"I do not guarantee that decentralisation ideas will penetrate the new Parliament, but I can foresee that it will not last long if this does not happen," Yuriy Hanushchak

Yuriy Hanushchak, Director of the Territories’ Development Institute, tells about a new stage of the decentralisation reform in case of reformatting of the Parliament, as well as about the engagement of newly created commissions at OSAs.

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By Dmytro Synyak

What is the new decentralisation stage, mentioned by Volodymyr Groysman?

- The decentralisation reform envisages that most powers of public authorities will go to self-government, and the state will only control the activities of self-governing bodies. The Ministry and the Government should only regulate the activities of local self-government bodies. Such freedom allows local authorities to evolve.

This is a great model. But many worry whether Ukraine will continue to move to it with a new president and a new parliament?

- Good, and hard won ideas, when born, cannot simply disappear. The decentralisation reform started not in 2014, but in 2005. It was then that the work on it began. If this document is not suitable for the new authorities, they should first of all tell this to the residents of amalgamated hromadas, who have already felt the freedom of decision-making. Honestly, I do not think that someone is going to dare it now ...

The reform requires not only the government’s consent, but also its promotion. For example, you have repeatedly said that if Ukraine does not switch to a new administrative-territorial basis by 2020, collapse may occur, since the state cannot cope with maintenance of both old and new management structures.

- An average MP wants to succeed with a minimum of risks. But the decentralisation reform is absolutely successful, and there is no sense for a deputy to state that decentralisation is bad. After all, there are new roads and schools. Therefore, the new parliament, shortly after the start of its work, wishing to show itself better than the previous one, may well vote for the hard fought law "On the Principles of the Administrative-Territorial Structure", thus unlocking the "problem 2020". So, in this respect, I am an optimist: I am convinced that in December we will have this law.

Presenting an updated action plan of the reform, Volodymyr Groysman stressed that most changes need to be enshrined in the Constitution. What are the possible constitutional changes under the autumn reformatting of the parliament?

- I cannot guarantee that the new parliament will be necessarily permeated with the ideas of decentralisation, but I can predict that it will not last long if this does not happen. The same applies to the new president.

In early February, Volodymyr Groysman ordered to form special commissions under the oblast administrations – to implement the second stage of the reform. What are these commissions and what exactly do they deal with?

- In October 2020, we must have a new map of Ukraine, the territory of which is fully covered by amalgamated hromadas. The state is interested in the harmonious development of all its territories. Therefore, all hromadas need to be inspected for certain criteria, which in general form the concept of capability. This is a tremendous job, and the newly formed commissions have to deal with it. And the next task of the newly formed commissions is the formation of consolidated rayons, that is, in essence, agreement of boundaries of these rayons on the ground.

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How do the new oblast commissions differ from those that analysed and agreed on the perspective plans for AH formation?

- The task of those first commissions was to start the reform, establishing at least some amalgamated hromadas. Now everyone already understands that AHs formed not in accordance with MinRegion’s methodology will not work.

Have all oblasts already created such commissions?

- I know for sure that such commission has not yet been set up in the Zakarpattia Oblast, which actually remained outside the decentralisation reform because of the personal stance of its former head Hennadii Moskal and outright sabotage on his part. I hope that the Zakarpattia Oblast Council will approve the Perspective Plan next month.

Are you directly inspecting newly formed commissions during your travels in oblasts?

- I would not say so. I'm not an official to inspect someone. But in fact, now I travel a lot in the regions and inform members of the commissions that they are creating a future for which they will certainly not be ashamed of.

Existence of white spots in perspective plans of oblasts is not an accident. Usually this is a consequence of the influence of local business that is not interested in AH formation for one reason or another. Can commission members influence those hindering the reform?

- The power of the decentralisation reform is in mathematical accuracy of all its provisions. For example, somewhere a hromada is being formed for one farmer. Will he pay taxes in full? Unlikely. Therefore, the method of AH formation requires hromada’s area to be at least 200 square km. There will definitely be not one, but some relatively large businessmen, who will not be able to make deals with each other, since they will compete with each other.

Is there enough legislative ground for commissions’ work?

- The work of the commissions would be much faster if the legislative framework was fully prepared for this. However, we must be aware that all the reforms of the administrative-territorial structure are carried out step by step. We need a law that involves territory planning within hromada’s jurisdiction to manage the territory. In the end, in order to create a map of hromadas and rayons, the law is also needed.

 

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Oblast administrations belong to the presidential vertical. Will these commissions be able to perform their functions after the replacement of the heads of oblast state administrations?

- Legislation does not say that local state administrations are a presidential vertical. And in general, I believe that local state administrations need to be transferred to the Government’s operational management.

You said that the newly formed commissions will work on the formation of new rayons. How is the work being done in this direction?

- First of all, it should be noted that rayons in Ukraine were created artificially in the 1960s. And they were created not even by the number of people, but by the number of members of the Communist Party. Now this mistake needs to be corrected. Some work is already done by the oblast commissions.

Among the new tasks of the Government, the Prime Minister defined "the task of approving the new territorial basis of the country – 100 capable rayons". What are the chances to accomplish this task?

- Unfortunately, by 1 January next year we will not be able to create 100 new, consolidated areas. But I would like that from 1 January, this process would be launched at least in one oblast, and at least in the part that concerns the territorial organisation of the executive power.

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And which oblasts are ready to become pilot in creating new rayons?

- Here we have to start with the requirements. First of all, such oblasts should have the least number of rayons with no AH formed yet. Second, the management of the oblasts should be geared to change, in every way supporting them. Third, the same position should be taken by local elites, reaching agreement on the centres and boundaries of new rayons. Fourth, sectoral departments should at least accept reformatting of their bodies in the oblast. Lastly, fifth, these oblasts should not be poor, because changes will require some money. The Zaporizhzhia, Zhytomyr and Khmelnytskyi Oblasts are generally in line with such criteria.

At the beginning of the reform, you said that hospital districts will become the basis for the new rayons.

- Here it is necessary to clarify the issue a bit. There is a difference between hospital districts and the new rayons. The purpose of the establishment of hospital districts is to provide quality medical services of the II level. Therefore, it is not so important where the centre of the hospital district will be.

You communicate a lot with the teams of Local Government Development Centres, officials... What do they tell about opportunities of voluntary amalgamation? Aren’t these opportunities already exhausted?

- We now have around 900 hromadas, but unfortunately many of them do not conform to the methodology. If the reform was approached rigorously, then there should be no more than 1100 AHs all over Ukraine. If you consider this issue softer, then about 1500 AHs should be formed. It is pleasing that amalgamation adversaries have practically exhausted their emotional potential, and passionarians have used all their opportunities. That is, those who wanted to realise themselves have done so.

So, when the second stage of the reform begins, there will be no resistance?

- Yes, because all residents of non-amalgamated hromadas know: their leaders had ample opportunities to amalgamate in any configuration.

And won’t rayon administrations oppose the compulsory amalgamation?

- They lose their impact on rayons each month. And, as a rule, the best specialists have already left for amalgamated hromadas.

How would you comment on the following phrase by Volodymyr Groysman: "It is necessary to develop the forms of direct democracy – to improve electoral legislation and build mechanisms for conducting local referendums, so that citizens have the opportunity to express their position and make decisions not from elections to elections, but in course of life". What kind of improvement is meant?

- The AH leaders are not afraid to communicate with people, since this was a necessary element of the victory at local elections. Such leaders are actively resorting to introduction of participatory budgets, public hearings, cooperation with civic activists, etc. It is unlikely that these leaders still need referendums.

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Or maybe the other way around: due to a referendum, people can force the council to do what they need?

- For this, people have quite a lot of other instruments. For example, public hearings, general meetings or even a usual poll, which is now quite easy to carry out due to modern technologies.

And what about a positive experience of Switzerland?

- This is rather an exception than a rule. The referendum in the Netherlands on approval of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, as well as Brexit, shows how usage of this instrument can easily destroy the strongest fortresses of democracy. The practice is that many thinking people do not go to referenda, feeling that they are being manipulated. And those who do not feel it, come and vote as their “string-pullers” need. Democratic society requires from decision makers a high level of education and understanding of their own responsibilities.

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