How can citizens get involved in making important decisions for municipalities in reality? Why don’t the public discussions organized by the administration take place? These are just some of the questions that the participants in the final discussions under the project “FOR” open and transparent partnership management in Shumen region were looking for answers to. The is implemented with the financial support of the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Operational Program “Good Governance”.

The working meetings were attended by representatives of 11 municipal administrations in the Shumen region, Galina Mincheva – Chairman of the Management Board of the leading organization of the project – Association “Democratic Association I Want to Know”, Kalin Slavov – Executive Director of the partner organization Transparency International Bulgaria and Ivan Ivanov Doctor of Political Science. The former ombudsman of Shumen Municipality Ivan Kapralov moderated the discussion.

Over the past 6 months, through a survey and civil monitoring, existing models applied by administrations in servicing citizens have been examined in order to prevent abuse of office, conflict of interest and corruption. After analyzing the results, the association’s experts, including Ilko Bozhkov, proposed 6 measures to ensure more transparency in the government with the active participation of local authorities and citizens in the Shumen region.

Two of the measures are anti-corruption, 2 – against conflict of interest and 2 – for improving administrative services.

The participants in the discussions agreed on the decision to test introduce one of the proposed measures – to involve citizens in the process of governance. For this purpose, the administrations must prepare a procedure through which the residents of the respective municipality can themselves set the topics of public discussions.  This, according to Ivan Kapralov, will “break” the wrong model of fictitious public discussions, which are announced by municipalities out of obligation and in which no one participates. He gave an example with the case of the “crows of Shumen”, for which at the insistence of citizens a public discussion was made with great response. The effect of the measure will be monitored until the end of the project in November 2023.

Among the proposed measures was the establishment of a system for the exchange of information on court cases initiated by or against the municipalities. Thus, according to Ivan Ivanov, a standard will be created in the legal services of municipalities.

A serious debate was also provoked by the proposal citizens’ disputes with the administration to be resolved with the help of an administrative mediator instead of in court. According to Ivan Kapralov, this should be a regional ombudsman, but for the election of such a legislative change is needed.

The third proposed measure was explained by Kalin Slavov, who is among the main drivers for the adoption of the Law on the Protection of Persons who Report or Publicly Disclose Information on Breaches in Bulgaria. In order to provide quality and uninterrupted service, despite the limited budget of municipalities with a population of less than 10 thousand people, observers propose that these administrations share resources in order to carry out their duties under the law. Thus, the same person can take care of the signals given by the residents of 2 or 3 municipalities.

The fourth measure provides for the appointment of an employee in the municipality to specifically train newcomers in good practices against conflict of interest.

The experts also suggest that each municipality should have an electronic system in which users of administrative services evaluate the service. This will also help with providing information for a study of the reasons for dissatisfaction and a rating of the administrative survey by municipalities can be prepared.