European dimension of decentralisation reform discussed in Kyiv

The decentralisation reform in Ukraine, implemented with the essential help from the EU, already shows impressive progress, although much remains to be done.

The European Union will continue to support projects related to decentralisation in Ukraine, aimed at strengthening the capability of hromadas and improving the quality of service delivery to the population up to the European level.

This idea was emphasised by Christian Danielsson, Director-General of DG NEAR (Neigbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations) of the European Commission, during the round table meeting on the “European Dimension of Ukrainian Reforms” held at the House of Decentralisation in Kyiv, as reported by ​​Ukrinform.

“Decentralisation is already a recognised success. I remember that when the reform was launched several years ago, there were many skeptics, who expressed doubts whether it could be implemented, whether hromadas’ amalgamation would take place, whether it would be possible to create capable structures able to provide quality services etc. But now we see how the reform is unfolding, and this is a great success,” said Christian Danielsson.

The U-LEAD with Europe programme is being implemented by the European Union and its member states Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden, and supports the Ukrainian government in implementing the decentralisation reform. The 4-year Programme funded in the amount of EUR 102 million is a flagship in the decentralisation process in Ukraine, and the European Union and its member countries are proud of its achievements, said Christian Danielsson.

“The decentralisation programme impresses with its achievements. We will continue to support projects related to decentralisation in Ukraine,” he emphasised.

Speaking about reforms in Ukraine as a whole, the representative of the European Commission stressed the success of many of them. At the same time, added Danielsson, the key to any success is the struggle against corruption. That is why it is very important for Ukraine to complete the “formation of the whole chain of anti-corruption institutions, including the establishment of the Supreme Anticorruption Court”.

“Ukraine is not alone. It has an Association Agreement with the European Union, which is an important supplementary issue regarding the road map of reforms, and it also concerns economic development... I think that Ukraine is on the right path. The reforms are impressive, yet there remain substantial problems. At the same time, we observe an economic development, and this gives us reason to believe that the right path has been chosen,” said Christian Danielsson.

Taking on the best European practices

In the course of the round table meeting, Hennadii Zubko, Vice Prime Minister – Minister of Regional Development, Construction, Housing and Communal Services, stressed that the decentralisation reform “is not just a change and transfer of funds or powers”, but also, primarily, “the change in the management system of the large European country”.

“Due to the support of all our partners, due to the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, Ukraine can implement the best experience of every European country: either administrative services from Sweden, or e-governance from Estonia, or the reform of the territorial structure and approach from Poland, or support in different directions from Germany. And every best practice gives us the opportunity to make the best management model in our country,” the Vice Prime Minister expressed his gratitude to the European partners.

The issue of local management is very important in the implementation of the reform. “I have had an idea for two years now: I would like to introduce a system of a so-called MBA for our management teams on the ground, because people who are chosen do not always see how to implement certain projects,” said Hennadii Zubko, adding that European experience in this area would also be very useful.

The Vice Prime Minister stressed that decentralisation is the Ukrainian national project: “We do not have time for pilot projects and experiments in education, healthcare or other domains. We must now make a country that complies with any European country by the quality of service provision”.

“It is important to show the real result in the Ukrainian family – what exactly the decentralisation reform has provided, and this should happen through changing the quality of education, pre-school education, infrastructure, quality of primary healthcare in the hromada. When a person in the hromada feels these changes in living standards, and at the same time understands that taxes paid by him/her are transparently spent on his/her territory – this will be the result we want to achieve as soon as possible,” Hennadii Zubko emphasised the result that the government wants to achieve.

Competent personnel and state supervision

Experts from 24 Local Government Development Centres (LGDC), established with the support of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme and MinRegion in all oblasts of Ukraine, also joined the round table meeting. Serhiy Yatskovskyi, Director of the Khmelnytsky LGDC, stressed that the decentralisation reform is one of the most effective in Ukraine and, what is more important, people believe in it. The main obstacle to the implementation of the reform is the lack of professional personnel and insufficient level of competence of management teams, he convinced.

“If there are still some experts in rayon centres at administration, financial directorates, treasury, who could move to the newly established AHs, then in the rural hromadas there is a very substantial lack of such specialists, and moreover, nobody wants to move to the village,” said Serhiy Yatskovskyi.

Another important aspect is the need to clearly elaborate the mechanism for state supervision of the decision of local self-government bodies in the new “decentralised” conditions in order to “prevent the adoption of any voluntarist decisions.” “Today, certain state supervision should be introduced by the state authorities, because it is not clear: who and according to which procedure should stop the decision of the local self-government body, if it contradicts the current legislation,” emphasised the director of the Khmelnytskyi LGDC.

Efficient educational management in AHs

A special emphasis during the event, in addition to discussing the European dimension of the decentralisation reform and its sectoral aspects, was made on the reform of education and its tasks. Volodymyr Kolisnyk, Head of the Educational Department of the Dunayevetska urban AH (Khmelnytskyi Oblast), shared his own experience in this area.

“In order to provide a high-quality education, it is worth starting from the bottom: everything is formed at lower levels – within the pedagogical, parental, and pupils’ groups. It is necessary to form a single mainstream and direct it so that each child receives what he/she wants, depending on his/her abilities and needs. Local hromadas should take responsibility for making decisions the parents, children and teachers will benefit from,” he said.

The officials of the Dunayevetska AH chose partnership as the basis of their new approach in the educational sphere, focusing on methodological support: “The main aspect we set ourselves is partnership. Partnership with pedagogical teams, public organisations, institutions, teachers and parents, partnership with newly established AHs. We moved towards the methodological support – providing methodological assistance to educators not only of our hromada, but also hromadas throughout the rayon.”

On the basis of the Dunayevetska AH, a training and methodological centre for the collection, systematisation and dissemination of best practices in the management of education in hromadas has been set up. To date, this platform has already 37 practices, used by 25 thousand teachers, boasted of the achievements the head of the Educational Department of the Dunayevetska AH.

According to him, creation of this centre, as well as implementation of other practices on the effective educational management in AH, became possible due to the Ukrainian-Swedish project.

The Ministry of Education hopes for the EU support

Liliya Hrynevych, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, pointed out that with the establishment of AHs there appeared a need for training a large number of managers at short-term courses. She expressed her hope that the EU would be able to provide support on this issue, in particular, in establishing a kind of a distant education centre.

“At the working level, we have already discussed with the representatives of the European Commission that with such large-scale reforms and huge need to train managers at the local level, Ukraine needs a distant education centre, since local hromada managers do not have time to go somewhere for long courses. A good distant education centre could become an extremely serious support for Ukrainian reforms, including the decentralisation reform,” said Liliya Hrynevych.

Vocational education is another area where the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine hopes for the support of the European Union: “We have another very important domain, which, unfortunately, was traditionally very neglected in Ukraine, that is vocational education. We are now feeling the result of this neglect, as there is not enough skilled personnel in the labour market... We are interested in implementation of the project on modernisation and updating of our system of vocational education in cooperation with the EU.”

Liliya Hrynevych added that the expert assistance of European partners is also needed in the establishment of the National Qualifications Agency. “The law on education finally offers an institutional bridge between the educational system and labour market, namely the creation of a National Agency for Professional Qualifications, and here we really need expert assistance from the European Commission,” she said.

The Minister of Education recalled that from 1 January 2018, a new formula for allocating educational subvention among local budgets, that takes into account indicators such as the number of pupils, features of the territory, etc., has already been applied. “The state provides funding by specific rules that are the same for all and take into account peculiarities – whether it is a rural hromada, or whether it is located in a mountainous area. Though the state cannot fund what the hromada has expressed as its wish. For example, studying at a lyceum or a specialised school is more expensive than studying at a regular school, and if the hromada decides to have all its schools specialised, then they have to fund them additionally on their own,” said Liliya Hrynevych.

At the same time, the Ministry of Education does not claim that this new formula, developed with the help of the Swedish partners within the framework of the “Decentralisation in Education” project, “is static and will not change.” The educational department hopes that the formula will be improved in future with expert support from the European partners. “The formula is trying to take into account the specifics of all hromadas, and therefore the main thing is that we have universal rules for all. Perhaps these universal rules need to be further elaborated, and we hope that it will be within the framework of U-LEAD that we will be able to further develop this topic – the balance of powers and funding for these powers,” the Minister said.

She stressed that the educational reform was well-timed with the decentralisation reform. “We want to transform the current school, where children are just extensively loaded with knowledge, to a modern new Ukrainian school where children are preparing for competencies in the 21st century – to be successful citizens with relevant values ​​and competencies. And by the way, the list of these competencies is based on the one approved in the EU,” noted Liliya Hrynevych.

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