(DE)CENTRALIZATION: TWO “LOCAL” LAWS IN SIX MONTHS

Decentralization is one of the state priorities. The authorities do not get tired of stating this from all possible tribunes. Unfortunately, their words speak louder than their actions.

Over the past six months (during its eighth session), the parliament has managed to adopt only two laws that deal with local self-government. Have the MPs been idle? Not necessarily. The bills have been drafted and have been even approved in the relevant committee. But they never made it to the parliamentary hall. How come? First things first.

Let’s start with the achievements. Since February, the Verkhovna Rada has managed to adopt two “local” laws:

  • On the right of local governments to set restrictions on the sale of beer, alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages.
  • On the voluntary joining of territorial communities to cities of regional subordination.

Both laws are very important.

The first of them entitles local authorities to set time limits for the sale of alcohol. We are talking, first of all, about the prohibition to do this at night, which significantly reduces the crime levels. It is worth noting, though, that even before this law was adopted, many local self-government bodies had already established appropriate restrictions on the basis of another regulation. However, this norm was not clear. Therefore, the “alcohol mafia” often sought its abolition in courts or through the Antimonopoly Committee. Now the law is more than clear, and it cannot be interpreted in different ways.

The second law concerns the issue of communities, namely, the possibility for villages and towns to join cities of regional subordinance without holding new elections. Many experts argued that the cities were not active in the process of creating UTCs because they did not want new elections. But I have always said that this is not the main problem. And the first cases of applying the law on “unification” proved the correctness of my opinion: the dynamics have changed insignificantly. Why is that so? Because no one wants “absorption”. In fact, large cities and surrounding communities need a qualitative, mutually beneficial mechanism for their joint existence. agglomeration is exactly such a mechanism. Unfortunately, even though the relevant law has been approved by the committee, it never made it to the parliament’s consideration.

Now let us talk about negative issues. It is true that the adopted laws are important. But this is so far from being enough. In particular, in the list of priority bills on decentralization issues, which was drafted for Ukraine by our European partners, there were 17 points! This is not to mention a number of bills that were considered by the relevant committee on state construction, regional policy and local self-government, but, again, never made it to the parliament.

However, there are two things that strike the most (and not in a positive way):

The parliament has not considered 98 resolutions on the appointment of early elections in connection with the mayors’ death or early termination of office in different localities of Ukraine. For example, Lutsk – an administrative centre of the Volyn region. The mayor died more than a year and a half ago, but so far elections have not been appointed!

The appointment of such elections is the responsibility of the Verkhovna Rada. But the parliament has actually deprived people of the right to choose their own legitimate authority. Because of the interests of certain people, these issues were either not brought to consideration or, if they were included in the agenda, it was done in such a way that they could never be actually considered.

During this session, the new law “On Service in Local Self-Government Bodies” was rejected for good. We shall recall that the law was adopted in February last year. However, the President vetoed it providing far-fetched reason for this. There are relevant conclusions of the Council of Europe on this. The stumbling block was an amendment from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc on the introduction of the competition when determining the candidacies of deputy mayors. It is a nonsense that, according to the President, elected officials should get their deputies appointed through a competition. This position was criticized by European and Ukrainian experts, but… Unfortunately, the parliament could not overcome the presidential veto, and after the April 3 vote, the law is deemed rejected. Whereas, such a law in respect of civil servants is adopted and it provides them with significant advantages in comparison with the municipal service.

Thus, as a result, we have two adopted laws. Only two! This is an indicator of how valuable for our government decentralization really is. We cannot be talking about any speed of the process!

This all testifies to one thing: the course towards decentralization is “stalling”. As a consequence, local self-government is not receiving all the opportunities that could be of great benefit to the communities and could give the state a way out of the crisis abyss.

Lyubomyr Zubach
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