Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

Dear friends and loyal readers of this blog.

There is no finer time than this holiday season to express my sincerest appreciation of your friendship and support, and to wish you the warmest Holiday Greetings now and throughout the coming New Year. Thank you visiting and making this blog interesting via your contributions.

Season Greetings and Best Wishes for a Wonderful and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 15, 2006

What's Wrong with Moldovan Media?

Just as I was wondering whether to write or not about my own frustration and disappointment with Moldovan media and journalists’ professionalism, I visited Sandu Culiuc’s blog where he addresses a similar issue. His story is that a well-respected media agency, Infotag , used some information from his blog to make a news article, distoring his name, position and the key message of his blog post. Furthermore, that article was distorted even more by a local news portal Moldova Azi

My story is not so personal, but just as outrageous. Since my return to Moldova, I’ve been professionally involved in regional development policy making, so I believe I’ve had time to develop a pretty good understanding of the situation in Moldova. According to my own assessment and given the current political, economical and social circumstances, the progress is significant. In this sense, I was pretty surprised when I came around this article in Logos Press, which gives a completely erroneous description of what’s going on in regional development in Moldova. Based on this example, I question the professional quality of the journalist who published this article, and consequently, the newspaper as a whole. If everything else in this newspaper is as true as the facts in this article, then I guess I won’t be reading it seriously any longer.

Moldova to Develop a National Development Plan

The President of Moldova announced that starting next year the Moldovan government will begin working on a 4-5-year national development plan. I took this as good news as I’m not very happy with the current national document that everyone refers to as Moldova’s major development plans: the Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy. This document is narrow in scope and, as the title suggests, its aim is far from setting national development objectives, priorities and guidelines. As a result, Moldova has had no national development plan, which means that development throughout the country has remained largely unplanned, unaccounted for, and thus stagnant. And this is a big problem, which is finally starting to draw some attention.

The regional development policy, slowly but surely taking shape within the Ministry for Local Public Administration, is another approach to the same problem. Addressing regional underdevelopment through targeted public investment programs and support to regional and local capacities is a practice that has worked successfully in many countries, including EU, US, Japan. However, I noticed a high level of resistance to regional development in Moldova. Skepticism and distrust are the attitudes that people most commonly display regarding the Moldovan regional development policy in making. In my view, this resistance is based on lack of information and misunderstanding of the concept itself, as well as on the general distrust towards any governmental policies. I see it as a big challenge for the Moldovan government to try to regain people’s support, and persuade the public opinion about the positive outcomes of its development policies.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is Chisinau City Really Ready for an Earthquake?

I try to make time and patience for the daily news program on TV Moldova 1, the only channel operated by the national public broadcaster TeleRadio-Moldova . Time because there are many other things I would rather do after a long workday, and patience because it is so different from CNN – my favorite news channel. However, TV Moldova 1 is the only source of current information about public policies, debates, activities and events in Moldova for a great segment of Moldovans. Sometimes, I find out interesting facts as well. For example, yesterday the municipal authorities conducted a simulation of earthquake-related drill and evacuation in one of the most crowded places in Chisinau City, the Central Market. It was good to learn that local authorities still conduct such activities, as they are extremely important, particularly given the increasing vulnerability of Chisinau City to natural disasters such as an earthquake. In reply to "Do you feel prepared in case of an earthquake?" one vendor gave a confident affirmative answer.

But is Chisinau really ready for an earhquake? Chisinau is an earthquake-prone area. The last strong earthquake (7 degrees Richter) took place in 1977, and a couple of weaker earthquakes occured in Chisinau since then. What I’m worried most of all is the physical condition of the housing stock in Chisinau. Very poor maintenance and continuous unauthorized interventions in the engineering networks and buildings structure of apartment blocks are making urban dwelling extremely vulnerable to a potential earthquake. The fact that people are eagerly tearing down apartment walls, and municipal authorities are doing nothing to prohibit such practices indicates that the level of awareness of Chisinau residents regarding the potential damage they might be gradually inflicting on their livelihoods is insufficient. Although the evacuation drill in Central Market is a good thing, there is much more that Chisinau authorities should do to reduce the vulnerability and prepare residents for a potential disaster. Otherwise, it is pretty obvious that the damage brought about by a potential earthquake in Chisinau is likely to be enormous, including high costs in terms of human life and livelihood.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Prague Through a Tourist's Eye

I recently visited the City of Prague, also known as “the golden city of spires” on Vltava River. I found Prague very attractive, and the thousand-year history was visible particularly in the architecture. The touristy Old Town, the Prague Castle, the Little Quarter and the Jewish Town made a deep impression on me with beautiful medieval, gothic- and baroque-style churches and renaissance residential buildings, museums, cafes and theaters. One could wander through the meandering streets of Prague for days in a row and continuously discover hidden alleyways and unique views.

The Communist era left a visible mark on the city’s architecture as well, but the historical part has been preserved well and revived. The Museum of Communism is a good place to learn about the terrifying atmosphere and horrors of that era.

A city makes an impression on a first-time visitor through its architectural layout, and people. Particularly people working in the service sector like hotels, restaurants, museums, and shops are the first tourists interact with. Unfortunately, I was not impressed by the Czech tourist service community. Compared to Japan, the Czech service workers did not strike me as very polite or helpful. I wonder if this attitude is manifest only to foreigners or it is rather universal. This is also the case in Moldova and other Central and Eastern European countries. I wonder about the reasons for such attitudes and behavior.

I had wonderful weather in Prague for pictures, so I want to share a couple with you.

Karlov Most and Praha Castle

View of Church of Our Lady before Tyn from Old Town Tower

Vltava River in Sunset

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Economic Growth Does Not Guarantee a High Level of Human Development

After a successful completion of the course on regional development in Japan, I'm back in Moldova. Today I attended a conference where the publishing of the Moldova National Human Development Report 2006 was announced, and public debate on the findings of this report encouraged. This analytical document was prepared by Moldovan experts and financed by UNDP. My first impression: it is a good analytical piece, and tackles key development issues in the Moldovan economy and emigration, governance and administration, education and health. One achievement of this report is that it attempts to quantify the problems in the sectors that determine the level of human development in Moldova. Another achievement is that it proposes policy recommendations, even very bold ones. Last, public debate is always beneficial, and some very good comments on this topic were made today.

A finding that I find very interesting is that economic growth does not necessarily translate into a high level of human development. What actually matters much more is the quality of economic growth. According to this Report, a high quality economic growth is socially and geographically inclusive. The market alone will not achieve such high quality economic growth. Smart and well-targetted public polices are needed to ensure that all people in the country benefit from it. My sincere wish is that the government consider the findings of this Report in designing future policies.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Industrial Clusters: from Finland to Hokkaido to Moldova

Due to rapid changes in the global economy and the phenomenon of the aging society, the Japanese public budget is shrinking, at least in comparison with OECD countries. Today, Hokkaido’s share in the national GDP is 4%, while it absorbs 10% of the national public works budget. A negative outcome of the income-distribution approach is the high level of dependency of the region on central government grants and subsidies. Many professionals, guided by common sense and aware of the macroeconomic trends, question the sustainability of the regional development approach used in Japan, particularly in Hokkaido. They think that it is time for the Hokkaido region to learn to stand on its own feet. So, if the current approach is not sustainable, what is the future of Hokkaido?

Interestingly enough, this question was raised by the academic and business community in Hokkaido, who want their region to become more economically active and competitive both domestically and globally. In their quest for answers and solutions, they went to Finland where they studied the industrial cluster approach. As a result, the NOASTEC Foundation – a public-private partnership – was created in 1998, after a two-year planning effort led by the business people, academics and government officials. Since its establishment, its main task has been to encourage and facilitate cluster formation through provision of valuable information and networks to existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. As of today, NOASTEC’s membership consists of 83 businesses active in three broad industries: food, lifestyle and tourism. The most rapid development (e.g. total sales) occurred in the food industry.

From all economic development practices and policies that I learned about in Japan, this is by far the most suitable, straightforward and promising one for Moldova. There is a wide-spread agreement that three industries have significant economic potential in Moldova: wine-making, textile and informational technologies (IT). In my view, the wine-making should be developed as part of a broader processing food industry to become the basis of Moldovan export. At the same time, the IT industry should receive high priority as the basis for the emerging knowledge industry era. Development of the IT industry will help Moldova secure a niche in the rapidly expanding knowledge-based economy. (By the way, Richard Florida, in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class” identifies technology, talent and tolerance to be the necessary pre-requisites for booming IT-related industries) Finally, after identifying the industries with the greatest economic potential, there is a need for a NOASTEC-like organization which will support the formation and operation of specific clusters throughout the entire territory of Moldova. Hokkaido can offer excellent lessons in food industry clusters, Finland – in mobile communication and medical research clusters, Ireland – in IT clusters, Denmark – in dairy industry clusters. The experience and resources are out there! All we have to do is bring, and apply them creatively in Moldova.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Tour through Central Japan

Back from a four-day trip in the central part of Japan, including Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nagoya and Toyota cities. With the Jauntlet (on the left) you can make the same trip, virtually, and see the places I visited, since they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. These destinations were chosen for a particular reason: each embodies one aspect of development efforts in Japan. Osaka is the 2nd largest city in Japan. Kyoto has a priceless historical and cultural heritage, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The government approach of preserving and maintaining these beautiful cultural and natural landscapes are worth a praise. Needless to say, I enjoyed wondering through the streets of historic Kyoto the most, although the time was so short. Kobe suffered greatly from a 7.3 degree earthquake in 1995, but the physical traces of this event have been completely removed. It is now a very modern city. The Japanese learned valuable lessons from that experience, and are doing a lot to prepare for future disasters and mitigate their city's vulnerability. Nagoya is the 4th largest city (followed by Sapporo). It is home to the UN Center for Regional Development, and to the world-known Noritake Ceramic Factory. The city, as well as the entire region, promotes industrial tourism. The Noritake Factory and the Toyota Motor Corporation are two sites that we visited, and I personally found such tourism enjoyable, impressive and memorable. If I ever get a chance to buy a car, it will most likely be a Toyota.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Japan is Rethinking its Cities

Like many developed countries, Japan faces an important challenge – a rapidly aging society, which is caused by a low birth rate. In fact, Japan’s population is aging the fastest, followed by that of Germany, France, England and USA. In 2005, Japan’s population was about 127 million, and it is expected that in 2050, it will decrease by as much as 50 million, with 65-and-older population representing 35% . Young people postpone marriage, and think twice before having children. Population decrease usually leads to lower economic growth, lower public investment and services, high social assistance and health costs due to a growing number of elderly people, high tax burden on the working citizens, decreasing vitality of local communities, etc. How is Japan’s government approaching this issue? Instead of increasing its reliance on immigration like other developed countries, (Canada, US) Japan is testing alternatives ways of dealing with these demographic changes. In fact, the Japanese central government encourages sub-national governments to design the most appropriate solutions for individual local communities. National and regional development plans are being reviewed so as to adjust to these tendencies. New city planning techniques reflect this reorientation. For example, compact cities aim to control sprawl by concentrating all vital city functions in a clearly defined and well-developed city center. Key features of a compact city are: reduced environmental burden, aggregated city functions in neighborhoods, increased habitability, elimination of traffic congestion, organic transportation systems and improved disaster prevention systems.

Compact cities sound good. We'll have to see how well they work in Japan, and maybe it will be be worthwhile replicating them in other parts of the world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Understanding Regional Development

Our group had just returned from a field trip in Hokkaido countryside. In the course of four days, we visited Kushiro and Obihiro cities, as well as many other interesting locations and sites. You can find details on this field trip, as well as some pictures on the left, on Jauntlet.

In the evenings, I’ve been reading a very good book on regional development, which I’m happy to have discovered, entitled Regional Development in Third World Countries: Paradigms and Operational Principles. The author, Haruo Nagamine, was a distinguished Japanese development professional and trainer, who attempted to understand and approach the challenge of achieving balanced prosperity and well-being in the developing countries. Although his work and research was focused on South Asian countries, I find his analysis, conclusions and recommendations relevant to current realities in Moldova – a low-income country in transition. Here is Nagamine’s list of constraints that developing countries have to consider (and overcome) in designing and implementing their regional development policies:

Economic constraints
Stagnant manufacturing industries
Low level of technology
Insufficient employment opportunities
Shortage in basic means of production

Social Constraints
High population growth (not the case in Moldova)
Inadequate provision of basic needs
Inappropriate school curriculum
Inflated material desires

Physical Constraints
Concentration in primate cities
Poor infrastructure
Inadequate maintenance and operation of infrastructure

Constraints in Development Administration and Finance
Ill-defined administrative responsibilities
Inadequate coordination among administrative bodies
Dependence of regional budgets on central governments (in Moldova, it is local governments)
Political system inimical to democratic representation (less applicable to Moldova)
Bottlenecks to community participation
Promotion in civil service

General Constraints
Limited availability of information
Vicious cycles of entrenched constraints

Nagamine states that until now – that is in the past five-six decades – regional development policies of South Asian countries have not been very effective, and provides the reasons why. Why has it been so difficult for Japan’s neighboring Third World countries to replicate Japan’s success in regional development, particularly given Japan’s persistent and active mentorship? What can Japan and its ODA recipient government change in their approach of regional development? The lesson for Moldova is that planning and managing regional development should be approached in the most engaged, professional, disciplined, creative, and consistent way. Nagamine expressed this very well:

“Effectiveness of development planning largely depends on the leadership of the government and the willingness of people to act toward a common goal.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Formula for Good Agriculture

This past week, our group learned about agricultural policies and practices in Japan. Five decades ago, the Japanese government decided to make its northern region, Hokkaido, its main food supplier, and since then it has invested heavily in agriculture land improvement through large scale drainage, irrigation and fertility-enhancing projects. Since two thirds of Hokkaido’s 1.2 million hectares of cultivated land originally had a low level of productivity, the current high yield farmland has not come cheaply.

The national agricultural policies are being implemented at the regional and local levels via a network of Land Improvement Districts (LIDs) that manage quite sophisticated agricultural engineering and land conversion projects. Individual farmers who are land-owners are actively involved in LID associations, which ensures the participatory aspect of decision-making in agricultural policies. In fact, the staff of LIDs are ex-farmers. The projects are financed in the following way: 50-66 % - from central government, 17-30% from prefectures, 6-14 % from local government, and individual farmers contribute the remaining 5-15%.

Another component of Japanese agriculture are agricultural cooperatives, managed by agriculture professionals whose major objectives are to support farmers in all possible ways, foster cooperation and consensus among farmers, and promote governmental policies in agriculture. There are about 840 cooperatives in Japan, and around 120 in Hokkaido. Farmers make up the membership of these cooperatives, pay membership fees, participate in the decision-making process, and benefit from a wide range of services such as equipment rental, loans, whole-sale and retail networks, training, consulting, etc. In addition, these cooperatives are active political lobby groups.

In conclusion, the Japanese agricultural model follows a pretty straightforward formula:

Good agriculture = a clear governmental policy based on pre-defined national priorities + adequate financing + a strong and efficient institutional and administrative framework + well-organized, properly supported and politically-represented farmers.

This could be a perfectly applicable formula for agriculture development in Moldova, particularly because in the Soviet times, the first three components had been in use as well. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that Japan also faced the challenge of fragmented land (due to privatization). However, the agricultural cooperatives and LIDs are the solution to that problem, and a means to sustaining competitiveness of Japanese agricultural products.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is the Non-governmental Sector a Reflection of the Government?

During my training, I do not hear much about non-governmental or third sector in Japan. When I ask about the participatory aspect of the decision-making process in the public sector, it seems like, besides governmental agencies, and government-affiliated institutions, the only other stakeholders are university professors and business (association) leaders. My understanding is that the government itself requests input from the academia and the business community (on economic development policies), and then makes the best-informed decisions which are subsequently followed by citizens and businesses. Excluding universities, it looks like the non-governmental sector is either weak or inexistent in Japan. Yet, the Japanese society is highly organized, democratic and developed.

In Moldova, development of the non-governmental sector has been highly encouraged, particularly by the donor community. Everyone has created or wants to establish a non-governmental organization. The focus is frequently on the non-governmental part rather than on organization part. As long as you are not with the government, you can be a hero! I think this attitude is responsible for today’s situation in which we have a weak government, weak opposition, and a weak civil society. None is good (visionary, professional, honest, creative) enough to do a proper job in any sector.

Moldova might want to look at Japan’s model: the government is in the center of decision-making, but for high-quality and informed decisions, it relies on the academic (scientific) and private sectors. Even in the case of the highly decentralized American society, all three sectors (public, non-profit and private) are moving (undoubtedly, with much more debate) in the same direction.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

How Important is a Government?

The role of the Japanese government in shaping the country’s economy and ensuring a high level of development throughout the regions has been immense. I think Japan has been pretty fortunate in terms of its leadership and government, particularly after the II World War. In this sense, some countries are just luckier than others. I don’t mean to ignore other factors that contribute to a country’s well-being, such as the geopolitical situation, world economy, and culture. However, the quality of a government, almost always, makes the most significant difference.

In my opinion, the centralized Japanese government system works well because the central government has successfully maintained its authority, and has responsibly done its work. These, in turn, led to political stability that earned people’s trust and support. This allowed the central government to design, import, adjust, modify, implement various types of policies to secure both economic and social development of the country over the years. Why aren’t the Japanese questioning and debating their government’s policies very much? My guess is, perhaps, because their government has rarely let them down, and their trust has not been undermined. In my own experience, Japanese public officials that I’ve met have inspired trust. Not all of them can give you the ‘big picture’, but I always feel that they are very good at whatever their specific job is.

Moldova is the reverse of Japan. Almost nobody trusts or respects the government, which is totally understandable given its low performance, responsibility and accountability levels. Even now, when a certain level of political stability has been achieved, the political agenda of the Moldovan government is still rather vague. People are either indifferent towards, or afraid of government. None of these attitudes is very productive. In my view, the Moldovan government needs to earn people’s trust and support by being more transparent and result-oriented. People’s support of governmental policies might make running this country a more productive endeavor.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Development and Decentralization

In the last five decades, Hokkaido, one of Japan’s forty seven prefectures (second tier of government), has received a huge amount of funding for development from the central government. Development includes public works such as road improvement, ports, airports, railways, afforestation, housing, municipal services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In 2005, Hokkaido received USD 6.3 billion (10% of Japan’s public works budget), while it accounts for 4.4% of Japan’s population and 4% of national GDP. Over the years, Hokkaido has been perceived as extremely important in terms of national security (military, food) and consolidation, which has justified the high level of spending on its development from the national budget. The outcome of Japan’s development policy in Hokkaido today is a high level of well-maintained infrastructure. To me, everything looks brand new. In comparison, infrastructure in New York City and Paris looks rather worn out. Moreover, the Hokkaido prefecture has asked the central government to reduce the amount of public investment in Hokkaido because it can no longer afford its share (15-20%) in financing these projects.

These being the facts, the next question concerns how this huge amount of money is spent. Until recently (mid 90s), in Japan, the decision-making in the public sector had been highly centralized. The central government had once decided that Hokkaido was of high national interest, and since then it had managed and financed the entire endeavor. Basically, the top-down approach had been consistently used. The central government developed national and regional development plans, created implementation bodies, deconcentrated a part of spending authority to the regional level, and provided the bulk of resources. All capital investment projects were designed and decided upon by the central government with almost no input from the local governments or private sector. The negative outcome of such a policy – decreasing self-reliance of local communities, and lack of sustainability – has been duly acknowledged in Japan.

The current plan, the 6th-term Hokkaido Regional Development Plan (1998-2007), includes a bottom-up approach, and is said to reflect the shift from the public sector to the private sector, and from the central government to the local government. The local governments and public sector are encouraged to take greater responsibility for the sustainable development of their regions. In short, decentralization is on the agenda of the Japanese government now. Although decentralization is a new approach for the Japanese, my bet is that they will successfully manage this process.

Moldova’s decentralization process started in the 90s, too. After 15 years of independence, the level of decentralization in Moldova is considered very low, despite continuous efforts, discussions and promises. Keeping in mind that decentralization is a means to a more efficient and sustainable development, rather than a goal in itself, I am wondering whether the failure of decentralization in Moldova is a consequence of erroneous understanding and planning of national development. In fact, which are the development objectives and priorities of Moldova? Or, a more difficult question: what are the national interests of Moldova?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Regional Development in the World and the Public Servant Profession

Today, our group met with the staff of the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau, which is the local branch office of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. After listening to each participant make a presentation on regional development structures and processes in their countries (Indonesia, Phillipines, Myanmar, Sri Lanca, Tanzania and Macedonia), I made the following conclusions:

  1. Each of these countries has some type of regional development policy with a corresponding legal and instititutional framework.

  2. Regional development is a central government initiative & responsibility, and requires significant efforts and resources. Donors trust and prefer this approach.

  3. Ensuring local participation is a challenge everywhere, even in Japan.
The work day ended nicely in a typical Japanese restaurant where, while enjoying sashimi (a typical Japanese dish of raw fish) and discussing public administration, it turned out that Moldova was the only country (of those represented) whose public servants did not have to take a professional examination before starting their jobs. While in the other countries a position in the government is prestigious and highly competitive, in Moldova a public servant is not even considered a distinct profession.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Japan is an Imperfect, yet Beautiful Country

The training course General Management for Regional Development and Planning will take place primarily in Sapporo, Hokkaido (the region in Japan that benefited from central government-designed development), although several study visits to other regions are scheduled as well. The 2-day orientation organized by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – the main implementation agency of Japan’s ODA – aimed to introduce us, the participants (public employees from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Tanzania, Philippines, Macedonia and Moldova) to the Japanese education, economy, culture, society, politics and public administration. I found the brief lectures on each of these topics - well-organized and delivered in good English by university professors – very interesting. The following statements attempt to describe Japan of today, and capture its particularities:
- Education is perceived as key aspect in human development (almost100 % attendance rate in primary, secondary and high school, 50% of high school graduates get higher education).
- School year starts in April and ends in March.
- Cooperation and teamwork is highly valued and encouraged, while expressing one’s (different) opinion is not.
- Japanese people are not really religious. Zen Buddhism and Shintuism (each thing has its own god) are two main religions in Japan, and they peacefully coexist, often in the same household. Many Japanese celebrate Christmas as well, just because they find it enjoyable.
- The Japanese like small, exquisite, simple, nature-inspired and imperfect things. The find imperfection beautiful. God, nature and humans are imperfect, and the world is a collection of imperfect things.
- The communication style of Japanese is circular (they never say directly what they think), which is very different from the direct communication style of North Americans and Europeans. According to some research, North Americans talk 6 hours per day, while the Japanese – only 3 hours.
- The tea ceremony – chono-yu – is a very specific and traditional socializing event where people enjoy each other’s company in silence for hours.
- The Japanese society is ageing, the birthrate is dropping, and the youth prefer to live with their parents until marriage.
- Globalization challenges the Japanese salaryman prototype – the office worker who dedicates his life to the company for life-time employment. Moreover, the Japanese exemplary work ethics (dedication to company, own life sacrifice, long hours) leaves its toll on the Japanese workers' physical and mental health.
- The Japanese economy is declining, and the traditional ways of doing business – shikkai and keiretsu systems - are challenged by the global economy. Nevertheless, the SMEs – the backbone of the Japanese economy – are expected to regain Japan’s international competitiveness.
- The political and administrative systems in Japan have been molded on the British and North American parliamentary models after the World War II, retaining any political power from the Emperor, and promoting renunciation of war. The Prime-minister is elected by the bi-cameral legislature (Diet) which for the last forty years has been dominated by one Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
- The inter-governmental relations are highly centralized, and prefectures and municipalities enjoy a 30% quasi-autonomy. Local governments receive all revenues from the central government, and have discretionary spending authority over only 30% of their budget.

The first message conveyed to me by the lecturers is that Japan is not a perfect country, which makes sense considering Zen principles. What is striking is that the Japanese are willing to openly admit it to themselves and us, their foreign guests from the very beginning. This openness generates reciprocity, trust and constructive dialogue. This might be the first lesson that Moldova (and not only) could learn from Japan: Ok, these are our problems…let’s analyze and quantify them…then agree on a solution…then work hard TOGETHER, and, as a result, things might improve.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A New Comparative Perspective for Moldova: Japan

Konnichiwa from Japan! Moldova is one of many countries receiving official development assistance (ODA) from a number of higher-income countries, such as US, Japan, EU, Canada, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, etc. The philosophy behind ODA is that lower-income countries like Moldova need various types of assistance for their development, and the rich countries are willing to contribute. In past years, I developed an interest for and, gradually an understanding of, how ODA works from both perspectives: the donor country and the recipient country.

I am currently in Japan, representing the Moldovan government, and benefiting on behalf of my country from one of Japanese ODA programs, namely, a training on regional development and planning. This post opens a new series of articles on such topics like ODA policies and practices, Japanese experience and practices in regional and local development and planning as well as other public policies, and, of course, Japanese people, culture and society.

There is one major reason why I will bother to write about Japan and its development experience. By accepting this type of assistance, the Moldovan government acknowledged that there is something useful to learn from Japan. Similarly, by accepting to participate in this program, I made the commitment to disseminate and use in my work whatever I find interesting and applicable upon my return. So, as someone who believes in the participatory approach of the decision-making process, I want to share these things with the readers of this blog, welcoming your comments, suggestions and ideas. Arigato gozaimasu (thank you)!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What Could Happen After an Illegal Referendum?

Perhaps everyone who reads this blog is aware of the illegal, widely-discussed and highly controversial referendum that took place in Transnistria last Sunday, 17 September. I watched several TV programs/talk shows on Moldovan television on this issue. The opinions regarding the significance, meaning and implications of this event vary greatly. On one hand, there is the every-problem-is-an-opportunity-attitude, which I also share. These people think that the referendum will change the status-quo of the negotiations, given that after the referendum, the Transnistrian authorities cannot be regarded as a serious and legitimate negotiating partner. This will allow the Moldovan authorities with the support of bigger world powers like US and EU, as well as international organizations like UN, to put more pressure on Russia to withdraw its armed forces from the Moldovan territory. On the other hand, there is a growing number of people who think that Moldova should give up Transnistria, and let it become whatever it wants, even part of Russia. Although this attitude is partly justified by the exhaustion caused by the prolongation of, and chronical failure to solve this conflict, it is still wrong. In my opinion, giving in on Transnistria would mean abandoning 550,000 people to an illegal self-proclaimed government and giving up on the very idea of achieving democracy in that area. In my view, the Moldovan government should commit even more to the goal of an reintegrated country by engaging in increasingly persistent and active diplomatic actions.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Does Moldova Need Regional Development?

A regional development policy begins with the decision of a national government to provide additional support to less developed areas of a country. Everywhere in the world, even in the richest countries, disparities in the development levels of various regions exist. These disparities are generated by various geographic, historic, economic, social and cultural factors. The governments all over the world intervene to reduce these disparities by focusing additional resources and investments into these disadvantaged regions.

Development disparities among regions exist in Moldova as well, the most pronounced one being between Chisinau Municipality and the rest of the country. The Moldovan government has made the political commitment to support the less-developed regions via the regional development approach. This commitment is reflected in its key national policy documents, such as the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (art. 67), Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (ch.6.10), and Moldova-EU Action Plan (ch.22).

Beside an acute need for a regional development policy in Moldova, its mere existence can secure access to a great amount of international donor funds. Many donors, including EU, UK and Japan, are aware of the effectiveness of the regional development approach, and are willing to make significant financial contributions via a regional development institutional infrastructure.

Therefore, the next thing the Moldovan government must do is develop and implement the most appropriate regional development policy. Although efforts have been made during the last three years, the country cannot report any significant achievements. The recently created Ministry for Local Public Administration has been charged with this mandate. The world experience in regional development is huge, so everyone genuinely interested in regional development has the opportunity to learn from this pool of readily-available knowledge.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Economics of a Language

The 31st of August is an official holiday in Moldova. It is supposed to celebrate 'our language.' In 1989, 'our language' was considered the Romanian language, the mother tongue of the Moldovans of Romanian descent (about 70% of Moldova's population). At that time, such celebration of the Romanian language complemented the national revival of the Republic of Moldova. The mother tongue of the majority people in the former Soviet Moldavia has been neglected for a very long time, therefore the joy of those Moldovans can be well understood. It was then when the Romanian language was declared the official state language.

Since then, obviously, the languages have not changed. My mother tongue continues to be Romanian. What has changed is the government, opinions and politics. For example, the current government prefers to call the same language Moldovan, and pays less attention to celebration of Our Language holiday. In a political realm, this is understandable.

What is less acceptable is the public cost of politicizing the language issue. After 15 years of independence, the number of those who cannot communicate in Romanian is relatively large.

From among all costs that the Moldovan government has transferred on to citizens (education, health, housing, etc.) those deriving from learning the state language should have been the least problematic and painful. But judging by the continuously large number of non-Romanian speaking citizens, the incentive to learn the language has been low. Instead of bearing the costs of communicating its policies to these citizens (e.g. translating all legal and normative acts, official documentation, government web-sites, on-line publications into Russian), as it has been doing for several years now, I think the government should defer these costs on to those citizens, thus creating the needed incentive to learn the state language.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Moldova is Celebrating its Independence Day

Today, 27th of August, Moldova is celebrating 15 years of independence. In 1991, the Moldovan government, supported by the majority of Moldovan citizens, proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union. It is an important event, of which the scale and scope of today’s celebration is proof. The President of Moldova, together with other high-level officials, are inaugurating new streets, cutting ribbons for new constructions and sites, and making public speeches. On this day, it feels very good to be a Moldovan citizen in a free, independent and peaceful country. Long live Moldova!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Moldova's Future Remains Uncertain

Listening to various opinions about the same event/ situation might bring you closer to the truth. The report published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) "Moldova's Uncertain Future" contains an interesting analysis of recent initiatives to approach several Transnistrian-related problems. One is the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) launched in late 2005 to help curb smuggling along the Transnistrian segment of the Moldova-Ukraine frontier. Another one is Kiev’s implementation of a landmark customs regime to assist Moldova in regulating Transnistrian exports to reduce the ability of Transnistrian businesses to operate without Moldovan oversight.

The report finds that these measures have not forced Transnistria to make diplomatic concessions, as anticipated. ICG thinks that now "the best chance for moving toward a sustainable settlement is to convince the Transdniestrian business community that cooperating with Moldova is in its own interests. There is evidence that some business leaders are growing frustrated with Smirnov and may be willing to work with Chisinau."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Is Chisinau Ready for the Capital Market?

The development needs of Chisinau City are enormous. According to some estimates, total capital investment needs amount to about $3 billion for the next 13 years. This is a huge amount for the capital city of one of the poorest countries in Europe where the average hourly wage is 70 times lower than in Denmark. Some people prefer to label this estimate as “impossible” or “unreal,” and accept the status-quo. I prefer to approach this figure as a price tag for a better life in Chisinau. Then, the question is: can we afford a better life, and if yes, how?

This happens to be the central issue of a study I’m currently doing for Chisinau City. How can the City finance its development needs? According to the principles of fiscal theory, capital investments with a life cycle that spans across several generations of users should be financed equitably by taxpayers of each generation. It is not equitable for the current taxpayers to pay fully for the schools, roads, bridges that will be also used by future generations. This is the main idea behind municipal bonds: first, the City issues bonds to collect debt to build capital public goods, and then it repays the interest and principle of this debt over a longer period of time. As a result, users from subsequent generations share the cost of the public good from which they benefit.

Is Chisinau ready for this new practice? Not really. It has never issued municipal bonds. It lacks institutional capacity in this area. The current management of municipal finance (mainly budgetary revenues and expenditures) has many shortcomings. Fiscal policies are developed and lobbied at the national level. Nevertheless, Chisinau must start building these capacities and getting ready for entering the capital market. Hopes of becoming a modern European city cannot be supported by the revenues of the present generation alone.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Moldovan Wines: A Future Strategy

Moldovan winemakers are attempting to conquer the European market, particularly after Russia’s ban on import of Moldovan wines. Even if Russia would allow Moldovan wines back on its market, their image has already been seriously damaged. As always, every problem is an opportunity. Moldovan wines need to be re-invented. For instance, an improved image and increase competitive capacity might be outcomes of one consolidated brand. Instead of having hundreds brands (some of which are pretty stupid, e.g. A Nun’s Sin or A Monk’s Sinful Dream) our wines could enter new markets under one brand such as Moldovan Wines, suggests Denis Stirbu from KSB Partners.

This idea makes sense even more in the context of the ongoing reform in European winemaking. Because the wines of the New World (the Americas, Australia) are becoming more popular, presumably due to their simple and clear labels and brands, e.g. Merlot California, the European winemakers intend to do the same. Consequently, in 2007 French wines will reach their old and new customers under one brand, Sud de France.

When I lived in New York City, I could not find too many Moldovan wines in local wine stores. Yet, although I did find a couple of bottles, I did not buy them because I wasn’t really sure about their contents. Instead, I used to buy the Australian Yellow Tail Merlot or Cabernet. However, of all European wines, I prefer Italian. I hope one day I can add “and Moldovan.”

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Moldova vs. Russia: Next Round

The biggest and most important event in terms of Moldova's foreign policy is the recent official meeting of the Moldovan President Voronin with the Russian President Putin that took place in Moscow. Its importance derives from the fact that the relations between these two countries have been tense for the last three years, since Moldova's refusal to sign the Kozak Memorandum prepared by Russia, and intended as a solution to the Transnistrian conflict. It should not be suprising that the Kozak Memorandum, as any other agreement prepared unilaterally by Russia for Moldova, given the present distribution of power, completely neglected Moldova's territorial integrity aspirations.

What this official meeting, first in the last three years, will bring about is still unclear. There are high hopes related to improved political and commercial relations with Russia. This meeting marks the beginning of a new phase in the political dialogue, and will most likely contribute to stabilization of Moldo-Russian relations. There is no other way. However, again and as always, it's up to the Moldovan government to act and negotiate strategically so as to obtain as much as it is realistically possible from this renewed relationship with Russia. The underlying disequilibrium of political and economic power between Moldova and Russia will never change, thus the best Moldova can do is to learn to take advantage of opportunities, be diplomatically nimble and smart, and continuously seek support from larger powers that have the ability to negotiate with Russia on more equal terms.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Good News for Local Governments

The local government reform in Moldova has been heavily criticized by Council of Europe institutions such as the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The major compaint is that after 15 years of reform, the local governments still rely heavily on transfers from upper tiers of government which limits local autonomy significantly. Oftentimes, local revenues raised within the boundaries of the locality are insufficient to cover even the administrative expenses of the mayor's office.

The key problem rests with the legislation. Finally, the legislation is soon to be improved, and the major shortcomings will be eliminated. The Parliament has already adopted the draft new law on local public finances in the first reading. I have read the new piece of legislation, and, in my opinion, it contains important provisions that can lead to an increased financial autonomy of local governments.

This is to be continued in the next Parliamentary session which will take place in October.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New Foreign Policy for Moldova

I ran across a very interesting article about Moldovan foreign policy, particularly concerning the relationship with Russia. The author, Igor Botan, executive director of Association for Participatory Democracy “ADEPT”, attempts to explain why the Moldovan Parliament postponed adoption of the recently reviewed national security and foreign policies, in the context of Russia’s recent political and economic pressures on Moldova. I’d recommend reading the entire article (, but I will briefly present the major ideas.

The Moldovan legislature chose to wait and see “how things go.” This, however, does not translate into an abandonment of its commitments vis-à-vis EU. Neither does the Moldovan President’s attendance of the informal CIS summit that took place in Moscow on 21-22 July. According to Botan, this politically-significant behavior has more to do with keeping a specific segment of the Communist Party’s electorate “happy” concerning Moldovan relationship with Russia. In reality, though, this relationship has been seriously and irreparably damaged. It has been proved that "friendship" with Russia implies very high costs for small countries like Moldova. This problem opens a set of opportunities for Moldova. They should determine its foreign policy according to the following scenario. In the short run, the priority should be successful implementation of the EU-Moldova Action Plan. In the medium run, Moldova should strive to join Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), and in the long term, the priority should be joining EU together with the West Balkan countries.

To me, this sounds like a great plan! What do you think?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Moldova is Coming Closer to EU: Is It For Real?!

On February 22, 2005, the Moldovan Government signed the EU-Moldova Action Plan (AP), and commited to implement all its provisions in three years. The AP, along with the Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EGPRS), has become a major instrument which governs various types of reforms in the political, social and economic life in Moldova.

To my delight, my own observations allow me to conclude that these two documentents are more than wasted paper. On one hand, implementation of EGPRS is expected to bring Moldova out of poverty by stimulating economic activity. On the other hand, implementation of the AP is intended to bring Moldovan institutions, legislation and the entire society closer to European values, practices and markets. Obviously, there is a loooong way until these objectives are achieved, but as the saying goes, the intention is what really counts.

It's been a pleasant surprise for me to witness that the central government is indeed set on achieving the goals stipulated in these two strategic documents. This is the right starting point. It will take some time until all public officials and employees begin taking this process seriously, but given the unyielding pressure from European Commission and Council of Europe, the bureaucratic cart will ultimately move in the right direction. This, in of itself, is very good news. At least for optimistic people like me.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More about Education: To Banish Others or Reform Yourself?

On Thursdays, Moldovan national radio broadcasts live Parliamentary sessions. Today the topic of hot debates was education. More specifically, something should be done regarding an continuously increasing number of private institutions providing educational services of low quality in unacceptable conditions (e.g. overcrowded classrooms, basement location, unsanitary conditions, lack of teaching materials, etc) One proposed way to solve this problem, which materialized in a draft law, is to banish all private educational institutions.

At least for me, this is an unacceptable policy solution. Banishing private service providers is a "traditional" way of removing the symptoms of a problem, rather than the true causes! The reason why we have so many institutions that provide unsatisfactory services is because the government fails to enforce its own laws and regulations. Instead, the government should raise standards, improve its monitoring and enforcement functions, punish its own employees who engage in corrupt practices (like issuing licenses to ineligible or poorly performing institutions), and raise public awareness regarding the quality and importance of education. On the other end, the employers will make their own decision regarding the preferred schooling of their workforce. The ultimate consequence of such actions is that poorly performing providers of educational services will vanish in a democratic, market-driven way. The government will have done its job, and the market, too.

Probably I'm not the only one who thinks that this is a much more challenging solution to the problem, since it involves various individual interests. Once the issue has been raised, here is an opportunity for the Moldovan government to implement a truly democratic, Western-type reform. However, all it takes is that ever-missing political will.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Who has the right to education in Moldova?

In the higly centralized educational system in Moldova, the Ministry of Education establishes the numbers of students that may enroll in higher education institutions. Particularly, this is a problem for students that want to pursue undegraduate studies in popular areas such as Law, Economics, etc, since the demand for educational services in these areas is greater than universitities are allowed to supply. This policy extends beyond the continuously decreasing number of state scholarships. Now, even students who are capable and willing to pay for an education, often find their freedom of choice limited by Government regulations. It is not clear why a high-school graduate who wants to study economics, is not allowed to. Is it because other, let's say 2,000, high-school graduates also want to study economics this year? Is it because the Government can only guarantee jobs to 2,000 to-be-economists 4-5 years from now? Obviously, none of these reasons is valid. In a democracy, people should be able to freely exercise their right to education, and freedom of choice. The Government should oversee and regulate the quality of educational services, as well as maintain affordable education for poor students, rather than interfere with the market-driven quantity and cost of services.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Vacation- and Lunchtime in Moldova

Life slows down in Chisinau in the summer. Everyone seems to be on vacation. Even my favorite weekly, Economic Overview, has been on vacation for three weeks. There are many differences between life in Moldova and the US, but the way Moldovan organizations approach lunchtime and vacation is most striking to me.

I’m sure the saying ‘time is money’ is well-known in Moldova. However, Moldovan banks, administrative offices, government offices and agencies, post offices, libraries, shops, accounting offices, etc. usually close down for an hour for lunch. The entire office or organization may close, or most frequently, the office that deals with clients/customers. If you need to do business during lunchtime, you have to wait. However, if you are willing to pay ‘extra’ for the lunchtime service, the doors miraculously open. Therefore, the “business” continues during lunchtime. Time really becomes money. I am guessing that lunchtime is most conducive for corrupt activities, and it would not be surprising if lunchtime were the time with the highest number of corrupt transactions and deals.

Service providing organizations closing their doors for lunch or vacation is something unheard of in American cities. Closing down the entire organization for lunch is a practice inherited from the Soviet times, and seems wasteful and inefficient. Why would a bank want all its employees to take lunch at the same time?! Wouldn’t an additional hour of operation bring more business, and revenue?! How does a popular newspaper benefit from not publishing for three weeks? I just cannot imagine New York Times taking a break, not even for a couple of days. If it did, it would mean bad news. The same logic applies to governmental agencies: the employees can take turns in taking their lunchtime; the entire office does not need to close down.

Probably I wouldn’t have written this article today if I a copy of Economic Overview had been available, and I had not spent one hour outside the bank to make a deposit.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tourism in Moldova: A Comparative Perspective

I have just returned from a vacation in Europe. I was a tourist in Italy and France for about two weeks. In Italy I traveled in Tuscany and Umbria, and in France I discovered Paris and Brittany (the Crozon Peninsula). Tourism is well-developed in both countries, and supported by both national and European governments. Overall, my traveling experience was very satisfying, regardless of annoying details like luggage lost in the airports, language barriers, unexpected changes in weather, time and budget constraints.

Throughout my vacation, I could not stop wondering why a similar experience is still not possible in Moldova. Why is tourism in Moldova still such a foreign concept? The main tourists attractions of Tuscany are its landscapes, wines and well-preserved medieval towns. Moldova abounds in beautiful landscapes, boasts a large wine-making industry, and inherited a number of medieval fortresses and many old churches and monasteries. Why hasn’t Moldova started marketing these assets in order to attract the tourists from all over the world? Why is the Moldovan government still so passive when it comes to tourism? Moldova needs to strive to become a competitive tourist destitation, and it has no time to waste.

The first place where a tourist learns about a country is in its airports and airplanes. For example, Romania is advertising its beautiful tourist attractions via short documentary films with English subtitles on Tarom aircrafts. It is noteworthy that the films are targeted for both national and international travelers. Special magazines published by Alitalia, Air France and Tarom are another tool of marketing the countries’ attractions through exciting articles and photographs. Air Moldova offers the Open Skies magazine, which has a pretty good balance of articles on Moldovan topics.

There is plenty of all kind of tourist information in the French and Italian airports, as well as in all the towns and tourists destinations in these two countries. In Moldova, however, the airport offers very little materials and information of what to do in Moldova. In Chisinau, such information is limited and difficult to access. No information for tourists exists beyond the limits of its capital, Chisinau.

What is there to do in Moldova? What is worth visiting in this country? Where to start? Where to stay overnight? Who to call? When can one rent a car or a bicycle? For tourists intending to travel to France and Italy similar questions can be easily answered after a 2-3 hour research in Internet. As a Moldovan, I find very limited useful information on tourism in Moldova in Internet. Try to do such a research, and please let me know what you find!

I like traveling, and I’d gladly spend my weekends ‘consuming’ tourist services in Moldova. I’d like to cycle through Moldovan countryside, I’d like to be able to rent a car and stay overnight somewhere nice. However, this is wishful thinking. And it will remain a dream until I, as a tourist, can benefit from three essential things: security, information, and all types of infrastructure.

Monday, June 26, 2006

What Is the Future of Transportation in Chisinau?

Public transportation is one of the most serious problems in Chisinau. National experts agree with the problem, and apparently they agree with the solution. Recently, the City Council discussed the Roads & Transport Infrastructure Strategy. The document proposes approaching the current problem by unloading the most concentrated roads intersections, for example Stefan cel Mare Boulevard and its intersection with Ismail street. The Strategy proposes to achieve this by building bi-level intersections. New construction is to be heavily regulated around these areas. The main idea is to avoid construction of new roads in the central part of Chisinau, as such works are deemed very expensive. New roads are to be built between various districts of the city, which will significantly decrease the transit time, and will clear out the downtown. Regarding public transportation, trolleybuses and buses are given priority in the Strategy, while the marshrutkas will remain private means of transportation subject the supply/demand fluctuations. The cost of the Strategy is 3.47 billion MDL (over 250 million USD), of which 44.8% are expected from the municipal budget, 43.2% - national budget, 11.8% - grants, and 0.2% from private sources. The City Council accepted the Strategy as a basis for Chisinau transportation development but delayed the approval of the implementation plan until the City General Urban Plan is developed and approved. Main source: Economic Overview/Logos Press….

According to several experts’ opinions expressed in various issues of Moldova Urbana (a publication of Habitat Moldova Center, overall, this Strategy is not a bad one, and is most likely to find support in various circles. There were ideas about introducing a tramway (Alexandr Boldesco, Anatolii Gordeev). The future of the central part (both the historical and administrative) is the most debated topic among urban development specialists, architects and city management.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What’s Up with State Companies in Moldova?

The number of state-owned companies in Moldova ranges from 356 to 465, according to different sources. Such companies include public utilities, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and cultural institutions. Their financial situation and performance has been deteriorating over the last decades. Therefore, the Moldovan Parliament intends to introduce a new approach in state company management. The proposed piece of legislation intends to introduce basic corporate management principles such as transparent financial management and accountability. (See more here: )

However, the biggest challenge in implementing such a reform seems to be the obvious conflict of interest. The current management of state companies will have to change their quasi-transparent work habits overnight, which is very unlikely to happen. To enforce accountability and limit corruption, the plan is to have representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economy and Trade account for the majority of board membership. Therefore a major assumption is made: employees from these two ministries are exemplary enforcers of law, and are incorruptible. Unfortunatelly, this is a far-fetched assumption. Therefore, the question remains: Who will supervise the supervisor? My concern is that this piece of legislation, although apparently reformative, will fail to be implemented properly, and perpetuate the already anecdotally stagnant and reform-resistant governance in Moldova.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How Open is Moldovan Higher Education to Innovation?

I successfully completed the Muskie Program – a program designed to provide young professionals from the NIS countries with graduate American education and financed by US Department of State. I returned to Moldova, my home country, with the aim to find a job. Open Society Institute (OSI) – one of the organizations that co-sponsored this program offers the 2006 Muskie graduates an opportunity to apply for a grant to develop and teach a course in a higher education institution. At first this seems like a great idea. However, the truth is that the highly centralized system of higher education in Moldova is so rigid that teaching a new course to undergraduate or graduate students is almost impossible. All existing courses are part of an officially approved Course Plan, so introducing a new course is very difficult. Secondly, the existing courses are primarily being taught by PhD graduates, which is common everywhere. The competition for vacancies to teach these existing courses is fierce, which is again, very common, particularly in Europe.

This situation shows how difficult it is for innovative thinking (in the form of new, challenging, interdisciplinary courses) to get through and be accepted in the Moldova higher education system.

According to an article by Ralph Darendorf in Logos Press (16 June, 2006), European universities have several important weaknesses, such as conformity, limited diversity, freedom and accountability, a reduced level of ambition, high level of bureaucracy, and insufficient financing. Darendorf argues that the only way universities in Europe, Japan, Southern Korea, China and India can progress is to increase their level of flexibility and openness. I agree with this view, and based on my own experience, believe that Moldovan and Romanian universities could learn a lot from American universities by opening their doors for professionals like me who studied abroad and are willing to act as agents of change and innovation.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Moldova Is Opening to Americans & Western Europeans

Finally, the Moldovan Government is doing something smart: cancelling the visa requirement for citizens of EU, Switzerland, USA, Canada and Japan (Moldova Azi As of January 2007, visitors from these countries will not need a visa to enter Moldova. This is good news for the stagnating tourism industry, as well as for the Moldovan economy in general. I keep my fingures crossed that this piece of legislation is voted by the Parliament.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What Can Chisinau Learn from New York?

I'm doing some research on Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in New York City. I was told that public officials from all over the world come to New York to learn about them, and whether they can work in other cities of the world as well. So, I thought about my native city, Chisinau in Moldova and what there is to take home from the experience of the Big Apple.

The following is the article I wrote for Moldova Urbana publication.


Subiectul acestui articol sunt Business Improvement Districts sau BID-urile din oraşul New York, SUA. BID-urile reprezintă zone delimitate geografic, care activează cartierele New York-ului, în special în zonele cu un înalt nivel de activitate comercială. De regulă, oraşele au cartier central comercial (central business district), dar New York-ul, şi mai ales Manhattan-ul, are cîteva cartiere de acest tip.

Conceptul de BID a fost inventat în Canada în anii 80. Următoarele sunt trăsăturile caracteristice ale unui BID.

Ø Sunt formate voluntar de către proprietarii comerciali şi sunt limitate geografic.
Ø Toţi proprietarii comerciali plătesc un impozit suplimentar pe proprietate.
Ø Veniturile astfel colectate sunt utilizate pentru prestarea unei game largi de servicii pe teritoriul BID-ului.

Motivele care au determinat apariţia BID-urile in Canada şi SUA au fost deteriorarea calităţii serviciilor publice prestate de autorităţile locale, scăderea valorii imobilului, diminuarea activităţii economice şi comerciale în oraşe şi migrarea clasei mijlocii în suburbii. Situaţia în oraşele americane în anii 80 era deplorabilă. New Yorkul suferea de un nivel de criminalitate foarte înalt. Nimeni nu dorea să locuiască în oraş, iar cei care ramâneau în oraş eram prea sărăci si nu aveau alte opţiuni. Autorităţile locale erau incapabile să rezolve aceste probleme din cauza deficitul bugetar enorm şi bazei fiscale compromise.

Această situaţie nu putea fi ignorată de oamenii de afaceri care au optat să rămână în oraş. Proprietarii şi oamenii de afaceri din centrele comerciale ale New Yorkului, interesele cărora erau direct afectate, s-au unit, şi-au adunat forţele şi au decis să se auto-impoziteze pentru a aduna mijloace financiare cu care să finanţeze schimbările dorite. Aceşti indivizi au înţeles că unica speranţă de a ieşi din criză rezidă în forţele proprii. Ei au creat o organizaţie non-profit – management association – formată dintr-un consiliu director şi o echipă executivă. Scopul acestei asociaţii era să gestioneze resursele astfel colectate, să presteze servicii, să negocieze cu autorităţile publice locale şi să mobilizeze resurse suplimentare.

La început, serviciile prestate în interiorul BID-ului erau curăţirea străzilor, eliminarea înscripţiilor pe clădiri (graffitti), mărirea securităţii pe străzi, amenajarea estetică a cartierului, asigurarea turiştilor cu informaţie utilă, asistenţă acordată vagabonzilor şi altele. Numai după câteva luni, rezultatele au devenit vizibile. Cartierele arătau mai bine şi păreau mai puţin periculoase, oamenii au început să petreacă mai mult timp prin magazine, baruri şi restaurante, iar cifra de afaceri a început să crească. Toţi au avut de câştigat, iar mijloacele financiare suplimentare s-au dovedit a fi investiţii profitabile în afacerile membrilor BID-ului.

Aceste eforturi au continuat, numărul BID-urile s-a mărit şi situaţia s-a îmbunătăţit considerabil. Astfel, azi în New York există 53 BID-uri, cu cea mai mare concentraţie în Manhattan. Azi, oraşul New York este cu mult mai curat decît acum 20 de ani. De-asemenea, este oraşul cu cel mai scăzut nivel de criminalitate şi cu o activitate economică de invidiat. Dar BID-urile continuă să funcţioneze, să-şi diversifice şi înnoiască serviciile. În plus, BID-urile din New York beneficiază de toată susţinerea şi încurajarea autorităţilor publice locale.

E relevantă oare această istorie de succes pentru oraşele Moldovei? Probabil e puţin prematur să vorbim despre crearea BID-urilor în Chişinău (acesta este unul dintre visurile mele), dar principiul care stă la baza activităţii BID-urilor e aplicabil, cel puţin teoretic, condiţiilor Moldovei. Mă refer la principiul colaborării oamenilor de afaceri şi proprietarilor cu interese individuale în realizarea unui scop comun. Ar fi bine ca aceste categorii de cetăţeni să manifeste iniţiativă în vederea soluţionării problemelor comune, de interes public, iar autorităţile locale să încurajeze în mod deschis şi transparent astfel de eforturi. Scopuri comune sunt multe în Chişinău şi în întreaga Moldova. Important este să găsim modalitatea cea mai adecvată de unificare a forţelor şi resurselor, inclusiv financiare, în vederea realizării un scop/bun comun.

BID-urile sunt parteneriate public-private răspîndite în Occident. Parteneriatele public-private reprezintă direcţia de viitor în domeniul prestării serviciilor publice. E timpul ca şi oraşele din Moldova să încurajeze crearea unor astfel de parteriate şi să beneficieze de enegia pozitivă degajată în urma mobilizării eforturilor individuale spre realizarea unui bun comun.