professor of Political Science at the University of Nottingham and a member of the WeBER Advisory Council and Lead WeBER Researcher, Milos Djindjic, discussed what lessons can be drawn from the EU member states and beyond.

European Talks podcast is a short form conversation that aims to untangle difficult questions on various topics related to Serbia’s relations with the EU and its member states, by talking to experts, diplomats, and other relevant actors. Whether you are a researcher, a politician, or just genuinely curious about the topic, European Talks podcast will provide you with valuable ideas, answers as well as new questions. The producer is the European Policy Centre – CEP, a non-governmental, non-profit, independent think tank based in Belgrade. CEP is the coordinator of the WeBER initiative.

Listen to European Talks on Google Podcasts, Apple PodcastSoundCloud, or on Spotify.

Third WeBER Talks episode!

By |2021-11-15T16:00:05+01:0007/10/ 2021|News|

Welcome to the third episode of the WeBER podcast series of European Talks podcast, a new communication tool in the regional WeBER initiative context. Each podcast episode will be devised around a relevant public administration reform and civil society related topic in the region. With this series, we mainly target civil society, experts, government officials and external interested audience (rather than public).

In this episode, Long and Winding Road to professional civil service in the Western Balkans,  Jan-Hinrik Meyer-Sahling, Professor of Political Science at the University of Nottingham and a member of the WeBER Advisory Council and Lead WeBER Researcher, Milos Djindjic, discussed what lessons can be drawn from the EU member states and beyond.

European Talks podcast is a short form conversation that aims to untangle difficult questions on various topics related to Serbia’s relations with the EU and its member states, by talking to experts, diplomats, and other relevant actors. Whether you are a researcher, a politician, or just genuinely curious about the topic, European Talks podcast will provide you with valuable ideas, answers as well as new questions. The producer is the European Policy Centre – CEP, a non-governmental, non-profit, independent think tank based in Belgrade. CEP is the coordinator of the WeBER initiative.

Listen to European Talks on Google Podcasts, Apple PodcastSoundCloud, or on Spotify.

Immunization of BiH population has not started yet – citizens worried

2021-04-05T10:03:42+02:0003/04/ 2021|News|

Bosnia and Herzegovina, like other developing countries, has a problem with the procurement of vaccines for immunization of the population against the COVID-19 virus. The high degree of decentralization of the state, a large number of levels of government, and a cumbersome administrative apparatus, lack of accountability of the government, non-functioning of the global COVAX system, are just some of the problems hindering the national immunization program in BiH. One of the key shortcomings is the lack of a state-level ministry of health, which would have a dedicated budget in such crisis situations, and coordination and monitoring of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some countries of the Western Balkans, more specifically the Republic of Serbia, in their vaccination program have the priority of solidarity with other countries in the region, where citizens of BiH and the region can register and be immunized free of charge, other countries, specifically BiH, are unable to offer an adequate set of measures and mechanisms for collective immunization of the population.

We asked the citizens of BiH on the platform www.mojauprava.ba within the WeBER 2.0 project – Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration – how worried they are because immunization has not yet begun – vaccination of the population at COVID-19 in BiH. 474 BiH citizens participated in our survey, and 87.55% of respondents expressed concern, while 4.85% of the respondents were neutral. A total of 7.6% of respondents did not express concern about the fact that immunization of the population with COVID-19 in BiH has not started.

What when immunization starts? Where is the public administration in all this?

A number of vaccines arrived in BiH last week via the COVAX global system, and collective and mass immunization of the population will begin. Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a national immunization program for its citizens in accordance with modern policies and strategies that are primarily a reflection of the recommendations of the World Health Organization. Due to the high decentralization of the state, programs are adopted at lower levels of government. Currently, the Agency for Medicines, which participates in safety and in the procedures of regulation and approval of vaccines, has competencies in the entire immunization protocol of BiH, and there is a high degree of transparency.

The recommendations of the World Health Organization are that states should have strong mechanisms that enable informed decision-making on immunization priorities and the introduction of new program strategies and technologies.

At the moment, we do not have uniform protocols in BiH, nor a transparent way of informing citizens about the ways of immunization of the population in BiH. The state has not provided at any level a campaign to inform citizens about the vaccines that have arrived, side effects, vaccination plan and methods, priority groups, etc., all with the aim that as many citizens as possible participate in collective immunization. Ad hoc strategies are adopted at lower levels, for example at the level of the entities of the Federation of BiH, in one cantonal unit we have modern electronic forms, while in another citizens have to express their desire for vaccination again at the counter.

In order to respect the principles of transparency of open public administration and modern digitalized e-government, it is necessary for the BiH authorities to do the following:

  • Adopt uniform mechanisms that will be harmonized at the entire level of the state, with the participation of all levels of government. These mechanisms will ensure a unique set of measures for monitoring collective immunization in order to report as openly as possible to the domestic and international public. We currently have a large number of citizens who were vaccinated in the neighbouring Republic of Serbia, and we also have a large number of citizens who were vaccinated in the BiH entity of Republika Srpska, as well as individual cases of health workers out of 5,000 vaccines donated by the Republic of Serbia. All of these data do not exist in a single global immunization monitoring system.
  • The great distrust of citizens in the institutions of BiH is present in all surveys in BiH, and this is one of the indicators that the public administration must take into account. It is necessary to do a single campaign at all levels of government in order to inform the citizens and restore trust in government. This mistrust is especially caused by this case because the vaccines were not procured on time, and collective immunization has been promised since December last year. In order to make public administration more transparent, this should be one of its priorities. Also, in the world, including BiH, there is an infodemia, and a high degree of distrust in the safety of vaccines is to be expected, and for this reason the campaign is very much needed to raise awareness of the importance of collective immunization.
  • A unique e-government register is needed, which will enable transparency in vaccination, simplicity and protection of citizens from the possible spread of the corona virus by going to the counter. The quality and availability of these services are key factor in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the results of our research conducted last year as part of the WeBER 2.0 project, showed that the pandemic did not affect the fact that citizens in BiH and in our region are more likely to start using e-services.

4th April 2021.

Blog post by Mahir Sijamija, Project and Communications Officer at Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI BH)

Citizens First: Second Regional WeBER Conference

2021-03-03T11:36:39+01:0002/03/ 2021|News|

25th – 26th of February 2021 – Second Regional Conference Citizens First was held on the 25th and 26th of February. The conference was held in a hybrid format, with speakers from Serbia attending live, while speakers from the region and Europe joined online. The conference was physically attended by a limited number of people from Belgrade, in line with current epidemiological measures.

You can watch the recording of the first day of the conference here, and the recording of the second day can be found here.

Over two days, five panels and six parallel sessions were held, where participants from Serbia, Europe and the region had the opportunity to discuss the progress and challenges facing civil society in monitoring the public administration reform process, the efforts it is making would be more involved in creating a citizen-oriented administration.

The event was organized by European Policy Centre (CEP), in co-operation with five other regional organizations from the Western Balkans within the Think for Europe Network. The conference is part of WeBER2.0, a regional initiative dedicated to empowering civil society and citizens to be more willing to monitor and control the public administration reform process.

Highlights from the conference:

Tamara Srzentic, Minister of Public Administration of Montenegro, said in her introductory address that “when the community comes together to solve problems, anything is possible.” She added that it sometimes happens that policy planning and implementation are not well “connected”. “Implemented policies can be compared to a car that is loosely connected to the wheels – you will not get where you wanted and you will hurt many people on your way,” said Srzentic.

Srzentic said that policies should be made “starting with users”, that is, to have them in the foreground. “The government cannot do it alone – if you are part of the community, which we all are, we can help governments create a society that benefits us all,” Srzentic said.

“A well-functioning administration is one in which processes and institutions are created to meet the needs of society using the resources at their disposal”, said Myriam Ferran, Director for Strategy and Turkey at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

We want to create a system based on a partnership that works in both directions – for both civil society and the administration. This relationship is sensitive because sometimes there are obstacles and sometimes misconceptions. Therefore, it is important to build trust between civil society and the administration,” she added, emphasizing that it is not easy to build. “Issues of working with the government, administration and improving the functioning of public administration, as well as the very importance of transparency and inclusiveness, is something that EU countries are constantly working on because it should never stop,” Ferran said.

Hata Kujrakovic, a student from Sarajevo, who spoke as a youth representative, said that young people from the entire region were very disappointed with the situation. “Let’s look around – what do we see? We see young, educated people leaving their countries en masse. This is a consequence of the problems we face. Research shows that corruption, unemployment, poor living standards and the lack of any prospects that this will change are the main reasons for moving abroad.” Young people are especially frustrated and discouraged when they see how the public sector is employed through connections. “It is very demoralizing when we see that all the money, effort, the time we have invested in education and personal development, the sacrifices we have made – are simply not enough because we do not have a “connection”.  Because of this feeling of despair, it seems that we have only one thing left – to leave,” she said.

In the first panel, called, “A meeting point between bottom-up and top-down reform impetuses”, discussants were Milena Lazarevic, Programme Director at CEP and WeBER Team Leader, and Gregor Virant, Head of SIGMA (a joint initiative of the OECD and the European Union aimed at supporting the administration reform of countries in the process of joining the EU) and a former Minister of Public Administration of Slovenia. The panel was moderated by Radio Television Serbia (RTS) journalist, Vesna Damjanic.

Milena Lazarevic drew attention to the fact that it seems that the governments in the region are carrying out reforms only “because of Brussels”, and not because of their citizens. “Through many cases, it can be seen that when laws are passed and policies are considered, drafts are sent to Brussels and international actors, but public consultations, which should be at the heart of the process, are often not held,” Lazarevic said.

Lazarevic pointed out that one of the ideas of the WeBER2.0 initiative is to promote “champions from the region”, administrations that work best in the service of citizens, as examples of good practice for others. She added that only when we come out of the crisis period brought by the pandemic, we will see whether the governments have progressed, or retreated, especially when it comes to transparency in decision-making and spending budget funds”, said Lazarevic. Gregor Virant stressed that “expectations of the speed of progress on the road to the EU in the region are high”.

“We must understand that things will not happen overnight: reforms are a long process. We should not overestimate what can be done in two years, but we should not underestimate what can be done in 10 years “, concluded Virant.

Milos Djindjic, the Lead Researcher on the WeBER2.0 project and Programme Manager at the European Policy Centre (CEP) and Julijana Karai, a Researcher at the European Policy Institute (EPI) in Skopje, presented the findings of the research team observing the public administration reform process during the previous year.

“Our findings show that more than 50% of the surveyed citizens believe that solving problems related to public administration has become easier in the past year,” said Djindjic. The results also show that service providers still rarely publish information on their sites. The findings will soon be published online.

After the presentation of the project results, six parallel sessions followed, one for each area of public administration reform, where representatives of civil society and public administration discussed more detailed findings in each area.

On the second day of the conference, moderated by journalist Nenad Sebek, two panels were held: In the first, civil society representatives presented their examples and ideas for improving public administration, and in the second, Western Balkan citizens discussed their expectations from public administration.

The conference also presented a new WeBER2.0 platform where citizens of the Western Balkans can express their experiences with public administration, find advices and experiences of other citizens and express their opinions on various issues related to public administration. You can access the platform here.

In the final panel titled “Do citizens want good administration?”, moderated by Milos Djindjic, participants were Florian Hauser, Team Leader at the Center for Thematic Expertise of Public Administration Reform in DG NEAR, in the European Commission, Annika Uudelepp, Country Manager for Serbia and Regional Manager for EU Enlargement within SIGMA – OECD, and Jan-Hinrik Meyer-Sahling, Professor of Political Science, University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) and WeBER Advisory Council member.

“Citizens are quite comfortable with the ‘status quo’ because they enjoy the so-called ‘clientelism’ and passive attitude: they, therefore, overlook their need for better public policies, even though it is detrimental to them in the long run, but it serves them in the short term,” said Professor Meyer Sahling.

“We need to build a civic culture – learn to be critical thinkers, and assess our environment and our public administration”, agreed Florian Hauser.

Annika Uudelepp said that this is where civil society organisations should enter the scene, as they would serve as a “translator” of the citizens’ needs.

“Institutions and bureaucracies have their jargon, which is often not understandable to citizens, and citizens often do not know how to explain their demands. That is where civil society should enter the scene”, said Uudelepp.

The conference was held with the support of the European Union, and within the project “Protection of Civil Space – Regional Center for Civil Society Development” funded by SIDA and implemented by BCSDN.

Photo credit: Branko Birac (@vrlodobro)

WeBER Advisory Council Meeting

2021-02-10T14:39:28+01:0010/02/ 2021|News|

10 February 2021 – The WeBER2.0 Advisory Council (AC) meeting took place on the 10th of February 2021, gathering our esteemed AC members and the WeBER2.0 project team. The meeting was held online, and it served as an opportunity to not only catch up but also discuss the circumstances surrounding the 2019/2020 PAR monitoring cycle and the methodological approach our researchers used when producing the latest PAR Monitor report. During the meeting, AC members provided constructive feedback and comments on the draft chapters of the report, as well as expert advice on how the structure and the content could be further improved.

The main findings from the PAR Monitor 2019/2020 will be presented at the WeBER2.0 Second Regional “Citizens First” Conference, which will be held on the 25th and 26th of February 2021.

Q&A on the Call for Proposals „Local Civil Society PAR Enabling SGF“

2020-10-15T17:43:06+02:0015/10/ 2020|Announcements, News|

The Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility (SGF) of the WeBER 2.0 Project will be implemented in the period January 2021 – January 2022. A total sum of 225.000 EUR will be allocated to support up to 30 grants. The answers to all questions raised by the potential applicants are published below. The integral Q&A list is available in English as well as in local languages.

The information sessions about WeBER 2.0 SGF were held

By |2020-10-14T15:57:47+02:0014/10/ 2020|News|

Information sessions about WeBER 2.0 Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility (SGF) were held in all countries of the Western Balkans (WB) in the last week of September.

The overall goal of SFG is to strengthen the engagement of grassroots and other local civil society organisations (CSOs) in local public administration reform (PAR), thus further building bottom-up demand and brining PAR closer to the citizens of the region. Moreover, SGF aims to provide support for CSOs that are active in monitoring and evaluating PAR in WB and encourage them to engage citizens in PAR, advocate for PAR locally and establish a dialogue on PAR with local authorities.

The info sessions were attended by a variety of local and grassroot CSOs of the region who had a chance to ask questions and seek clarifications related to SGF. All questions received during the info sessions in all six countries, as well as through email, will be integrated and answered. The Clarifications List will be published on the WeBER 2.0 website by 15 October 2020.

In case you missed it, you can find a video recording of the info session held in your country by following this link.