Azerbaijan, Baku / corr. Trend K.Ramazanova / Trend's exclusive interview with the President of the CE Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Halvand Sard.
Question: In accordance with the new Charter of the CE Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, by next year the national delegation should resolve the issue on the provision of 30% participation of women in the composition of the delegation. Is it possible to expect the application of measures on the delegations that will not follow this quota? What countries do not observe this norm and how can it be explained?
Answer: For many years the Congress has been keen to increase the percentage of women in all delegations and has repeatedly asked member states to make further efforts to achieve this, including national associations of local and regional authorities consulted and involved in the process of the composition of the national delegation. However taking note that this issue was not always given sufficient attention by a number of the 47 member states, the Congress decided to fix a requisite of a minimum quota of 30% of women by 2008. This was unanimously supported by the Congress at its 2005 plenary session and endorsed and formally adopted by the Committee of Ministers early May 2007.
The next plenary session, to be held on 27 - 29 May 2008 will be the time to check how delegations comply with this.
In the instance that a national delegation does not comply with these criteria laid down in Article 2.2 of the Charter, its members will only be able to sit in the Congress without the right to vote or reimbursement of expenses. We will make sure however, that all delegations will be given adequate warning and time to prepare for this and to prevent such a situation from occurring.
Question: During the autumn session of the Congress there are plans discuss recommendations on Azerbaijan. What major milestones will be on agenda for discussion?
The agenda of the autumn session was adopted, but the discussion of the implementation of Congress Recommendations in Azerbaijan will be postponed to a later stage.
Answer: Municipalities are relatively new institutions for Azerbaijan. What should be done to consolidate the position of municipalities?
The European Charter of Local Self Government, which was signed by Azerbaijan in 2001 and ratified in 2002, specifies that effective local self-government is essential to democracy. On this basis, the Congress drafted a report on local and regional democracy in Azerbaijan in 2003 and highlighted in its Recommendation 126 (2003) several areas that should be improved for further compliance with the Charter.
The law on the status of municipalities of Azerbaijan should clarify the responsibilities of the municipalities by defining a set of specific functions which they would implement under their full and exclusive responsibility. It would be necessary to make a clear distinction between devolved state authorities and municipalities and to lay down clear rules. Considering that municipalities are relatively recent institutions in Azerbaijan, this devolution of responsibilities could be carried out progressively.
The devolution of responsibilities to municipalities should be accompanied by the transfer of sufficient financial and property resources.
Regarding the principle of administrative supervision, the law should specify which body is responsible for it and describe in details the scope and supervisory procedure. The mechanism should respect a balance between control and subsidiarity.
Moreover, further efforts should be made to strengthen inter-municipal co-operation. The creation of associations of municipalities in Azerbaijan shows some progress in this area, but Associations of local authorities should also be there to guarantee that the interest of municipalities are represented in the institutional dialogue with central authorities.
Question: The Congress recommended Azerbaijan elect a Mayor and adopt a law on the status of the capital city. Do the Azerbaijani authorities hold discussions on this issue?
The city of Baku has no form of self-government, despite its size and population; it is governed by a representative of the state executive. Capital cities have special responsibilities and tasks, and therefore the Congress advises to adopt special laws on the status of capital cities. The Congress recommended that this law provide for setting up a local public administration acting at overall city level and run by a council directly elected by the citizens. Even though a capital city sometimes deals with issues that are beyond local interests for reasons of economy and efficiency, local interests should be managed by a democratically elected council.
I had an exchange of views on this issue with President Ilham Aliyev during my visit to Baku in June 2006, but I do not know whether Azerbaijani authorities hold discussions on it.
Question: Azerbaijan prefers the model of elections of Mayor applied in Georgia. The Mayor of Tbilisi is elected by the Association of Municipalities. Does the Congress regard this model as acceptable for Azerbaijan?
Answer: According to the law in Georgia, the Mayor is elected by the municipal council, which is composed of councillors directly elected by the citizens. In the capital city of Tbilisi, the municipal council forms an executive office, which then appoints the Mayor. This system is in conformity with the requirements of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia is not at all involved in the election process.
Question: The Armenian delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities has repeatedly come out with a proposal on cooperation with the Association of South Caucasus. Azerbaijan does not consider it realistic to cooperate with Armenian municipalities until there is a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. How do you assess this initiative by Armenian?
Answer: When they joined the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan and Armenia made a commitment to find a solution to the conflict that opposes them on the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh. The Congress has repeated its encouragements to any measures that can lead to an improvement of the situation, including co-operation at the municipal level. Such a networking at local level and between associations of municipalities has considerably improved the co-operation between South East European countries.