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That “decentralisation” multilevel governance thing

October 30, 2015

There has been much mention of governance “decentralisation” with regard to Ukraine – often with a nod to Kremlin designs to enforce “federalisation” upon the nation, which simply won’t happen as those in the Kremlin may have initially hoped – officially or otherwise.

Yet “decentralisation” is quite necessary for Ukraine.  It is an understatement to state that the nation is far too centralised when it comes to governance and power.  It is also beyond time that Ukraine actually made a genuine attempt to meet (at least some of) its obligations under the European Charter for Self-Government.

Shifting budgetary governance, some tax raising powers and administrative responsibilities and accountability from the centre to the periphery however, appears to be all that is talked about – and is of course this has been the driver behind the interest of those behind the national political curtain.  Bigger provincial financial troughs to control and from whence to gorge cannot be ignored.

Nevertheless, such things aside, how will it work?

By greedily accepting additional budgets and powers, local responsibility and accountability increases far beyond finding more subtle ways to bleed the budgets and insure networks and patrons are suitable compensated/rewarded.

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The local authorities, will also be assuming far more accountability to their local constituents, but beyond that, as the regional drivers (to varying degrees) of the local economies, regional government will (quite rightly) take upon itself the expectations of its citizenry – and that means creating and/or facilitating jobs, sustainable development, and many other such demands for which much local government has no experience, nor plan, for doing – particularly in the small towns and villages.

What is to be the role of entrepreneurship? Of new business?  How will local governance, used only to doing as it was told by its local patriarchy and the centre, together with fleecing budgets where it could, create a culture of cooperation and recognise that any local economics and development is dependent upon a bottom-up approach for which they will be in no small part responsible for nurturing?

Has local governance fully understood the concept of the “principle of competence” that it is about to undertake?  If so, is it capable of effectively dealing with it?  Is it prepared to act as the conduit between its citizenry, and their businesses, in shaping not only the local, but national policy?  Will it even cross the minds of many new and empowered local governments to carry out impact assessments prior to any national governmental bowel movements legislatively – and inform the centre of the results?  Without the support of the cities and the oblasts and the people and businesses within, diktats from both central and local governance will continue to fail as they often have historically.

Cities (primarily) are the drivers of development, but also where the face to face tackling of prickly and difficult issues occur between the constituency and governance.  Cities (primarily) are the drivers of entrepreneurship and social mindsets.  Central government will never be effective (and has not been in Ukraine) without the collaboration of the cities and their constituencies – nor will local governance be any more successful unless it be driven bottom-up instead of trying to act as a micro-Kyiv top-down.

How will not only central government, but the (soon to be) newly empowered local governments initiate meaningful interaction, particularly with entrepreneurs and SMEs, that will drive business and societal development?  How and where will it direct newly acquired budgets?  At a time of few lenders (at unaffordable rates) where finance matters far, far more to SME’s than being able to set up a business within 24 hours at a one-stop-shop, where accessible and affordable finance matters more than negotiating complicated tax systems, and money matters more than generally burdensome bureaucracy – how can local government facilitate organic and sustainable development driven by local business and entrepreneurship?

(EU SME grants are fine – but even the Ukrainian NGOs tasked with dealing with SMEs are unsure how such grants are actually spent once delivered .)

Who decides what is “value for money” or “best value”?  Which local governance entities, particularly in the small towns and villages have any idea about public administration, let alone a genuine desire for public service, when it is about to be dumped into their laps?  Will small town mayors/town and village council chairs collaborate upon mutually beneficial issues, or will it be every small town mayor/village chairperson for themselves?

How genuine will local governance be, and how prepared for local governance is local government?  How prepared are the citizens to work with, rather than in spite of, newly empowered local governance when it appears (from recently concluded local election campaigning) none have the slightest clue about how they are going to energise job creation, local economies and sustainable development.

If and/or when “decentralisation” is facilitated by constitutional change, is it likely to have one of the ever-more frequent “delay clauses” whereby “decentralisation” takes effect from “date X” at some distant time in the future, whilst the questions above and many, many others raised by this necessary democratic step, are wrestled with?

Perhaps it will simply happen, ill-prepared or otherwise, and there will be a few years of rampant theft and/or stupidity and/or well-meaning naivety – or any variations thereof – but Ukraine and Ukrainian local governance will eventually muddle through (somehow).

By (necessarily) empowering local governance, is local governance able to empower sustainable local development?

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