The basis of the state and local self-government system are enshrined in the Constitution and “On Administrative-Territorial Division” law of Republic of Armenia according to which the Republic of Armenia is divided into 10 regions and Yerevan was initially given the status of region but later the status of a district (as a result of 2005 constitutional reforms).
In the Republic of Armenia the local self-governance is only done at the level of districts. Each urban or rural district consists of 1 or several residences that are united in 915 communities, 49 of which are urban and 866 are rural.
The conception “On enlargement of districts and formation of intercommunity unions” was adopted in November 10, 2011, the aim of which was to unite the small and weak communities with the large ones and to form the new model of the local self-governance. The center of the district must occupy the central location, have at least 3000 residents and have transport hub that will connect the settlements with the main roads.
The government of Armenia considers the application of the conception urgent and expedient because among the key issues administrative-territorial structure, more specifically, the high degree of fragmentation, also the absence of formation of intercommunity units, development and implementation of districts’ non independent policy, the enormous amount of grants allocated to districts from State budget, the prevalence of Administrative expenses in the district budget, the asymmetry of the districts’ development and infrastructures’ distribution, the provision of low quality service to residents, demographic issues, etc. are pointed. That is, according to the government of Armenia, the application of the conception “On enlargement of districts and formation of intercommunity unions” aims to solve political, economic, social, cultural and other issues, which will provide the effective implementation of the local self-government system and improve the quality of life of the population of districts.
In order to make the analysis more impartial and objective, below we will introduce available arguments for and against the conception “On enlargement of districts and formation of intercommunity unions”, that may appear in case of implementation of community enlargement project. On the one hand let`s consider the benefits and risks from political, economic, social, cultural, demographic perspective, on the other hand let`s clarify the positive and negative consequences resulting therefrom.
Arguments in favor of district enlargement
Firstly, the current system of administrative-territorial division of the Republic of Armenia is unable to effectively involve the small districts that are the part of local self-governance into the field of developing and implementing independent policy, which in return causes the failure of local self-governance system.
Secondly, the Institute of the City Council doesn’t work efficiently in the districts and there is no feeling of joint governance and cooperation between the Councilors, which lead to the ineffectiveness of collective governance. Another problem is that in urban-rural districts the Head implements orders mechanically which also has a chain reaction within those having lower position. So there is a problem related to the development and implementation of independent policy by the governing body of the districts which is possible to be solved as a result of project’s implantation.
Thirdly, there are also significant differences between the districts which cause the asymmetry of development of the district: they relate to areas belonging to the districts, socio-economic infrastructures, the number of population, etc. And according to the number of population of Gegharkunik’s region Vardenik, which is the biggest rural district, has the population of 9745, and Syunik’s region Qashunik, which is the smallest rural district, has the population of 27. It`s obvious that the biggest rural district’s population is 360 times more than the population of the smallest rural district. Therefore the degree of deep fragmentation caused by the regions belonging to the districts, socio-economic infrastructures and the number of population will be relatively softened as a result of the project’s implementation.
Fourthly, besides the fragmentation of district population, under Local government’s current system condition it`s impossible to provide the population of small districts with necessary infrastructures like jobs, reconstructed roads, communal amenities, cultural, rest centers, etc. And unlike large vibrant districts the population of small districts is deprived of the opportunity to use these services and in case of enlargement of the districts citizens will be able to both use public services of a vibrant district and have alternatives. So it’s necessary to implement the centralization of power in the lower level and to provide the accessibility of public service to the citizens.
Fifthly, in its turn the enlargement of districts implies the consolidation of material and non-material resources, the reduction of grants allocations from State budget, provision of effectiveness of expense-result ratio, facilitation of State control over districts and so on that will increase the productivity of local self-governance. So if the distribution of resources and the input of technologies were formerly done in 915 districts accordingly wasting enormous costs, then it’s planned to reduce 3-4 times the provided costs and to direct them towards the solution of other problems within the framework of implementation of the conception.
Sixthly, the Councillors’ passiveness in districts is also a problem and in case of enlargement of the districts businesslike Councillors with political and civic active attitude will be formed which is impossible in small districts with population of 100-200 because there is a low level of competition and publicity.
Seventhly, in condition of current local self-governance, the heads of rural and urban districts are elected not due to political competence but due to districts authorities (авторитет). So the possibility of electing competent leader by the residents increases several times in case of the enlargement of the districts.
Eighthly, if the current local self-governance system doesn’t involve women in local self-governance processes de facto, then as a results of reforms there is some probability that field for competition will appear where both male and female competent representatives will be able to invest their governing capability.
Let’s add that originally this project had an experimental nature emphasizing zonal (the community will be enlarged based on economic, social features, etc.) and regional (the communities will be enlarged by the former Soviet territorial division map creating districts) approaches. Then it was planned to hold a referendum among the population of the districts in order to find out both the predisposition of population and making the latters the integral part of the formulation of self-governance system. The program is currently under the active circulation and if formerly referendum was planned, now, despite the referendum`s results, the unification of small districts within big districts is planned, combining zonal and regional models depending on the regional peculiarities like relief, socio-economic practicability, etc. without taking into consideration the residents’ opinion.
The arguments against district enlargement and project risks
Firstly, the former Soviet regional administrative division system underlies the Republic of Armenia’s administrative division. This fact leads to various problems in case of enlargement of the regions: especially the areas have formed the culture of living cooperatively, local mentality, coexistence character, traditions, etc. under the influence of former administrative system and administrative division. But in case of enlargement of districts, the population has worries that are connected both with redistribution of resource-production infrastructure and lifestyle, the differences between traditional relations and problems caused by that. The issue of choice of newly created district’s name is also disturbing because the understanding and mastering of it may cause tension.
Secondly, the enlargement of districts comes from concept of connecting communities. But if we plan to enlarge community we have to take actions based on a concept of the enlargement of small districts like stimulating economic growth, birth rate, the provision with jobs, the organization of migration, the reduction of emigration, etc. So instead of artificial and mechanical reshaping of small and weak districts we should provide the strengthening of a weak district.
Thirdly, maybe the case of cooperative governance of districts is acceptable for the population but a socio-psychological barrier arises because residents of a region feel isolated and don’t have sensitive association towards the district they have been attached to. Let`s consider the insertion of Hatsarat community into Gavar: despite the fact that Hatsarat is not a separate organizational-legal unit, they don’t feel and consider themselves as a part of Gavar according to Hatsarat’s inhabitants.
Fourthly, of course the project involves the reduction of grants from State budget and the optimization of local self-governance mechanisms but the shortcomings of political-legal system and the monopolistic position of political subsystem are obstacles for the effective implementation of the project. And in conditions of economic stagnations the enlargement of the districts will result in new socio-economic crisis which will be conditioned on the fact that in the conception nothing is said about increasing the level of the districts’ budgetary allocations, the subsidizing of agricultural products wasn’t done within the experimental period, and there is no guarantee that the development of economic infrastructures will occur resulting from the district reforms because in recent years such development in Armenia was recorded insignificantly. So these factors lead to the fact that the reforms are viewed as economically inexpedient. And even if in a short term the reduction of expenses may show positive result, then in a long term it’s also inexpedient in terms of economic efficiency.
Fifthly, the unification of a small and weak district with a strong and vibrant community may cause the isolation of suburbs contributing the development and more strengthening of center`s infrastructures.
Sixthly, there is a risk that in electoral processes the fact of having formerly numerically more population in large districts will influence the outcomes of electoral processes. It means that the winner will be the one whose strong and vibrant district has been joined by the other districts. Another risk factor is the fact that in case of the’ enlargement of the districts hundreds of people working in municipalities of former districts will remain unemployed and a new wave of emigration will arise caused by economic instability which leads to resistance towards reforms.
Seventhly, in rural areas there is a close contact between the leader and population of the communities, so in case of enlargement of the districts, chaos will arise and an atmosphere of distrust will also be created toward the governing body of a newly created community.
Eighthly, it`s a fact that in Armenia the institute of Councilors has not been formed yet. There are difficulties even in the small districts which relate to Councilors’ activities. So there are some worries about the issues and problems concerning inhabitants being left without answers and unsolved.
So, the effective implementation of the conception in conditions of the Constitutional reforms, political and economic instability, and gradually growing demographic crisis, social and political disagreements may face numerous obstacles which will decrease the effectiveness of the latter. Let`s add to this that State and Public Administration practice shows that the administrative-political reforms made in conditions of political and economic crisis will provide some positive tendencies but there will be no long term serious changes without the reforms of a legal framework in governance system (the Electoral Code, the Law on Local Self-Government, the Law on the financial equalization, etc.) the overcoming of the political-economic instability, the infrastructure reform.
And even if the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia allows the enlargement of districts without the local population’s permission this leads to the fact that the implementation of mandatory Administrative reforms causes the isolation and alienation of the communities’ population from the local self-governance system.
Next it is necessary to clarify the expediency of administrative reforms: if the priority is the facilitation of implementation of the local self-governance and State control then the conception of district enlargement may be the best option. But if the priority is the overcoming of district development and area disproportion then the State policy must primarily be directed towards the overcoming of not exact district’s, but the country’s economic development and crisis situation.
And from the drawbacks of pilot project let`s separate the fact that the priority of the project’s experimental usage was given to the zonal model and the regional one was neglected. So in terms of efficiency the results of the pilot project cannot state which of these 2 models is more appropriate- zonal or regional.
So from the analysis it’s obvious that the conception “On enlargement of districts and formation of intercommunity unions” has both positive and negative sides and to which extend the Administrative reforms will promote the development of local self-governance system, reduction of allocated expenses, overcoming the regional disproportion of the districts, increase of population’s living conditions, etc., will be obvious from the development of the conceptual process realization.
Author: Anna Danielyan։ © All rights are reserved
Translated by Tatevik Tumanyan