Decentralising administrative services functions

Viktor Tymoshchuk is the chief expert for improving the provision of administrative services to the public
 in the U-LEAD with Europe Programme


In the process of decentralisation reforms in Ukraine, one of the issues that has come up is the ideal distribution of powers among different levels of public administration, including between central executive bodies (CEBs) and local self-government bodies (LSG).

Moreover, the starting conditions should determine the choice of the optimal combination, including the fact that Ukraine’s territory is large, as is its population. This establishes the specific role of local governments, it affects the pace of digitalization and its coverage, and it raises the need to orient towards practice in countries with similar populations and territorial organization.

At the expert level, it’s possible to start with well-known approaches to distributing competencies:

1) The service delivery point should be as close as possible to the people. This means that basic administrative services should be maximally delegated to LSGs at the lowest level. This obviously means services related to the life cycle of an individual and the services that are most in demand: registering births, marriages, domiciles, property, businesses, social security, death, and so on.

2) The central government should maintain certain functions such as policymaking, which belongs to the Government; administering central registries; providing LSGs with methodology; and overall administration and professional oversight. The latter three functions should be delegated to “government agencies,” which in Ukraine are called central executive bodies or CEBs: state services and agencies.

Ukraine has successfully delegated powers to local governments in the past. For instance, over 2015-2016, LSGs were empowered to register property, businesses and domiciles. As a result:

  • access to services has improved, as LSGs are motivated and are capable of providing these services in every municipality and even, if necessary, in every starosta district[1] and in individual settlements;
  • queues and the conditions for petty corruption have disappeared since LSGs are able to hire sufficient staff to satisfy the needs of local residents;
  • services are being provided in a timelier manner, as LSGs are capable of making decisions more quickly, without superfluous interactions with central government agencies. For example, the largest group of services, domicile registration, are now available to residents in a single 15-minute visit, provided things are properly organized, instead of two trips and weeks of waiting as it was prior to 2016. Meanwhile, as the national register of domiciles had not been set up when these services were delegated locally, the LSGs themselves began to digitalize new registers of their territorial municipalities;
  • the three groups of services provided through the administrative service centres (ASCs) are more integrated. For one thing 90-100% of them are handled by the ASCs, which is fundamentally different from those areas where government agencies are in charge.

Still, at the end of 2020[2], when local elections had taken place in the newly amalgamated municipalities, serious challenges remain with administrative services at the peak of decentralisation reforms.

Problem #1 The registration of civil acts: births, marriages and deaths.  This is the basic group of services, but cities formerly subordinated directly to the oblast lack the necessary authority. It remains, instead, with the Ministry of Justice, although they were already part of the remit of village and town LSGs. After the amalgamation of population centres, this difference in competencies is distancing services for people from rural areas that merged with towns: the “old” LSGs have lost this authority and now, in order to register a birth or death, residents have to travel as much as 20-40 kilometres to an agency of the Justice Ministry. This certainly does not promote decentralisation reforms.

Problem #2 Social services: Here, the problem is the opposite of the first example: cities that were formerly directly subordinated to the oblast had the authority, but these powers have not been delegated to other municipalities, remaining, instead, with county administrations. Here, the government is proposing a centralized, state-oriented model: a new CEB with service functions, while LSGs become mere “front offices.”

Problem  #3 The registration of land parcels: The government is proposing that quasi-private entities called “certified engineers and land managers” in Bill #2194,  who will have the powers of cadastre registrars. This is despite the negative track record of “accredited enterprises” that recently lost the power to register property and businesses because they were being as an instrument in hostile takeovers of companies (raiding). For some reason, the government is not proposing that these registration functions be turned over to LSGs.

These three examples involving the basic groups of administrative services demonstrate the lack of a coherent strategic approach on the part of the central government. In other words, despite the decentralisation reforms, the government is not delegating these powers to LSGs, although so far, they have proved themselves successful in similar service areas.

A number of conclusions lend themselves:

  1. Ukraine’s government needs to formulate an understandable strategy and integrated model of the division of powers between CEBs and LSGs, the criteria for dividing these powers between them, and a mechanism for the two groups to interact when the powers are delegated.
  2. Take advantage of the motivation of LSGs to provide the best possible services to their residents to maximally delegate specific services and powers to them. This is the best possible mechanism to ensure accessible quality services in Ukraine, as practice has amply demonstrated.
  3. The new Bill “On local self-government” should identify the key powers delegated to LSGs. The way they are currently scattered among special legislation and the absence of this specific aspect, “delegated powers” in the new bill will leave LSGs unclear as to what they are responsible for.

A flexible, differentiated approach is the best medium-term strategy for arriving at a common set of powers across all municipalities. In other words, initially municipalities gain competencies gradually, based on how prepared they are, while the state backs them up. Further, it will be possible for delegation to be a duty and instrument for intermunicipal cooperation (IMC).


Translated by Lidia Alexandra Wolanskyj

All terms in this article are meant to be used neutrally for men and women

 

Viktor Tymoshchuk has participated at the International Expert Exchange, "Development of Municipalities: trust, institutions, finance and people", organized by U-LEAD with Europe Programme in December 2020. His speech delivered during one of the workshops is to a great extent depicted in this article.

In the name of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, we would like to express our great appreciation and thanks for both inputs of Mr Tymoshchuk. The article will be included in future online publication Compendium of Articles.

Compendium of Articles is a collection of papers prepared by policymakers, Ukrainian and international experts, and academia after International Expert Exchange 2019 and 2020, organized by U-LEAD with Europe Programme. The articles raise questions in the fields of decentralisation reform and regional and local development, relevant for both the Ukrainian and the international audience. The Compendium will be published online in Ukrainian and English languages on the U-LEAD online recourses. Please, follow us on Facebook to stay informed about the project.

If you have any comments or questions about the Compendium of articles or this article in particular, please contact Yaryna Stepanyuk yaryna.stepanyuk@giz.de.

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, the government of Ukraine, the European Union and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia


[1] The villages, hamlets and other settlements that have been amalgamated into a municipality are “grandfathered” districts, except for the one that is now the administrative center of the new municipality. The borders of such districts can be changed.

[2] This article was written in early 2021.

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