Reanimation package of reforms > News > Interview > On the challenges, limitations, and risks for local self-government bodies in the wartime

On the challenges, limitations, and risks for local self-government bodies in the wartime

How do you assess the performance of the local self-government bodies at the beginning of a full-scale military invasion?

Foremost, Ukraine wasn’t 100% ready for a full-scale war.

The Law “On Mobilization Preparation and Mobilization” provides prescribed mobilization plans for each community. However, according to the local self-government bodies, there were either no such documents or they were irrelevant. Many communities, particularly Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions, found themselves face to face with the enemy. Their heads and other officials decided how to act – to leave or not, to continue to work under occupation or not.

Another new direction that we have to master is the creation of volunteer formations of territorial communities following the Law “On the Foundations of National Resistance,” which came into force on the eve of a full-scale invasion. That also includes the construction of checkpoints, protective structures, and the creation of other conditions necessary for the effective operation of volunteer units.

Despite this, most representatives of local self-government bodies remained in place and organized the life activities of settlements in new conditions. We only have a few cases when deputies and heads of communities got lost, didn’t take responsibility for particular decisions, or moved to a safer place.

In places where there were no hostilities, local self-government bodies were actively involved in volunteer activities and assistance to IDPs. There were many examples when local self-government bodies initiated the volunteer movement while others actively promoted it.

Considering this, experts and politicians generally positively evaluated the work of local self-government bodies in wartime conditions. And its worth mentioning that one of the reasons for the coordinated and operational response to the crisis is decentralization and the expansion of local powers.

How justified are the changes in the powers of local self-government bodies adopted by the government and parliament during the war? Doesn’t it lead back to centralization, which means a step back?

From the first weeks of the full-scale invasion, the Government and the Verkhovna Rada were concerned about the situation. The general vector of work was aimed at boosting management from the center, expanding the powers of regional military administrations, and, accordingly, limiting local self-government bodies.

First, the Verkhovna Rada adopted two draft laws, which the President did not sign. It was a violation of the Constitution by the President. However, it is a relatively positive decision for local self-government since, in my opinion, these laws limited local self-government bodies too much. And the fact that the President listened to the views of experts and community representatives led to the development of a new and improved version of the draft law, which eventually came into force.

Another document, which caused many discussions, is aimed at managing finances by local self-government bodies – Government’s Resolution No. 590 “On approval of the Procedure for the exercise of powers by the State Treasury Service in a special regime under martial law.” Of course, since February 24, the prioritization of expenses has changed: costs that contribute to the defense of the country have taken first place. However, the document was so controversial that it was changed 14 times in 4-5 months.

There is currently a simplified procedure for accepting and dismissing civil servants and employees of local self-government bodies, which also creates certain risks. Under such conditions, it is easier to fire “inconvenient” people and appoint relatives, for example.

One of the critical problems is that all regions are considered under a common denominator. There are occupied territories, places of active hostilities, and a rear. In my opinion, each region should have adapted rules.

Recently, some ministries were unified. Instead of three separate ones – the Ministry of Regional Policy, the Ministry of Reintegration, and the Ministry of Infrastructure – they formed one Ministry of Development of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure. How will it affect decentralization processes?

It is not easy to give an unequivocal answer to this question. Such a process as combining three or two ministries into one affects the speed and efficiency of work.

However, the recently appointed minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that the launched mechanism of decentralization would be moved forward, which inspires hope.

What can be done today to continue the reform after the victory?

Many issues should be decided now to have a prepared foundation for work after the victory.

For example, the draft law “On local state administrations” is awaiting its second reading in the Verkhovna Rada. The adoption of the draft law “On de-Sovietization of the procedure for solving certain issues of the administrative-territorial system of Ukraine” remains relevant because we still use the decree of the Presidium of the Ukrainian SSR from 1981. There are also ongoing discussions about taxes, which should be included in the local budget and which should go to the state budget.

A separate problem that arose on February 24 was the provision of administrative services. With the beginning of hostilities, the Administrative services centers stopped working altogether. They were eventually opened, but there was no access to the public registers, and they could not function effectively. Registers gradually began to open in the summer, but the situation has yet to stabilize, and as of today, we have yet to reach the point at which we were before February 24.

Many services are now transferred to the Pension Fund, which has never worked with the Administrative services centers, and these services are currently unavailable through the Administrative services centers. We are again returning to the bureaucratic channel.

Now some services can be obtained online, but we must remember that not all citizens have access to electronic platforms. It takes time to complete the digitization. And as long as digitization continues, services must be provided in parallel – at citizens’ choice.

What are the first steps after the victory to complete the reform of local self-government and territorial organization of power and achieve a significantly higher level of decentralization?

First, it is necessary to make changes to the Constitution regarding the administrative-territorial system, local executive bodies, and local self-government. Secondly, there is a rather large package of draft laws that need adoption, in particular, “On local state administrations,” “On local self-government,” “On administrative and territorial organization,” “On service in local self-government bodies,” “On local referendum.” In addition, it is necessary to make changes to many sectoral laws because all we have done so far is preparation for full-fledged decentralization. Therefore, changes to the laws on land, construction, education, health care, social protection, and many others are on the way.