Ambassador’s Remarks at the National Conference on Local Governance

The Honorable Prime Minister Rama, Minister Cuci, hard-working mayors, dear colleagues,

I would like to talk about money.  I would like to talk about how you mayors spend your money and how the government gives you money.

First, I call upon every mayor to use the money of the municipality wisely.  Bledi Cuci once told me that before the territorial reform, there were municipalities which would spend 80 percent of their budget on administrative expenses (fancy cars, luxury offices and staff who did nothing) and only 20 percent on services for the community.  This is outrageous.

If you drove here in a black Mercedes, BMW or Audi, you should consider whether that is the way your voters want you to use their money.  If your office is nicer than the local bakery or post office, again, I hope you will consider whether this money could be better spent on trash collection, improving schools or building parks.

I give credit to Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj for being the first mayor to refuse the municipality’s black Mercedes, and instead rent a small silver Toyota Prius.  I hope this will be the direction of a whole new generation of local leaders.

Second, the government told us that the territorial and administrative reform was passed to improve public services and enhance the quality of local administrations, not to win elections.  Now the government has a chance to prove this.

We have encouraged the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to give the local administrations the money they need to improve the services they offer to real people and pursue reforms at a local level.  We have also asked the central government to invest in local governments directly, rather than in regional development funds, which run the risk of being used to finance PS/LSI mayors and deny funds to opposition mayors.  Municipalities must also have their own source of funding through local taxation or tax sharing with the central government.

Finally, the United States Government, through USAID, is making its own commitment of money to this important task of local government reform and decentralization.  We have committed $12.8 million to help municipalities to undertake effective city planning, to make local government more transparent and responsive, and to improve every day services offered to local people.

We believe in the power of good local government to touch the lives of real people.  This is a foundation of democracy.  This is something that the Albanian people demand.