The administrative-territorial reform is one essential, imminent, it will boost the economy and financial autonomy, will anchor us in the administrative territorial system applied in Europe, say the experts from Chisinau.

The same is said by many political actors in Chisinau. The only difference is that the first suggest is that the reform should be done ‘leisurely’, ‘thoroughly’ and carried out to the very end, while politicians hurry to implement the reform during this year and would even agree to postpone local elections, scheduled for next summer.

Three arguments in favor of territorial reorganization

‘The administrative-territorial reform of Moldova is absolutely necessary and there are at least three basic arguments in favor of its implementation,” says Victor Juc, – deputy director of the Institute for Legal and Political Research of ASM.

First, in terms of territorial structure – 32 rayons are far too many for such a small area as that of the Republic of Moldova. There is an excessive fragmentation of the territory, the researcher explains, warning that this creates problems in business management.

Secondly, a possible territorial optimization by creating 5-6 regions, and here the central authorities should decide the exact number of regions, would result in a decision-making, fiscal and social decentralization. Local authorities will not ‘run’ to Chisinau for solving problems and looking for solutions, but they will solve the problems on the spot, Victor Juc explains.z

And thirdly, the regionalization would contribute to deeper cross-border cooperation with European countries. It is an important consideration given that Moldova follows a European way, and in several countries of the European Union the territorial regionalization is widely applied. Cross-border partnerships could be created through joint projects, the ASM researcher specifies.

It should be noted here that in the EU there are three basic models of organization of government: the one level model, spread in small countries like Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia, the two levels model prevailing in EU-27, spread in countries with average size such as Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal and Romania and the three-layer model, spread in large countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The two large ‘bumps’ in the way of possible reforms

‘It must be acknowledged from the start that there is a negative perception in the society concerning the territorial reorganization. The memories of the population related to the territorial reform in 1999, when the counties were formed, are too fresh. But the main problem is that the reform was not carried to an end’ said Juc.

Thus, according to the researcher, the ‘patriarchal-statist’ mentality of the population and the resistance of leftist parties would be the two major ‘bumps’ the pro-European political forces in Chisinau would have to overcome.

One of the big problems to us is that people have no confidence in the capacity of local authorities and before turning to them to solve their problems, they go to the capital city, to the central authorities to solve their needs, the same Victor Juc explains. And this is only part of the problem. There is a second part, that local authorities might not want this reform.

‘Can you imagine how presidents of rayons will react when they find out, for example, that out of three rayons of the north, only one will remain? And here local authorities that helped the ruling parties accede to the Parliament will ask a reward for it, saying ‘we did so much for  you, now it is your turn to do something for us’, said Juc.

In addition, according to the researcher, the resilience of the leftist parties must be taken into account, as for them any administrative territorial reorganization will be associated with the formation of counties, respectively, an approximation to Romania.

Rayons, counties or regions?

Asked about the possible variants of names of new territorial structures, the experts have stated three options – rayons, counties and regions.

An option would be to keep the current name of rayons, experts say, stating that in this case it is most likely that no amendments to the Constitution will be required. ‘Article 110 of the ‘Basic Law’ states that the territory of the Republic of Moldova is organized administratively into villages, towns, rayons, without specifying their number or the territorial limits’, the experts explained.

The name counties will generate the greatest controversy in the society, experts say. This is because of the 1999 reform, which in the people’s memory is a period when they were left without a job, many hospitals were closed, and to receive services they had to travel a considerable distance from their hometown.

And the third option – regions – would be a ‘neutral’ one, which could be applied like in a number of countries. However, like the name counties, it may arouse controversy, because it will again require amendments to the Constitution.

The Big Question: When should the reform start?

The administrative-territorial reform should be carried out based on a study with a solid rationale, reflecting the advantages and possible risks of the reform.

The study should be conducted by experts for at least for two -three months, and may even include pilot projects based on certain specific rayons, Alexandru Stratan, director of the National Institute of Economic Research of ASM told to

The researcher also stated that the reform should be carried out after the data of the Population Census have been processed and presented. These data would outline the demographic, social and even economic situation in Moldova. At the same time, Alexandru Stratan warned that territorial reorganization should be conducted concurrently with repair of local roads, in order for the residents to have access to new regional centers, but also with digitization of documents, so that people do not have to ‘travel a long way’ for a simple document issued by the same territorial centers.

On the other hand, if this reform is initiated before local general elections, there is a risk that it will be postponed, given that there will be four-year mandate of local elected officials for another four years, Alexandru Stratan warns.

Yes, the economic situation is full of uncertainty, since the state budget for 2015 has not yet been approved, and there is no study that we talked about above, but if we postpone the implementation of this reform, because of the current regional structure, Moldova will incur annual losses of hundreds of millions of lei for other four years, said Stratan.

In turn, Victor Juc said that local general elections should be held within constitutional limits, i.e. in summer or in autumn this year, and the administrative-territorial reform should be carried out after these elections. The reform cannot be implemented in such a short period of time, before the local elections, as this required developing a concept, a strategy and action plan to achieve this reform, argued Victor Juc. He reminded of the precedent of 1999, which should not be repeated under any circumstances.

Local representatives: The reform is necessary, and there are some small city halls that may disappear already during this year

Asked by Moldova.ORG, the president of Causeni rayon, Ion Ciontoloi said that, in his opinion, the administrative-territorial reform is necessary and beneficial to local authorities. This year the implementation of the Law on fiscal decentralization has started, and due to it, some small city halls may disappear, because they will not fall within the legal limits provided by this law.

The president of another northern rayon of the republic, which, however, asked not to mention his name, said he would overall support an administrative-territorial reform, but in order for it to happen, the parties promoting this reform should to come up with explanations and solid arguments in this respect. The good part is that we will be given full autonomy in managing affairs and small and inefficient city halls will disappear. But remember that these are places where people live, the president of the rayon said. In his view, this reform should be conducted gradually, ‘in order for us not to find ourselves back in 1999’.

It should be noted that the last general elections in Moldova were held in June 2011, following which 898 mayors, 1120 rayon councilors and 10630 village/commune/town councilor were elected. The first round was held on 5 June, in 513 localities, and on June 19 the second round was held.