Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South East Europe NALAS shared the local government experience of the region with the Iraqi local and national officials. Members of Iraqi Parliament and officials of Baghdad Governorate and local councils highly appreciated the expertise provided by NALAS in a conference held in Erbil/Northern Iraq.
NALAS Knowledge Center accumulates the experience of member local government associations and makes them available for local governments in South East Europe through different forms and methods. Extending its knowledge disseminating capacity to broader neighbourhood, NALAS co-organised with IRD/USAID a conference in Erbil/Iraq in order to share the region’s know-how in local government reforms. The Conference in Iraq held last week showed vividly that the use of such experience-based knowledge is of high value even beyond the geographic area of South East Europe (SEE). This is the case especially in countries with emerging democracy, where the local government system is just taking shape and where the multi-ethnic societies heal wounds from violent clashes. At the closing session of the Conference, the Member of the Iraqi Parliament, Mr. Kadhim al-Shimri, congratulated the organisers for what he qualified as “the highest quality conference held since 2003 in Iraq”, since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. For security reasons, the event took place in Erbil/Northern Iraq.
The conference titled “Cooperation between local governments in South East Europe and Iraq and Experience Sharing” was organized by the USAID funded Iraqi Community Action Program with support of NALAS. Over 100 representatives of Baghdad Governorate, district and sub-district councils as well as four members of national Parliament attended. NALAS experts presented the state of decentralisation in SEE with the special focus on local government reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia and Turkey. Council Members of Baghdad showed great interest in SEE experiences to shed light on their search for local government management model.
The Slovenian Association (SOS) Secretary General, Ms. Jasmina Vidmar explained the interaction between members of city council and citizens in EU countries, portraying her own experience as a Council Member of the City of Maribor in three mandates. While the Director for International Cooperation of the Union of Municipalities of Marmara, Mr. Murat Daoudov delivered his presentation in Arabic language on local government system in Turkey and the role of UMM in providing services to municipalities. NALAS Executive Director, Mr. Kelmend Zajazi provided an overview of the local government legislation in SEE, the reform drivers, including the Charter of Local Self Government of the Council of Europe, as well as the common obstacles which the countries in transition have faced in their decentralization path.
At the second day of the conference, Mr. Amir Kupusija explained Bosnia and Herzegovina experiences in involving citizens in the local government function, while Mr. Mladen Ivanovic from the Croatian Association of Communes described how decentralisation in Croatia served as the main instrument to restore trust and reconcile in the aftermath of recent wars in the Balkans. Finally, Ms. Natasha Acevska from NALAS Secretariat provided more details about the fiscal decentralisation reforms with an overview of the local government revenue structure in SEE.
No doubt that the Balkan experience in transitioning from the legacy of centralised socialism into a local democracy in a post conflict context drew great level of interest from Iraqi officials who face tremendous challenges in searching for the right model to develop their local government system and in the same time overcome internal ethnic and religious conflicts. Over 200 Iraqi local government councillors have been killed in the past few years during the civil unrest. However, it was impressive to see how these local leaders are interested and committed to move the process forward amid the security threats of their own lives.
Encouraged by the experience of Erbil conference, NALAS and IRD intend to organises a follow-up event for Iraqi local officials in South East Europe. Commenting on the success of the event, NALAS President Vladimir Moskov said: “In line with its Strategic Plan, NALAS will extend its knowledge sharing to neighbouring regions and broaden the geographic scope of its cooperation to the emerging democracies”.