The Fourth Forum of the Network for Free Local Politicians
The Fourth Forum of the Network for Free Local Politicians (NFLP) took place in Vinnytsia under the title"Decentralisation in Ukraine: New Opportunities for Local Communities and Citizens’ Participation" on March 20 – 22th 2015. This Forum brought together over 40 participants, members of local councils, political activists and journalists from 16 regions of Ukraine. Decentralisation reform was crucial as an overall topic, because it is one of the major reforms implemented most actively in Ukraine.
The participants discussed urgent issues relevant for local government and the territorial organisation of state reform with the best Ukrainian decentralisation experts. There was lively debate on the main objectives of the reform, i.e.
• an effective system of local government and a new territorial structure,
• division of power between the local authorities and executive bodies,
• and a predictable financial basis.
Further, decentralisation reforms’ concrete results achieved upon a year of reform were the issues, i.e. budget and tax decentralisation, new principles of inter-budget relations, and the voluntary integration of local communities and future plans for regional development.
The event was organised by the Centre of Citizens’ Initiative with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. It was moderated by Maxym Koliesnykov, Volodymyr Oliinyk, Oleksandr Yarema and Vitali Zahaynyy.
The forum participants learned more about the complexities of the decentralisation processes, of new principles of inter-budget relations, and discussed problems pertaining to the voluntary integration of small communities (for example, the reluctance of heads of village councils as they fear loss of influence and power as well as elimination of schools and village health centres), long-range plans and prospects for the development of territories in order to improve the quality of administrative services.
Key speakers were:
Vasyl Kuybida, Doctor of Public Administration, Professor, Minister for Regional Development 2007-2010, who discussed with participants the structure of public authorities in Ukraine and basic factual knowledge regarding administrative reform (as the correct modelling of the new territorial basis for villages and districts and the definition of “small communities’ capacity” as basic units of local government).
Yuriy Hanushchak, local government and administrative reform expert, Advisor to the Minister for Regional Development, provided a solid foundation of general logic regarding decentralisation reform in Ukraine and new principles of modelling the territorial basis for communities.
Vitaliy Zahainy, Head of the Centre of Citizens’ Initiative in Lviv and UNDP and EU Advisor of the project "Good Practices of Non-governmental Monitoring of Administrative Services" in 2013 and 2014, presented his analysis of public services, clarified, how they depend on decentralisation and informed about adequate tools for efficient public control of public services.
Yevhen Ishchuk, head of the Public Services Centre of the Vinnytsia City Council, discussed with the participants the success story of Vinnytsia and its modern Public Services Centre with its high service quality. All were moreover given the opportunity to visit the Centre of Public Services of the Vinnytsia City Council themselves, as it is indeed widely recognised as the best in Ukraine.
The participants made good use of the face-to-face Forum to present their own most successful projects of 2014 and evaluate each other’s projects. There was reason to look back at past successes. One participant presented the draft decision of ‘his’ City Council "On the Openness of Information about the City Budget", approved by the Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky City Council – a result achieved based on the Third Forum of the NFLP related to the topic of “Budget Control”.
In the evening Mykola Udod joined the Forum, Vice Rector of Donetsk National University, currently located in Vinnitsya. There was an open discussion with all participants on the current situation at the university and the problems on internally displaced persons (IDPs). Further, Oles Pogranychniy, journalist, social activist and head of the supervisory board of the magazine "Ї" led an interesting excursion into the history of the post-Soviet Ukrainian intellectual community that may have been forging new Ukrainian history for decades.
The second day of the Forum was dedicated to the in-depth review of the public administration structure of Ukraine and changes in terms of decentralisation and territorial structure more efficient and effective, as presented by former Minister Vasyl Kuybida. With expert Yuriy Hanushchak, participants managed to better comprehend the results of the on-going reform and discussed the issues of modelling the merger of local communities and the creation of effective local government.
Participants proceeded to debating the advantages and disadvantages of small communities’ merger in three different modelling situations. This debate enabled consolidating their knowledge. A panel discussion entitled "Decentralisation as Viewed by Local Communities" was held, joined bySerhiy Svytko, Head of the Vinnytsia Regional Council, and Yuriy Makedon, MP of the Ukrainian Parliament. In the evening, according to tradition, participants were offered the opportunity for a thoughtful movie night.
A working group was voluntarily formed in order to prepare the final draft of a Resolution of the Fourth NFLP Forum for all participants to express their expectations regarding reforms in general and the pace of its implementation in particular. They drafted specific recommendations to the various branches of government and institutions related to the implementation of reform and themselves assumed certain liabilities for promoting reforms. So, at the end of the Forum the working group presented a Resolution that was jointly discussed and finalised.
On its final day, to sum up all sub-topics, Sergey Kudlayenko, MP of the Ukrainian Parliament and Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on State Building, Local Government and Regional Development, and Yevhen Ishchuk, Head of the Public Services Centre of the Vinnytsia City Council joined the participants. The latter expressed his great interest in cooperating with the NFLP and assured his Committee’s attention to the Fourth NFLP Forum’s Resolution.
Members of the Network’s organising committee Maxym Koliesnykov, Volodymyr Oliinyk, Oleksandr Yarema and Vitaliy Zahaynyy said in their final statements that the reform of decentralisation in Ukraine is the key to development. It was determined that the Network will take an active part in further studying and popularising information about decentralisation reform. Also, during the final session, Vitaliy Zahaynyy proposed the idea of planning and designing activities for public control for NFLP members of administrative services’ quality in Ukraine, a suggestion which Forum participants supported.
The Network of Free Local Politicians (NFLP) was started by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in 2014 as a multi-horizontal structure for liaising local Ukrainian politicians, activists and journalists who share liberal views – in order to reveal and communicate their professional experience and learn and disseminate best practice solutions to specific local challenges.