Experts, MPs: Public service reform and a new specialized law are not possible without top officials’ support


Kyiv, 23 November 2015. Ukraine’s top officials should publicly support the draft law on Public service (hereinafter – the Draft Law) to set the public service reform in operation. This was the conclusion of discussion on “How to unlock public service reform in Ukraine?” which took place at Ukraine Crisis Media Center within the project “Ukraine Reforms Communications Taskforce”. It is expected that on November 26, the Draft Law will be submitted to a vote by Parliament on second reading. It enshrines the principles of public service in Ukraine and is the base for starting a reform of the same name. The key principles include prohibiting civil servants of higher rank (category A) to take part in political life, selecting for all civil service positions solely on a competitive basis, making a clear division between public and patronage services, withdrawing labor relations with public servants from the application of Labor Code and submitting them only to the Draft Law rules.

Alyona Shkrum, MP (Batkivshchyna party), Head of the Verkhovna Rada subcommittee on public service, said that overall members of the parliament submitted 1,306 amendments to the Draft Law, all of them were considered. Currently, the document is ready for second reading. “We worked out a perfect new draft law for the second reading. We also got opinions from SIGMA (a project to support and improve management and governance in Central and Eastern Europe) that the document is seriously improved. Their ammendments are purely technical and are rather related to the process of its implementation after approval,” said Shkrum.

However, the MP admitted that a great problem for promoting public service reform in general and its basic law in particular, is lack of government support. “There is not a single nationally recognized politician, who could take on responsibility for this reform. In other countries where similar reforms were carried out, they were in the competence of Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister. Therefore, after approval of the Draft Law, we will require introducing the position of Deputy Prime Minister on public service reform,” emphasized Shkrum.

Because of lack of support the Draft Law has, in fact, became a bargaining chip in so called ‘political games’ even in factions that make up the Coalition. “Today we have a situation when there are no formal amendments to the Draft Law. Everyone supports it publicly, but all these objections are not in the plan of the Draft Law. This is an unpredictable situation. Six months ago, when we started preparation for the second reading, we understood the amendments, political ambitions and interests. We coped with all of this. But the current situation is that the negative consequences of the failure to approve this Draft Law are far greater, than the risk of its not very successful implementation,” said Denys Brodskyi, expert of a local civic initiative Reanimation package of reforms.

This thesis was further elaborated by Sergiy Soroka, expert at a public platform “New Country”. “All matters relating to the content of the Draft Law have been agreed. But each faction imposes certain political conditions to its support during the vote. Like, “Yes, we agree, but in exchange for the adoption of such a resolution (not related to the Draft Law). But this is the Draft Law that cannot and should not be subject to political bargaining,” said Soroka.

Viktor Tymoshchuk, expert of think-tank ‘Center for Political and Legal Reforms’, was more strict in his assessments of the prospects for the Draft Law. “There is a high probability that the Draft Law will be voted down (on November 26, in the second reading – UCMC note). The reason is a new approach to the appointment of heads of local administrations. According to the Draft Law, candidates for local administrations have to be chosen by a professional committee, and then the President has to select and appoint selected candidates as heads of local administrations. So, there may be some resistance to the Draft Law. I think that if the President does not favor public support for the Draft Law, it has little chance of approval,” reckons the expert of the Center for Political and Legal Reforms.

Oleksiy Mushak, MP (Petro Poroshehnko Bloc), acknowledged that public service reform advancement involves difficulties. But despite all fears, the Poroshenko Bloc faction should support this Draft Law. “I am sure that this Draft Law will be supported by Parliament. If there is a public demand, it cannot be stopped. Reforms can be implemented only with the help of civil society. According to my expectations, the Poroshenko Bloc faction will support this Draft Law,” said the MP.

Svitlana Kovalivska, expert of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), proposed to revert to the status of assistants of top civil servants during consideration of the Draft Law in the second reading because their influence on the decisions made by their employers is very high, and the reality of their work in Ukraine is such that, despite legal restrictions, they actually have the opportunity to get access to information which is a state secret. The expert also insists on strict approach to the participation of civil servants in political life.

Experts stressed that the Draft Law is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the implementation of the public service reform. Its approval only starts the process of changes. “The public service reform has three objectives: rational structure of state administration, adequate decision-making procedures and professional level of civil servants. These three objectives include and specify 10 operational tasks. The Draft Law allows only two of them. Therefore, we must adopt this document and move on,” said Ivan Hilobok, manager of Project Office of the National Reform Council.

Andryi Zabolotny, director of regulatory and legal support department at the National Agency for Civil Service, said that approval of the Draft Law for many civil servants is not just a change in working conditions, but also a change in their world outlooks. “There are three reasons why approval of the Draft Law is so important. First, it will allow young people without personal connections to participate in open selection and get an appointment. Second, with help of this Draft Law we will get honest and tolerant civil servants who would work for the result, would set a clear goal, and achieve it. Third, it should optimize approaches to dismissal of civil servants,” states  Andryi Zabolotny.