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The risks of decentralisation – Local governance Odessa

March 18, 2016

For the record, this blog is in favour of decentralisation and making local politicians and local governance accountable to the local constituents, rather than them having the continued, and well worn historical excuse, that “Kyiv” is somehow responsible for their poor management and ludicrous decisions.

There are however risks.

This entry is not about to raise the risks of decentralisation in Odessa and frame it around the Porto Franco/Freeport concept that many feel is a tool for separatism.  Although this issue has been raised once again within City Hall by the deputies controlled by Sergei Kivalov, and is certainly not an idea pooh-poohed by other serious “financial people” behind the Odessa curtain either, there is a significant difference between the Freeports of Southampton or Stockholm which enjoy certain local privileges and financial benefits, to a freeport that sets its own trade (and therefore to an extent foreign) policy as these dubious individuals would wish.

Considering the organised crime credentials of many in control of Odessa – not to mention some still having a distinctly thin patriotic veneer – an Odessa Freeport is an excellent idea until the integrity of the local governance is then considered.  At the point it remains an excellent idea to be implemented when organised crime no longer runs local government.

The risks relating to decentralisation as far as Odessa is concerned however, do relate to that very safe organised crime syndicate running local governance who have very little idea about how to manage the city for the benefits of its constituency.

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Perhaps the most obvious place to look, because it is physically visible, is the city development plan – and also as far as criminality is concerned, a city plan that looks to the future insofar as what nefarious deals can be struck daily in pursuit of the plan.

In broad brushstrokes, the issues relate to responsibility and accountable for (increasingly awful, not to mention probably illegal, and certainly secretive) decisions within City Hall.  Mayor Trukhanov and the City Hall deputies would seem to believe that democracy begins and ends with (disputed) elections and a few months of voter bribery leading up to them – accountability and responsibility will arrive only when decentralisation does – and then only in the cases that they cannot squirm out of.

In recent weeks Mayor Trukhanov has embarked upon bringing to life his “vision” for the development of Odessa – or to be blunt, the development of certain, lucrative parts of Odessa.  For the souls inhabiting the historical and famous (see the writings of Babel, Twain, Pushkin etc) Moldovanka region of the city, still beautiful despite its now crumbling original architecture that inspired such wonderful literary prose, there seems to be no hope of sympathetic redevelopment and/or refurbishment – and with it the associated societal issues will not be addressed either.

However, the affluent and pricey Arcadia, Fransuski Boulevard or historic city centre have the eye of Mayor Trukhanov – which is unfortunately not the eye of an architect, nor historian, nor it seems, lover of the city.

In the city centre, in amongst the two and three story original buildings which give Odessa is character (low buildings and wide streets) there is now a monstrosity under construction that completely dwarfs them and sticks out in the city skyline being as welcome as a spare prick at a wedding – to use the English idiom.

The reason this architectural disaster is currently being built, according to some within City Hall, is that nobody would build on this city centre lot if restricted to no more than 5 stories – so they have allowed the construction of something with at least double that number, despite the fact it completely disfigures the city.

Clearly City Hall believes that if there is no developer today that will build something entirely appropriate upon that lot, then there will never be a developer that would – so fuck it, let’s build a monstrosity permanently disfiguring the historic city centre, instead of building nothing now and waiting.

There are also issues on the wonderful Fransuski Boulevard too.  Some of which is being done with great consideration for the history and surrounding buildings – and some of which is nothing more than simply offensive to the history of the city and also the eye of the beholder.  This notwithstanding a seemingly blatant disregard for existing city ordnance.

If only the City Hall would give equal consideration to the redevelopment of the city as is given to what colour to paint the Odessa Opera House.

There are then several cases of existing residents being “pressured” to leave their homes for developers to step in – both in the city centre, and also the rayons within the city limits – much against the wishes of those residents naturally enough.  The mafia sticking to mafia tactics.

Indeed, on 16th March residents arrived at City Hall to make their democratic representations to the Mayor and City Hall – except they weren’t allowed to make any statements whatsoever.  This being because in true democracy stiffing bureaucratic style, for the hoi polloi to address their own Deputies in City Hall meetings, a Deputy has to invite them to do so – and none did.

Ergo nothing officially recorded in the meeting regarding their obvious complaints.  How then remedy or redress?

What of the city’s elected MPs to the Verkhovna Rada?  Will they not intercede on behalf of their constituency if the local government refuses to hear them?  Do they say nothing as architectural and city planning disaster after disaster occur, and city ordnance is simply ignored?  Is there no societal redress to be found there?

Naturally not – City Hall is comprised of their “people”.  There are “Trukhanov people”, there are “Goncharenko people”, “Kivalov people”, “Golubov people” etc., etc, – there’s even a “Saakashvili person” but he gets physically removed from City Hall by other people’s “people” on the odd occasion he turns up.

Suffice to say none of “their people” make any effort, and indeed often support, the scarring of the historical city centre – That is if they are actually aware of the decisions being made, or of meetings that discuss such issues.  Sometimes the secretive meetings of the Commission for Architecture and Urban Planning only become known after the event even to the local parliamentarians within City Hall, when at other meetings the CAUP “success” are mentioned in passing.  Such secret decision making meetings being entirely contrary to regulations requiring public announcement facilitating attendance of interested parties.

If all elected parliamentarians either local or national will not speak for their constituents in defence of the city and constituents they represent, then surely there are the courts?

Normally by the time the courts get officially involved (if not previously involved in the misappropriation of land, or ruling in favour of some odious/inappropriate development despite the law), it is almost always too late.  The construction is completed before the case gets to court.  There are cases that are deliberately sent to the wrong court too, as this case was relating to a scandalous development on Primorsky Boulevard .  The only notable things about this case was the ruling by Judge Natalya Petrenko:

“The court is surprised that experts of Ukraine, Ministry of Culture, giving the 2013 resolution on the implementation already made by the respondent works for some reason have not paid attention to the lack of any coordination of adjustment of the project, and does not take into account the provisions of the above regulations or acts, though knowledge of such acts is their direct responsibility.

All of the above, as well as criminal negligence, officials of the bodies responsible for the protection of cultural heritage and architectural and building control, led to the fact that at the Promenade, which is included in the historical area of ​​Odessa, opposite the Vorontsov Palace, an architectural monument of national importance illegally built on one floor, which undoubtedly led to disruption of the spatial composition of the Primorsky boulevard and could threaten the destruction of the supporting structures of the building (!).

The problem of illegal reconstruction of this object has received wide publicity, often covered in the media and requires prompt and effective solutions.

By submitting this particular definition of Vice Prime Minister – Minister of Culture of Ukraine, the court requires verification of the legality and validity of the issuance of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine permission to perform activities №2785 / 10/61/13 of 9 September 2013, as well as urgent measures to protect homes №1 on Vorontsov lane, which is a monument of urban planning and architecture of national significance.

Economic Court further informed the Vice Prime Minister – Minister of Culture of Ukraine, that the decision of the court on November 11, 2015 for the recovery of the Ministry of Culture in information about the coordination of project documentation and authorization is not satisfied, the reasons for failure are not communicated to the court.

The Court draws attention to the Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine – Minister of Regional Development, Construction and Housing, which directs and coordinates the work of the State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate of Ukraine, to the extremely poor performance of the department of legal maintenance inspection, which is the plaintiff in the case and of which the representative was not present at the hearing, did not send any notification about the reasons for non-attendance, did not express its position on the merits of the dispute and the court did not even notify of the State architectural and construction Inspectorate of the alleged claim.

The Court also draws attention to the Mayor Gennady Truhanov on the facts in the determination of the court – it must take urgent measures to preserve the architectural monument of national importance.”

(Excuse the poor English, it is a “Google Translate” as your author is too busy to translate it today).

What a truly revealing, but sadly exceptionally rare public judicial display.  (The letters written by Judge Natalya Petrenko to the politicians mentions have naturally not changed anything whatsoever.)

Local government naturally covers far more than city planning – so a reader may infer just how well (or not) City Hall in Odessa is dealing with other local governance issues and how responsive and inclusive of the local constituency it is when making decisions.  (Secretive and nefarious meetings/decision making remain the preferred modus operandi for the old nefarious patriarchal and criminal infrastructure that remains firmly entrenched.)

One of the theoretical benefits for a policy/political centre in decentralising power and responsibility to regional/peripheral governance entities, is that if one region is suffering from bad governance it does not necessarily infect all the others, can be quarantined in its peripheral location, and thus dealt with/cured.  (Unlike the overly centralised system having bad governance which naturally infects all the regional governance entities without exception.)

However, even an empirical glance at only one local governance issue (of dozens) in Odessa,  perhaps casts severe doubt over just how many regional and local governance bodies are actually capable of responsible and accountable democratic governance when they (eventually) become beneficiaries of decentralisation.

In the mean time, presumably City Hall will continue to cut down trees for the sake of “symmetry.

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