Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to open the 10th Annual Meeting of the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP). I trust that this reunion will bring value to the entire network of regional and local authorities from our region, and will also contribute to further empowering Moldovan communities and local governments.
Eastern Partnership countries are faced with common challenges in the area of local governance, and we have similar goals and aspirations. We share the goal to build thriving communities, which offer job opportunities, access to water and sanitation, good healthcare and education services to their residents. In the Republic of Moldova, this goal is in contrast with the sad reality that many choose to leave their hometowns in search of a better life abroad. Depopulation has hit our rural communities hard. We want people to stay; we want those who left to come back. In order to achieve that, we need to invest in our rural areas and create new opportunities for growth in every town. We must build Europe at home.
How can we do that? First, every locality, big or small, needs fair and consistent access to public funding for infrastructure development, capital constructions and other works. We cannot revive our rural communities without ample investments. For a long time, in Moldova, politicians in the central government dispensed with the funds for local development to meet their personal or party needs. In the hands of scheming politicians, grants and transfers became a lucrative tool for rewarding or punishing local authorities - that often included funds provided by donors. This stifled development and skewed the autonomy of local authorities.
The new Moldovan government and I set out to change this corrupt practice and restore a sense of fairness to the funding process and to local development. We are working on a program called ‘the European Village’, in which we want to put together various funding sources for local development and simplify the funding mechanism in order to improve the access of rural governments to financing for development and ensure a fairer process of getting the money. We are also considering extending this fund to support local businesses. Our plan is to make at least 100 million euros available to Moldovan communities every year for financing local development projects across the country.
Another essential element in the success of local development is fiscal decentralization. Many localities in Moldova have very small budgets, so they cannot afford to dispense resources for major infrastructure works. These communities often rely on external assistance to fund major projects - water supply, sanitation, road repairs, energy efficiency works, major constructions. We are very grateful for the support we get from our foreign partners, but we need a more sustainable model in the long run.
As I have said many times, I am a strong believer in an independent local government. A strong local administration is an important pillar of democracy - an essential one, I would say. There, at the grassroot level, democracy is strongest, people have direct access to their elected officials, and the distance between people’s needs or demands and the elected officials’ decisions is the shortest.
Mayors are among the most trusted institutions in Moldova. They have a direct connection with people in the community and can truly impact their lives - this is both a big advantage and a great responsibility. And mayors who work to improve the lives of their constituents need our full support.
Over the past years, various corrupt officials in power in Moldova put political pressure on mayors to submit to their agenda. They harassed those who refused to fulfil their unlawful political orders, often by using law enforcement or denying them access to funding. This ill-fated practice expanded political corruption, interfered with local fundraising efforts, and weakened our democratic system as a whole. The Government and I pledge to support and uphold the independence of local public authorities.
We will work towards building independent and responsible justice and prosecution, which would not engage in political blackmail.
Mayors must understand the power they yield. The source of that power is rooted in popular support and a strong connection to their community. Mayors play a crucial role in strengthening democratic processes and the tradition of democracy in our country.
Together with colleagues in Parliament and Government, we will work to strengthen local government autonomy and to make sure that mayors are less vulnerable to undue pressure. I hope that the regrettable situation when a single group or political party without popular support ends up controlling a vast majority of elected mayors by using pressure, threats, red tape or graft, is never repeated in Moldova.
Democracy is never a completed project, it’s always a lesson and a work in progress. But it’s a lesson we must learn and work we must do - for the benefit of our people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My country is currently faced with multiple challenges. We must overcome the prolonged pandemic. We need to clean up public institutions and advance the justice sector reform. At the same time, we need to provide economic opportunities and better living standards to our citizens at home while navigating a major economic crisis. In these complicated circumstances, central and local authorities must work together.
As a testimony to this, in February of this year, I signed an Agreement of cooperation with the Moldovan Congress of Local Authorities, CALM. CALM has been an important partner of policy and dialogue to the new Parliament and Government in Chisinau. We support the implementation of the Committee of Regions’ recommendations, developed with the support of theCongress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage representatives of local public administration from other countries in the region to build partnerships, support each other and share good practices. Many thanks to this forum, CORLEAP, for offering a good platform for such cooperation.
CORLEAP has been instrumental in the creation and strengthening of our main local government association, CALM. We are grateful for CORLEAP opinions, expertise and guidance, which have contributed to building the capacity of our local authorities. I also appreciate the contribution of the European Union and its recommendations to defend local democracy during the most difficult of times. We are very thankful for the numerous local and regional development projects implemented in my country with the financial support of the EU. We are indeed stronger together.