The voluntary phase of hromadas’ amalgamation is about to finish. This is a fact confirmed by the plans of the Government, the Parliament, the President's Office. Representatives of hromadas themselves have been saying this for a long time. In addition, there are enough success stories for everyone to understand – amalgamation is the best way to build a strong local self-government in cities and villages. Therefore, the state also plans to complete amalgamation administratively in the near future. Experts, civil society and local self-government representatives agree with this. Yet opinions differ as far as how and when to stop the voluntary process.
Some experts, including Georg Milbradt, Special Envoy of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for Ukrainian Reforms, believe that the Government should set an end date for the voluntary amalgamation phase and give hromadas a last chance to make their own decisions.
In the expert’s opinion, repeatedly expressed by him in communication with representatives of the Ukrainian authorities, the uncertainty in terms of voluntariness hindered hromadas’ amalgamation probably the most. If hromadas knew the end date for amalgamation from the beginning, they would have a clear understanding of how much time they have to negotiate with each other and decide on their own future development. And today, hromadas, that did not manage to amalgamate voluntarily, would have had no one to blame, because they were warned in advance.
Georg Milbradt believes that the Government should indicate a date for the completion of voluntary amalgamation at least now, while hromadas still have time to make decisions. According to him, presenting the hromadas a map of their future amalgamation right away could increase the degree of tension on the ground. Therefore, further decisions by the Government and Parliament will not be taken as calmly as they could.
Mr Milbradt also believes that voluntary amalgamation is being hampered by rumors of early local elections. Hromadas just don't understand if they still have time and sense to amalgamate. It is very demotivating.
The Ministry of Development of Communities and Territories also supports an opinion that hromadas’ amalgamation should be voluntary, but until a certain time. At the same time, judging by the recent presentations and speeches of representatives of MinRegion, the Ministry believes that it is not enough and premature to simply specify the end date of amalgamation. First, hromadas need to be given clear benchmarks – perspective plans with no white spots with interactive maps of future hromadas that will model the optimal network of infrastructure needed for public services, financial calculations, and more.
The Ministry is convinced that when hromadas see their perspectives and realise that even “poor” hromadas will have much more opportunities for development after amalgamation, they will finally make those decisions.
MinRegion plans to create perspective plans and an interactive map covering the whole territory of Ukraine by the end of 2019. After that, the hromadas, as planned by the Ministry, will have a few more months for voluntary amalgamation – before the law on the administrative and territorial structure of Ukraine is adopted.
At the last meeting of the Donor Board on Decentralisation, Alyona Babak, Minister of Development of Communities and Territories of Ukraine, addressed international partners with a proposal to join the creation of an interactive map of capable hromadas and discussion of future changes on the ground.
Some of the experts, as well as the AH heads who have already felt what it means to be capable and develop their territories, have more radical thoughts on completing the voluntary phase. They propose not to spend time at all on perspective plans’ creation. Instead, they propose that the Government, in conjunction with oblast state administrations, deputies, associations of local self-government of all levels, immediately create maps of oblasts with a new division into capable hromadas and rayons, and adopt a law on administrative and territorial structure.
Adherents of this way of voluntary phase completion appeal that the state already has the experience, calculations and powers to quickly complete the process of forming a capable basic level of local self-government. In their view, the reform has been on for five years, and that's enough for voluntariness. Everyone who could and wanted to amalgamate have already done it, and is already creating a new quality of service for people. International experience shows that the voluntary phase always ended with the administrative amalgamation of municipalities. Given that the next local elections, to be held next year, should take place on the basis of a completely reformed system of administrative and territorial structure, there is no time for voluntariness at all.
Therefore, it is obvious that reasonableness of administrative completion of the process of formation of capable basic level of local self-government is no longer discussed. The question is more about how to do this in a way that avoids mistakes in both approaches and communication, does not perturb hromadas, and does not erode any previous accomplishments of the voluntary amalgamation phase.
The material is prepared within the framework of the Project of the Ukrainian Association of Rayon and Oblast Councils “Modeling of the Administrative and Territorial System at Subregional Level”, implemented with the support of the Council of Europe Programme “Decentralisation and Local Government Reform in Ukraine”.
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