Editor's Note: The following is the fourth in our series of International Idea Exchange articles. This issue features a presentation that, due to unforeseen circumstances, was unable to be given at last year's Congress. Geoff Greenough, APWA Past President, has visited with SPWA members in Slovakia, and graciously provides the Introduction below.
Slovak Public Works Association
In March 1998, Geoff Greenough, Past President of APWA and former Chairman of APWA's International Affairs Committee, responded to a call from the International City Managers' Association (ICMA) to assist them in the development of local government in Slovakia.
He spent a week in Slovakia visiting mayors and public works directors in a number of communities and attended their General Assembly meeting. He addressed the Assembly, advising them about APWA and answering their questions with respect to some specific public works activities in North America.
In the fall of 1998, five or six representatives from the Slovak Public Works Association (SPWA) visited the United States for two weeks, attending Congress in Las Vegas and visiting municipal operations in Arizona and New England. The following article will give APWA members an appreciation of the struggles facing public works providers in Eastern Europe as their society copes with the changes associated with their democratization.
Geoff Greenough believes that APWA has a role and a responsibility to assist these new democracies in order to ensure their success. APWA has extended complimentary membership to SPWA for the next two years and they will be invited to our Congress in Louisville this September. Can you assist and help make this happen? What can you do to make their visit more meaningful? If you have any answers or wish to help through donations, public works programs tours, or exchange programs, please contact Geoff Greenough by telephone at 506-853-3527 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
On behalf of the Slovak Public Works Association, we thank you for the opportunity to present this paper.
First contacts of our association with APWA began in the year 1998 with Mr.Greenough. Our representatives also attended the Conference in Las Vegas and spent some very useful days with your representatives. Our contacts have, besides providing us with admiration and respect for the results of your work, given us motivation for future activities in the Slovak Republic.
Therefore, we would like to warmly thank all from APWA who have contributed to the contacts between APWA and SPWA and who have prepared unforgettable moments and impressions.
We are sorry that we were not able to secure personal attendance of our representative at your Denver Conference; however, it was caused mainly by the technical and personal problems as well as the limited financial means of our association. Despite this, we hope we will keep your favor and we are looking forward to our future cooperation.
Now we would like to use this opportunity for some information on Slovakia, a few words about our Association, and about the conditions under which we are working.
Slovak Republic is a young and small country created in the year 1993. Until then, since 1918 Czech and Slovak nations lived in a common countyCzechoslovakia. After the fall of communism in 1989, the political representations of Czech and Slovaks agreed on a peaceful split of Czechoslovakia and formed separate Czech and Slovak republics. Both of these countries, together with the closest neighbors Hungary and Poland, have set forth a definite goal to build a standard democratic society and to eliminate consequences and influence of the communist regime, which has ruled in our country from 1948 until 1989. Slovak Republic has about five million citizens, occupying 49,000 square kilometers, with its capital being Bratislava.
The transformation in practically every way-in social life, economy, culture, politics, religion, education, etc.-began in 1990 in Czechoslovakia. The transformation has continued in Slovakia since the separation in 1993.
Regarding public works, the communist system didn't distinguish between local and state government. The "all-knowing and infallible" Communist Party made decisions for everything and for everyone and, with the help of a planned and collective economy, had a say in what to do and how to do it.
Public works activities (the cleaning and preserving of roads, liquidation of waste, landscaping, etc.) were performed by smaller or bigger institutions, which were formed by local state authorities. The technical equipment and effectiveness of these institutions varied mainly according to the managing abilitites and "right" (meaning procommunist) political activity of its leaders.
After the fall of communism in Slovakia, the majority of public works were placed under the jurisdiction of local governments. Suddenly, local mayors and deputies of local parliaments were supposed to decide the form, existence, equipment, and organization of public works institutions, because these became the property of towns and villages.
It is quite understandable that these decisions were not always fair and effective, especially in the first years. In local budgets, finances for public works were often prepared and distributed incompetently, public works institutions often experienced crises, closed down or divided into smaller individual subjects according to individual activities. New systems including private ownership were being formed and towns and villages were looking for the most effective ways to provide public works.
Especially in the beginning, this process was more or less spontaneous. The exchange of information and experience was minimal, and often this field was subject to political fighting with all the negatives that political friction brings. Contributing to this, it needs to be mentioned that in Slovakia there are no larger counties and that there is only the first level of local government-about 2,850 towns and villages (more than 60 percent of villages have less than 1,000 citizens). These towns and villages must secure public works individually and fulfill their tasks in their area according to their financial capability.
Under the given conditions, it was quite logical that some public works institution managers, leaders, and owners initiated the forming of their own Association in order to exchange information and experience. From 1990 in the Slovak republic, the Slovak Public Works Association (SPWA) has been active. Besides the information exchange, SPWA has ambitions to bring our standpoints and opinions into the decision-making of the state and local government. The SPWA has 65 members with various roots, including purely private firms, "mixed ownerships" (companies with shares held by the villages and private businesses), companies where the shares of villages are 100 percent, as well as work forces founded by village for its needs and purposes in public works only. All of these provide works financed from the village budgets.
Thus far, this variety of forms is not causing any serious problems to the activities of SPWA. For our members, we are organizing educational training and instruction on topical questions, expositions, consultations on technical and professional questions, etc.
In the meantime, in Slovakia the formation of local government for larger regionscountiesand a number of other laws describing the task and responsibilities for local government, are being prepared that will require more competence in the public works field. This may go hand-in-hand with the need for restructuring of existing public works entities, the presence of foreign capital, etc.
We would like to participate in the process of forming these laws. For this we need as much information from other countries as possible, and therefore the possibility of contact and collaboration with APWA is important to us. The personal exchanges in 1998 were very encouraging and instructive.
In 1999, we have formed a permanent executive office in Bratislava with an employee with the knowledge of English, and we hope that our future cooperation will be concrete and effective. Stable and effective systems of public works are what connect APWA with every similar association; for clean and well-lit streets without any litter, well-preserved roads, and nicely arranged landscaping are surely a wish of each citizen, as well as each politician in every political system worldwide.
Once again, we would like to show our appreciation for the willingness of APWA to give us advice and to share their experience with us.
Thank you for your attention and our best wishes from the Executive of SPWA.
Mr. Zahumenský can be contacted at +421-7-44887505.