It’s been two years since the reform providing a voluntary association of territorial communities (ATC) started being implemented in the country. And this process is a striking example of how even the best idea may be discredited due to poor performance.
What stands behind the idea of association?
At present, with Ukraine’s having 11.5 thousand territorial communities half of them are small, with a population of less than 3 thousand people. In addition, about 75% of rural areas in Ukraine are considered depressed and underdeveloped areas. Therefore, even in theory, these communities cannot be economically self-sufficient. They need constant subsidies from the state. The state, in its turn, never possesses a sufficient amount of money.
In this regard, it was planned to consolidate settlements into larger communities, which by definition provides better opportunities for good governance and economic development. However, there is a downside: a new community should be of a size that would let maintain direct relations between the residents and the authorities. Therefore, it is important to find and keep a balance as for the size of the communities associations, and this balance should be represented in the so-called long-term plan of ATC formation. Regional state administrations, which should ensure implementation of the government’s decentralization policy, are in charge of this.
How is this process carried out in Lviv region?
In 2015, allegedly Lviv region was one of the leaders in the country; 15 communities were founded. However, it turned out that Lviv was the leader only in quantity but not in quality. Most of the created communities were small and thus obviously untenable.
The pursuit of showings that is certainly very important for any state official has overcome common sense and economic calculations.
For a better understanding of the situation in Lviv region I will provide comparative figures from Odesa region where I recently visited the Forum on ATC issues organized by local “Samopomich” branch. In these figures blue marks the percentage of communities’ own funds, and red – those funds received from the state.
Fig. 1. Rating of financial independence from (dependence on) the state budget of local budgets of ATC in Lviv region
Fig. 2. Rating of financial independence from (dependence on) the state budget of local budgets of ATC in Odesa region
These data show a really shameful situation for Lviv region. The rate of subsidies from the state budget of the least productive community of Odesa region is 24%. While the same figure in Lviv region is 64%. Moreover, only two communities (out of 15) in Lviv region have better indicators than the least productive community in Odesa region. I consider this to be a disaster, of which somehow nobody talks and few know! These data clearly demonstrate that formation of ATC in Lviv region was an imitation of hard work, deception of the communities and waste of budgetary funds. I wonder whether any officials of Lviv regional state administration were punished for such “work”.
In 2016 there is a new trend
Not having admitted it, but, obviously, realizing their mistake, Lviv state region administration specialists started working on amendments to the so-called long-term ATC plan of the region. And now they ran to a different extreme – gigantomania – aiming to create megacommunities. This is most clearly illustrated by Pustomyty community association on the basis of whole Pustomyty district. Local state executive authorities promoted this idea eagerly trying to convince the deputies and community residents by various means. You might be tempted to think that this time the idea was guided by economic calculations and the desire to create a capable community? In fact, no. It was merely guided by lobbyism and a desire to strengthen the “feodal system” beneficial to certain individuals in their respective territories.
Frankly speaking, but for active involvement of civil society and media in this situation it would have been impossible to prevented realization of this plan. However, I think it ain’t over till it’s over. Even though allegedly the idea of gigantomania is in the past, one cannot be sure the regional administration is not preparing a new surprise. Why then the final draft of a new long-term plan hasn’t been made public as yet? Why all over the city of Lviv are there dozens of its alleged final versions? After all, the long-term plan is designed by the regional administration, but it is approved by the regional council. It might happen so that “pro-Pustomyty” deputies will like to introduce some changes at the last moment.
Therefore, as for this issue we have to be very careful in order to prevent creation of some quasi-formations that have nothing to do with local government.
To sum up, we have to admit that the reform of community associations in Lviv region has been a failure so far. Anyway, I still hope that with the help of experts, skilled public institutions, responsible local deputies we will be able to steer this process into the right direction.