AIM: start

SUN, 30 DEC 2001 00:57:11 GMT

New Law, Old Troubles

While Minister in charge was demonstrating optimism and the media, quoting other Ministers, claimed that the agreement was nowhere in sight, Parliament was expected to continue it session any day so as to adopt the new Law on Local Self Government, which is (after the adoption of constitutional amendments) one of the most important elements agreed upon in the Framework Agreement signed by leaders of the four largest parliamentary parties the adoption of which is a precondition for organising a Donors' Conference for Macedonia.

AIM Skopje, December 18, 2001

"A final solution for all open questions can be expected in the proposed Law on Local Self-Government," stated recently Faik Arslani, Minister for the Local Self-Government in the Macedonian Government. "I hope that already today or tomorrow we would be able to find a final solution and that the Law will be passed before the New Year". Education Minister Nenad Novkovski did not share his colleague's optimism convinced that "decentralisation proposed in the Law on the Local Self-Government" would "result in the decreased quality of education". At the same time, sources close to President Trajkovski's Cabinet (under whose supervision local and foreign experts are harmonising the text of the draft Law) announced that it was quite possible for the Parliament to continue debate on the harmonised bill and adopt the Law on the Local Self-Government. And while representatives of the community of local authorities informed President Trajkovski about their stands, the Prime Minister laconically said that everything should end peacefully with a solution acceptable for all parties involved. At the same time, he expressed hope that the Law would be passed by the end of the year, but if not that it would not be tragic because the only thing important was to get a good law.

The papers followed the same logic. "The Journal" (Dnevnik) announced: "The Law on the Local Self-Government will be enacted before the New Year", "The Evening" (Vecer) was of a different opinion: "Stands about the "Local Law" still not coordinated", while "The News" (Vest) informed that "all differences regarding controversial issues on the jurisdiction of communes have been ironed out" and that the parliamentary debate would be resumed on Thursday (December 20).

This optimistic-pessimistic vicious circle regarding the adoption of the Law on the Local Self-Government has been additionally filled in by party sources, which claimed that the agreement on the text of the law was nowhere in sight, which in other words meant that there was no chance that it would be soon adopted in Parliament. According to some media, the Albanian political parties got four version of the controversial parts of the law from experts. According to the same sources they thought that the submitted texts were not an improved, but rather a watered-down version of the proposed law.

The debate on the draft Law was suspended after the Parliament received a number of amendments from the Government, which essentially changed the competences of local self-government in the sphere of regional integration, joint administration and health and education, which were submitted by parliamentary groups of the Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM) and VMRO-DPMNE. Demonstrating their disagreement with any changes of the proposed text, delegates of the Albanian parties - Democratic Party for Prosperity (PDP) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) left the session, after which the Parliament went into recess.

The Law on the Local Self-Government is just one of the priorities of the Framework Agreement, which was incidentally signed by leaders of all the abovementioned, but now opposed, parties. It was envisaged that it would be enacted within 45 days as of the adoption of constitutional amendments, and that it would imply significant decentralisation of the republican authorities. As the deadline for the adoption of constitutional amendments had been exceeded by two months, it seems that the same would happen to the Law on the Local Self-Government. With this in mind, the international community has been pressuring the Macedonian Parliament for some time into enacting this Law. Moreover, the Donors' Conference, which should ensure financial aid to Macedonia for covering budget deficit which resulted from the war, has been postponed for the next year.

Naturally, the inter-ethnic relations are once again behind these events. Already in late eighties, in the last days of the old system, the last Socialist Government had proposed and the then delegates of Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia adopted constitutional amendments whereby municipalities were stripped of all power. Although the explanation was that, according to the concept of Edvard Kardelj (a theoretician of the socialist self-management), municipality had become a non-functioning mini-state, behind the disempowerment of the local authorities was the fear of Albanian municipalities being established in Western Macedonia, following the already seen example of Serbian autonomies in Croatia. It seems that the adoption of the Law on the Local Self-Government under the new Macedonia Constitution has followed the same logic. Nothing was changed regarding the competences of local authorities, although it was clear that such a situation did not suit precisely those for whom it was intended. Namely, under the presently valid Law on the Local Self-Government civil servants working in branch offices of various Ministries have greater competences than Mayors. In other words, it turns out that a mayor, elected at direct elections, has less competences than an administrative worker locally employed in that same municipality, who is lucky to work in a branch office of some Ministry.

Directly linked to the Law on the Local Self-Government were also the Law on the Territorial Division and the Legal Regulation of the Financing of Municipalities, both of which totally deposed the municipalities of power - the first one by introducing 132 municipalities on the entire state territory instead of the existing 32, and the second by leaving the decision on their financing up to citizens. It was, therefore, not surprising that all local administrations, irrespective of their ethnic affiliation, expressed their dissatisfaction with their position in the last ten years. More importantly, all Mayors and Municipal Councils demanded a change.

When the Government completed the procedure on the mentioned draft Law and submitted it to Parliament for adoption, it was thought that all differences had been settled, the more so as the Government insisted that the Donors' Conference be held before this year expired. However, it turned out that (although bitter enemies until SDSM's recent withdrawal from the Government) the SDSM and the VMRO-DPMNE found a common language and submitted a large number of amendments to the draft Law. The Albanian parties interpreted this as a new Macedonian move aimed at preventing the implementation of the Framework Agreement and at further avoiding the fulfilment of the promises given.

In that context, the propose Law on the Local Self-Government is just a new episode in all the troubles with the implementation of the document signed in Skopje by four leaders of major parliamentary parties on August 13, brokered by the President of the state and international mediators. As things stand now, very little has been realised from the Framework Agreement and there is an increasing impression that a political will to do that in the days ahead is lacking. On the other side, that opens possibilities for new temptations for the local fragile peace.