With the support of the Swiss Government and the European Union extended through European PROGRES development programme, representatives of 25 local self-governments (LSGs) in South-East and South-West Serbia went on a five-day study visit to Switzerland, where they had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the way the good governance concept and principles were applied in that country.
During their visit, the LSG representatives learned about the local self-governments’ organisation in Switzerland, their financing and competences, citizen participation mechanisms and models of regional cooperation in the fields of public transportation, culture, economy and other areas.
The representatives visited four local self-governments near Bern and gained insight in the way a small municipality, Stettlen, is managed. Stettlen Mayor Lorenz Hess presented the main municipal planning documents, noting that stage-based development was the municipality’s priority and that early provision of information to the residents was the key to success.
Mechanisms ensuring citizen participation and inter-municipal cooperation were presented during the visit to the municipality of Hauteville, where particular attention was devoted to the measures for preserving the local economy and inter-municipal cooperation in extending services to the population. Crna Trava and Vlasotince used the opportunity to highlight their cooperation in extending social welfare services through a joint welfare institution.
The representatives of the Serbian LSGs attended a citizen assembly session in the Huttwil municipality and saw for themselves how the citizens directly participated in the debate on and adoption of the municipal 2016 budget, a singular example of the application of the instrument of direct democracy in practice.
“We had the opportunity to personally gain insight in the essence of the Swiss democratic order, which is based on small municipalities, assemblies of all citizens, and the residents’ expression of their will at referendums. Switzerland’s order is impressive and this study visit helped us understand how the system underlying it operates,” said representative of Aleksinac Uroš Veličković. Although the two states’ systems are very different, everyone agrees that we can immediately improve our coordination and ensure that our residents are more involved in decision making.
As noted during the visit to the town of Thun, it is difficult for the central government to make changes, because most of the processes stem from the local level and the municipal parliaments have to credibly represent the interests of their residents in keeping with the trust they have placed in their work.
“This study visit rounded off the knowledge gained at the six workshops held over the past year and a half and their participants were committed to work and acquired the skills they will use in the forthcoming period to develop recommendations on the application of what they learned in the local circumstances in Serbia. Management is a process in which vision, transparency and consensus of all parties are of crucial importance,” said Swiss Good Governance expert Mirjam Strecker.
European PROGRES has devoted major attention to good governance activities, in the endeavour to help the LSGs improve their work by introducing the principles of efficiency, transparency, accountability, civic participation and prohibition of discrimination.
“Our common goal is to build municipal capacities for good governance and initiation of structural local governance reforms and the donors, the EU and Swiss Government, will continue extending the LSGs support in that endeavour,” said Ana Nedeljković, Good Governance and Social Inclusion Sector Manager within European PROGRES.