Ukraine just a adopted law that could fundamentally reform the bloated, rigid, corrupt and politicized governmental bureaucracy that has plagued it for years.
“Possibly, no other bill had so much resistance to its adoption. If the corrupt system resisted it so much, that means we are on the right track,”
considers Mykola Vyhivskyi, who manages the public administration group of the Reanimation Package of Reforms, a civic society initiative that sprung up after Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution to make sure vital reforms get implemented.
The notorious ineffectiveness and corruptness of Ukraine’s civil service sector was grounded in the ample opportunities that the system allowed for misusing state funds. Nicknamed “the system,” the Soviet-like stale, immobile management of the civic sector with a lack of purpose save for making people’s lives more complicated and self-preservation of its members, was based on opaqueness to public influence, on the impossibility for new people to enter “the system,” and the ubiquitous subordination of top-bureaucrats to political parties.
Here is what will change
1. Appointments will be based on an open competition
Previously, officials were appointed to positions according to an opaque process that was competitive only in name. Civic society had no opportunity to influence it, opening doors for bureaucrats to be appointed based on a bribe, personal loyalty, or as a pawn of a political party. Top-officials were appointed according to a quota principle, when the leaders of the parliamentary coalition after the first day in parliament simply sat down and divided the important positions among themselves. Now, the open competition for the appointment of civic servants will be overseen by a commission, 1/3 of which will be composed by civil society activists. This will ruin political corruption in Ukraine.
2. Society will be able to control appointments to top-positions
Previously, society could not influence who was appointed to top civil service positions. Now, a special commission will oversee the appointment of category-A top-bureaucrats. It will include representatives from the President’s Administration, Parliament, Cabinet of Ministers, Anticorruption Bureau, Trade Unions, and civic society representatives. The probability of them all entering an agreement and appointing a pre-arranged person is very low.
3. Civil servants will be prevented from lobbying interests of political parties
Previously, Ukrainian political parties lured top-bureaucrats into their ranks, gaining control over large state financial streams. Now, membership in political parties for category-A bureaucrats is prohibited and becomes limited for categories B and C.
This was the root of corruption. A person that was appointed by a political party can’t think about government interests; he or she will think about the interests of his patron. – Mykola Vyhivskyi
4. Concentration of control over ministries will be avoided and their effectiveness boosted
Previously, the apparatus of a ministry was managed by a political figure, the deputy of the Minister. As the Ministers changed often, so did the deputies. This was not effective at all – long-term projects like implementation of reforms or some program were impossible. A project was started by one manager, then he’s replaced by another one that has other views and may be a political appointee or not have the proper managing experience. Now, a new position of a state secretary is introduced to manage the apparatus of a Ministry. The secretary will be a civil servant chosen through a contest. If she performs her functions well, she will retain her position when the Cabinet of Ministers is reappointed, contributing to institutional continuity. This separation of administrative and political positions is practiced in all EU countries.
5. Terms of service of bureaucrats will be limited
Previously, bureaucrats enjoyed unlimited terms in office. Now, top-bureaucrats are appointed to positions for a five-year term and can serve no more than two terms in a row.
6. Managers won’t be able to manipulate their subordinates with salaries
Previously, a bureaucrat’s salary consisted mostly of bonuses (70-80%). Now, bonuses will only make up 30% of the salary.
The #1 reform
Apart from that, the number of civil servants is predicted to drop by nearly 2/3. As part of the decentralization law, 30% of the civil service sector is going to be shortened, because the functions of civil servants in central government will transfer to their colleagues from self-governance. E-governance will lead to additional cuts of numbers of bureaucrats. The salary fund for civil servants will not decrease, meaning that the average salaries of civil servants will rise.
“This is the #1 reform for me personally,” Mr. Vyhivskyi told Euromaidan Press. “Our parliamentarians can vote for many nice laws, but the implementation of any reform, be it medical reform, judicial reform etc., will always be up to the civil servants. How our country will change for the better depends on who these people will be.”
Ukraine has a chance to receive an effective civil service. However, this law only lays the foundation. The effects will be seen in a few years when the secretaries will be appointed and the process starts.
Though important, the civil service law is only part of the reform of the public administration of Ukraine. The next step is the reform of the Cabinet of Ministers and central organs of government which will allow making the process of governance effective and allow approaching European standards in public administration.
The resistance of the old system
This revolutionary for Ukraine bill traveled a staggering 16-month path prior to being approved. A working group of experts started working on the project of the reform in August 2014, and it was submitted to Parliament in October 2014. Numerous sides of Ukraine’s political establishment attempted to mold the text of the bill into their interests, stalling its adoption.
“However, the media publicity and public interest was too large. This is the first law that was adopted in its entirety, the way it was originally intended,” commented Mykola Vyhivskyi.
This publicity, largely, was achieved thanks to a group of civic activists, which continued their previous actions aimed at convincing Ukrainian MPs to adopt legislature that is inconvenient for old political elites.
Read about their previous action: Ukrainian civic society pressures MPs to adopt EU visa-liberalization laws
The danger of Ukraine’s MPs shoving in amendments that would suit the interests of Ukraine’s old political system grew as the vote was postponed numerous times. The activists managed to first raise awareness around the issue via a selfie campaign with the hashtag #Tysny (“press it”, meaning press voting button). One selfie by a soldier defending Ukraine from Russia’s hybrid army in Donbas made headlines: he has holding a rifle and a sign saying “Press it so I won’t have to” (all photos from social networks):
Holding rallies at Ukraine’s parliament on the days of the votes, the activists handed out leaflets saying “2490 without amendments” to each MP. It seems that the pressure of a small group of committed citizens managed to once again turn the tide this time, as it was with the visa-liberalization laws. A great victory for civic society!