The politics of playing with administrative boundaries – Odessa

May 30, 2015

Yesterday saw the Odessa Regional Administration assembly fail to vote in favour of the Odessa Oblast plan to adhere Government of Ukraine’s “voluntary association of communities”.

Indeed the Cabinet of Ministers insists upon the creation of this “voluntary association of communities”, under the pretext of its necessity when allocating funding for the newly created, united administrative units – Somewhere in that, perhaps there is some logic?  Clearly allocating funds to the old administrative units is somehow now impossible, and thus there is an insistence that new “voluntary administrative units” be created, that can then subsequently be funded.

Currently, the proposed new administrative units of the Odessa Oblast would look something like that displayed below – if they can garner 67 votes in favour within the Oblast chamber.

Odessa regions

The above map of newly proposed administrative units failed to gather the requisite number of votes to become reality however.  25 votes in favour, 60 against.  A resolute rejection.

The new administrative unit plan was rightly and properly rejected for several reasons – some with far more validity than others for procedural reasons, matters of democracy, and others for entirely political reasons that may or may not hold validity depending upon your point of view.

Firstly, there was little, bordering upon no transparency in the process of how the newly proposed administrative units were formed.  There was little, if any, public input, and very little consultation with the elected Oblast deputies or the village councils.  Undoubtedly problematic for a voluntary local association (albeit one that is insisted upon), democratically questionable unless you consider it a purely administrative process, but nevertheless procedurally flawed if you do.

Secondly, what had been provisionally circulated to a select few, was not what was presented yesterday.  Indeed, as late as 1900 hours the evening before the proposal was put to the vote, changes were still being made to boundaries.

By way of a few examples, at 1800 hours two nights ago, the plan was to join together Odessa and the surrounding suburbs and villages of Tairova, Mizikevicha Hutra, Balky, Liman, Fontanka Kryzhanovka and Leski.  By 1930 hours that idea had been scrapped and Odessa was to join solely with Usatove.  Similarly, Illichovsk which had previously been tied to Gribovka and Sanzheyka, suddenly lost them, remaining with only Burlacha Balka, Oleksandrivka Malodolinskim and Molodejni.

A last minute change to what would have been a very large district combining Ananiev, Krasni and Kodyma, saw it split into two.  The Tatarbunar region that was planned to be two districts with administrative centres to be Tuzla and Tatarbunary  suddenly became one – to the ire of Tuzlovskogo that has long prided itself of being distinct.

Thirdly, a resolute rallying against the plan came from the south of the Oblast.  This primarily led by Rada MP Anton Cisse, supported by fellow Rada MPs Messrs Gyliev and Pressman.  Understandably so when considering for example, Anton Cisse’s robust core voter base is the ethnic Bulgarian electorate which currently resides in a single administrative unit in the south of the Oblast, but which under the plan would split.  Mr Cisse is far too busy with his business interests for the Rada on occasion, let alone having to deal with two (or more) newly minted administrative units instead of one.  His costs would increase and, perhaps, his influence decrease.  Thus the “ethnic card” was also played regarding boundaries.

Though the combined political weight of MPs Cisse, Gyliev and Pressman via their allied/owned Oblast deputies may just have been enough to stymie the submitted plan alone, it was clearly not necessary with so many others more than dissatisfied with the processes, lack of public engagement, last minute changes and general lack of transparency.  Nevertheless, all 3 Rada MPs made it very clear that their combined position was one that approving the project yesterday would be “premature” – a position shared by most of the Oblast deputies for one reason or another listed above.

Though it is often difficult to agree with Messrs Cisse, Gyliev and Pressman on many policy issues, and whilst no doubt their objections were driven by personal interests, many objections are nonetheless valid whether weighed on the scales of democracy, or upon the balance of procedural adherence.

The regional “voluntary association plan” was thus thrown out, albeit not out of hand, but after a 3 hour debate within the Oblast chambers.  Boundaries will surely have to be changed again to get anywhere near the required 67 votes to adopt any “voluntary association plan”, hopefully this time with transparency as the undercurrent of the exercise.

Some may now wonder over the fate of Regional Governor Igor Palitsa after such a shambles – (if indeed you consider him culpable and not the Chairman of the Oblast Council), particularly so as he is a “Kolomoisky man”, rather than a “President’s man”.  The truth is, however, that his fate is already sealed despite having done a fairly reasonable job – certainly far better than his last two predecessors, and in far more challenging times.

That he is still in post is simply down to the fact that the President has run out of close and trusted friends/acquaintances and ex-Vinnytsia chums to fill the Odessa Oblast (or any other) Governor’s post.  Nobody within the Odessa Oblast Administration has any idea who will eventually replace Igor Palitsa.  Thus Mr Palitsa remains in situ, for he is at the very least a dependable patriot of Ukraine from President Poroshenko’s point of view, even if not a “President’s man”.  However, whatever Mr Palitsa does, his days are numbered -and those days are synchronized to the ability of the President to find “his man” that is both willing, capable, and trusted, to run Odessa Oblast – notwithstanding likely to be accepted by the constituents.

If the presentation of this administrative plan in the manner it occurred was an exercise in failing to build political consensus, lack of transparency, democratic failure and administrative fumbling, then it was successful.

On a positive note, it appears that gone are the days when important proposals are simply railroaded and/or rubber-stamped in the Regional Oblast Administration regardless of procedural flaws or political expediency.


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