Interview with Mira Dobovišek, Former Director of the CEF
We spoke with Mira Dobovišek, our long-term director that retired this summer about past and future development of the CEF. Mira has been the director of the CEF since its establishment in 2001. Thanks to her leadership, support of the Slovenian Government, other members from South East Europe (SEE) and our partners, the CEF has grown to an international organization during this time. Our program has expanded significantly to follow the demand for capacity development in the region. The CEF Governing Board has appointed Jana Repanšek that served for many years as CEF’s deputy director, as the new director, starting her term on July 1, 2017.
What were the main reasons for establishing the CEF in 2001 and what are your memories of that time?
At that time, Slovenia received many questions from other former Yugoslavian countries about the methods and strategies that our country had implemented in approaching the EU. The Slovenian government felt flattered but at the same time it was an additional burden on its employees. They started to think how to share the experience in a more organized way.
They initiated founding of the CEF and received support in these endeavors from SEE countries as well as the World Bank and the IMF. The strategy of the CEF was that it would not compete with any other existing training institution and that its program would be demand driven, and we still follow this strategy.
At the beginning, it was difficult to identify the demand in the countries but with close monitoring of the reform processes and daily contacts with our members we gradually designed a learning program that is beneficial for them. We managed to make a win-win situation: our members get what they need and when they need it, while the CEF in cooperation with its partners, donors and members offers a program that is highly appreciated and recognized. We managed to attract many donors, who first offered mainly in-kind contributions but later on also financial resources. Besides, they get a broader outreach to the countries in need and they can deliver more with fewer resources.
Which institutions were the main drivers in establishing the CEF and during its development?
Since the beginning, we received great support from the Slovenian Ministry of Finance who still remains a major financial contributor to the CEF program. Financing was based on the principle that countries would cover their participation costs and Slovenia would take care of the CEF’s running costs. Later on, thanks to Slovenia’s more structured and organized development cooperation, we received financial contributions for bilateral projects in the region from the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Bank of Slovenia supported the program for central banks. Along with the support of donors, such as the IMF, the World Bank, the US Treasury and the Dutch Ministry of Finance, we managed to put together a program that the countries really needed.
Without the support of the World Bank we would not be able to offer a qualification program for public accountants in the region. The World Bank favors accrual accounting, and in 2003 it supported our training course for public accountants, thus making the transition to accrual accounting possible. So far, six countries from the region have participated in this learning project.
The IMF has been providing multi-beneficiary technical assistance through its advisors who are located at the CEF, with considerable value added. For every stakeholder, the CEF gets information on the priorities and pressing needs of the countries, the member countries receive the necessary knowledge, while the IMF gets faster and better results in the reforming processes and more knowledgeable partners for designing and executing the programs.
How has the CEF developed over time? What have been the main milestones?
As the CEF has been demand driven since day one, we have been building a program that would meet the demand of our members. In 2001, we anticipated that the center would operate around ten years and then, if the institution still existed, we would need to find other activities. However, with the global financial crisis problems became more complex and more numerous, and the demand for learning and training increased. Thanks to our strategy we managed to build our own capacity sufficiently, so that we are able to deal with complex demand.
The main milestones were in 2003 when central banks were invited to join in. The next was in 2007 when the Center obtained additional facilities that enabled us to run more than one event at a time. The next milestone was changing the status to an international organization. I hope that this opened up further development opportunities for the CEF.
How do you see the future of the CEF? Do you think that it has potential to grow geographically and/or thematically?
Given the difficult economic situation in the world, I strongly believe that the CEF will continue to deliver its program and grow. The CEF can contribute a lot to reduce the cost of professional qualifications in the region by offering examination center to the countries and more online substance, so as to reduce participation costs and involve more people in training.
All our member countries are small and so are their public sectors, meaning that each additional activity brings extra workload. If the CEF organizes a joint examination center, it will take off some of their workload.
The CEF can also offer continuous professional development for people who have completed their studies. The Center can also help local professional networks and communities of practice, so that they could learn from each other and improve their capacities.
Thematically, there are many topics that have not yet been addressed, like structural reforms that are currently on our priority list. I believe that they will stay on the list for at least ten more years. Here we talk about macroeconomic evaluation of the fiscal impact of structural reforms as well as small changes in daily work to achieve better results in line ministers. Another topic is how to help local governments increase efficiency in delivering what they are supposed to deliver in decentralized systems.
Geographically, the Center has received many inquiries from Central Asian countries, the MENA region and the Far East. The CEF can share knowhow, knowledge and experience that is unique in the world – how to deal with multi-beneficiary challenges and support several countries at a time. However, I do not believe that long distance beneficiaries could really benefit from the CEF’s work. The Center should focus on countries close to the region, potentially Central Asia and MENA.