Serhii Chernov: It is impossible to stop decentralisation

 

What will the reform of administrative and territorial structure of Ukraine give to the average citizen? How many rayons should there be in the Kharkiv Oblast? Why doesn't early local elections reboot the system? How does decentralisation change the lives of hromadas? And is there a threat to this reform?

Serhii Chernov, head of the Kharkiv Oblast Council, president of the Ukrainian Association of Rayon and Oblast Councils, answered these questions in a dialogue with journalists and the public, writes Kharkivskyi Vymir.


With regard to decentralisation, I personally believe that the steps taken on 1 April 2014 to implement the decentralisation reform in our country and the path taken at this time confirm the correctness of the decisions taken.

But the last two years of the former parliament were stagnant, and no legislative act that had to be passed in the Verkhovna Rada was approved. Therefore, we have largely failed to move forward, especially with regard to changes at the subregional and regional levels, because this requires amendments to the Constitution, and they have not taken place. Administrative and territorial issues are not settled.

I believe that we must fully implement the European Charter of Local Self-Government, ratified in Ukraine in 1997, and all legislative acts adopted on the territory of Ukraine must comply with this Charter.

We need to differentiate between the representative and the executive authirities.

The fundamental thing for me is that prefectures should only exercise control over legitimate decision-making by local governments, and not control them, as some people today describe in their speeches and messages. I am absolutely against it. Hromadas need to be the starting point, it is up to them to determine what powers they cannot execute on the ground and delegate them to the rayon level.

Regular elections to the local self-government bodies are to take place next year. Does the country need early local elections?

My personal point of view is that it should be the regular and not early elections of local self-government bodies. We have no need to accelerate these processes.

I believe that local self-government needs to be protected from big politics so that it does not deal with any of its peculiar affairs, does not make a decision in excess of its powers.

My personal vision is that the next elections should be held on a new territorial basis. The map of Ukraine should ideally be covered by amalgamated hromadas, a new administrative-territorial model of enlarged rayons with a clear division of powers between all branches of government should operate. And then you can go to the regular election. We have a year to adopt the appropriate amendments to the Constitution. This process can be completed no earlier than February next year, and then appropriate legislation acts and governmental regulations should be adopted to ensure the changes I have mentioned. Bringing this to life means reaching October with a regulated legal system that would give impetus to the local self-government development of each hromada, and therefore additional opportunities for the development of regions.

I believe that the future belongs to interregional and cross-border cooperation, this happens in the Eastern Partnership countries, all over the world authorities at the interregional or local level are more flexible, make decisions quicker, are ready for responsibility, have less decision-making procedures and less risks for decision-making .

What does administrative-territorial reform on consolidated rayons give to the average person?

In the Kharkiv Oblast there is the largest rayon with a population of 180 thousand people and the smallest one – Kolomak Rayon – with a population of 6.8 thousand people. The Pechenihy Rayon is about the same in terms of population. And they have the same self-government bodies. Could this be correct in case of such differences in population, size of territory and different administrative services? Of course not.

In determining the number of rayons, I think we should currently start with powers they should have. If we decide on the powers, then we will understand how many rayons need to be formed in every oblast – taking into account the specifics, geographical, historical, mental characteristics, availability of labour, natural resources and logistics.

However, today I hear the opposite thoughts. AHs express the following opinion: why do we need rayons at all? We don't need rayons! I am against it.

What are the main challenges, risks, and threats of decentralisation?

Risks are still there. First of all, it is the political will of the leadership of the state, the parliament.

The second risk is that the longer the process of decentralisation expands, the more resistance appears on the ground, including in local self-government bodies, and among officials to these reforms’ implementation.

A country cannot live in a different legal system. AHs live in one legal system today, and non-amalgamated hromadas – in another one. It is a competition of competencies, it is a conflict of interests, it is imperfection and it does not allow the balanced development of territories. It is also a risk.

Do you think four rayons are sufficient for the Kharkiv Oblast? In the Lviv Oblast, which is half less in size of the territory, MinRegion proposed five rayons. How many do you think we should have?

Four are not enough. I will not change my point of view under any pressure. I can change my mind if someone proves to me that I am wrong. But today no one has done it.

I consider experts’ proposal of one rayon with a population of almost 1.9 million, which includes the city of Kharkiv and 13 more rural rayons, and three more centres in rural rayons, to be nonsense. The Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi Oblasts, with only one million residents each, were proposed 5 rayons. Where's the logic?

The decision must be mature, well thought-out and perfect, since it defines the fate of people. Every person should be protected in his/her own country, wherever he/she lives.

The full version is available in Ukrainian – please click HERE

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