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A civil service surge – Ukraine

August 17, 2017

The word “surge” when associated with government planning is probably most associated with troop surges in places like Afghanistan – which by extension is often then associated with debatable outcomes.

That said there may be a difference between a requirement for a surge for tactical reasons vis a vis a surge for strategic and/or policy reasons.  Questions of goals, expected outcomes and timeliness have a ready inference to any government induced surge.

There is also a matter of effective implementation (whether the policy be good, bad or counterproductive).

Ukraine is about to undergo a governmental surge of its own.

It is a surge aimed directly at the nervous system of the country – the civil service.

Over the years, many are the entries of the blog relating to the Ukrainian civil service.  Comment made in an entry from 2015 remains as valid today as it was then – “It is, when all is said and done, the nervous system of the nation.  It is what makes things happen – or not.

Through civil service departments, agencies and public sector bodies, the civil service acts as the delivery service of current policy.  Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers and governments will come and go – but the civil service, a-political and independent of government, remains a consistent functionary.

The civil service is responsible for delivering governmental projects, be they large or small, complex or simple (hopefully) on time and on budget.

Despite the numerous ministries in which the civil service perform, perhaps the simplest way to segregate them is those tasked with issues at home, and those tasked with issues abroad.

The civil servants closer to Ministers are there to give advice and have, theoretically (and often do) influence on policy.  Whether that advice is based upon a broad or narrow view, or somewhat questionable evidence occasionally, is something that perhaps should be pondered a little more than it is.

However, together with political independence whilst delivering government policy of the day, one, if not the major benefit of a civil service is its a-political longevity and thus internal stability – and it is here that Ukraine has major issues to resolve.

As such, existing Ukrainian reform by way of reducing civil service staffing numbers and ejecting the most corrupt is at best, still only partial reform.  Political interference and excessive unwarranted meddling continues unabated.

The frequently unnecessary but politically expedient turnover of (senior) civil servants in Ukraine simply undermines the a-political nature that should underwrite a civil service.  It thus removes any notion of stability from the functionary system by denying longevity, whilst also placing a ceiling upon ambitions of the capable for fear of putting their head above the parapet in the top echelons of the service and the inevitable sacking that follows.  By extension that often means (good, bad or indifferent) policy is ineffectively implemented – which can have counterproductive political outcomes for those who would sack and promote “their people” within what should be an independent policy delivery system (and which when asked should provide a-political policy advice).

Such is the extent of political meddling within the civil service, who then is accountable and for what?  There is the policy issue of administration, and also the issue of the administration of policy.

Confusion and unaccountability abound when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration, conflict or overlaps with the policy for the administration of policy – particularly when subject to continuous politically expedient hirings and firings at the very top of the civil service. – Clear?  Naturally (and deliberately) not, which is partly why policy is rarely effectively implemented in Ukraine.”

Since the time that was written some issues have been addressed, at least by statute/de jure, if de facto that isn’t entirely the case.

Certain government policies have seen more effective implementation than others.

There remain issues of capabilities, ability, culpability, policy (and implementation) ownership and responsibility, and a DNA within the civil service that doesn’t quite realise its role within a European State organism and society.  This is something not helped by a politically epileptic brain that continues to have numerous seizures resulting in self-inflicted injury, as well as a schizophrenic disorder whereby the body politic will speak like European peers but fail to think and act like them.

Nevertheless, political neurological issues aside (and which are probably at least two election cycles away from any realistic chance of remedy), if Ukraine as a State can radically improve both its grasp upon the rule of law (rather than rule by law, or the absence of it) and the functioning of the civil service, the rest of the body will benefit immensely.

So to the issues of capacity and ability.  Clearly there are technical/IT issues that will need to be confronted – and the EU and World Bank are casting their eye there upon.

However it is a surge in personnel that is central to this entry.

Quite what came of the EU touted Reform Support Teams (RSTs) is unclear.  Perhaps the are busy working away in the boiler rooms of the Ukrainian ministries and civil service already, deprived (perhaps happily) of any media mention whatsoever – or perhaps they are yet to manifest at all.

Maybe “RST”s are the foundation, or simply the European name, for “Directorates” that the Ukrainian government is creating for a civil service surge?  And there will be many Directorates.  50 of them, requiring 1000 reform specialists who will be selected by competition.

The applicant parameters?  “Candidates for professional positions should be citizens of Ukraine, proficient in the state language and have higher education, and they must have analytical skills and necessary knowledge.  At the same time, work experience is not compulsory, the bonus will be knowledge of English, which is not yet a mandatory requirement.

Candidates for the positions of heads of expert groups should have, in addition to the above, work experience of three years, but not necessarily in the civil service, and heads of directorates – work experience of five years.”

The role of the Directorates will be profiled to each governmental department, within which there will be members of the Directorate for Strategic Planning and European Integration.  The aim is to create a surge in staffing to bring about timely reform implementation over a period of six months – after which departments will return to their proscribed staffing levels.

A six month surge seems a very ambitious time frame for effective and consolidated reform implementation – and even if that time frame manages to force the implementation of some reform, a reader will naturally question, what of required reforms that are as yet not even legislated for and thus cannot be implemented in a surge?

Yet further, 6 months is hardly sufficient time to correct some damaged civil service DNA when it comes to understanding and remedying its own institutional culture.  A surge may deal with some of the symptoms, but what of the cure?

There is, of course, also the question of timeliness when it comes to the competition and selection of 1000 competent individuals capable of delivering what they are selected to do.  The only competitions that have displayed any sense of timeliness are those that were actually “competitions” where the outcome and successful “candidate(s)” was already known.

Anyway of the 50 Directorates, 40 will be profiled to governmental departments, with pilot projects beginning with the Ministries of Culture, Finance, Justice, Education & Science, Social Policy, Infrastructure, Health, Energy & Coal, and Agriculture & Food – together with some regional development, construction, housing and communal services.

This presumably after the creation of the Directorate for Strategic Planning and European Integration of course.

To add some further interest, also to receive Directorate attention is the Secretariat of the Cabinet, the National Agency for the Civil Service, and the National Agency for E-Governance.

While all this is going on, and surges appear and disappear, a reader is perhaps left to wonder who exactly owns, and is individually responsible and accountable for, the impact and output of the Directorates if the Secretariat of the Cabinet, the National Agency for the Civil Service, and the National Agency for E-Governance are simultaneously subject to Directorate surges too.

Systems and process are a functional requirement of a professional civil service – regardless of the room within for clever and nimble thinking when dealing with and resolving “issues”.  Within a professional civil service individuals are accountable at various level of authority.  But who is individually accountable for “the surge”?

The forthcoming “surge”, if it comes, may very well get some reforms implemented.  That should be welcomed.  But it is likely to be somewhat messy.  It’ legacy toward correcting the long-term civil service institutional deficiencies will also be questionable.

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