Public Administration Reform in Ukraine: Achievements and Expectations for 2019

BY IRYNA IAREMA

Public administration reform in Ukraine, initiated by the government of Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman with the adoption of the Strategy for Public Administration Reform for 2016–2020, has passed the halftime of its planned roll-out. This strategy, together with a new Law on the Civil Service that went into effect in 2016, is intended to bring greater efficacy and accountability to Ukraine’s public administration. Although somewhat lagging behind in the ambitious schedule envisioned in the strategy, the reform effort has produced notable results.

A major change is that the civil service bears less of a political imprint than it had before. Political appointments, such as ministerial and deputy ministerial appointments, were dissociated from the civil service, and hiring for civil service positions is to be conducted through an open and transparent merit-based selection process. To this end, in August 2017 the government launched a human resources portal and has used it as part of a pilot project to recruit reform specialists, or civil servants who will develop and implement key reforms in the ten ministries participating in the pilot program and in several other central executive bodies.

A second major result is the government’s enhanced capacity to implement reforms. The ministries are being transformed into "policy hubs" tasked with policymaking (as opposed to public service delivery) as their chief mandate. To realize this goal, new policy directorates have been introduced in the ministries, and the government has committed to filling 2,500 reform specialist positions in these directorates by the end of 2019. The fly in the ointment is that the dynamics of the hiring process, as became evident in 2018, are not particularly encouraging. The requirements for reform staff posts are quite demanding, and the selection process has multiple phases. This is not unreasonable: it makes sense to identify the best candidates to transform policymaking in Ukraine and implement the reforms. One of the measures instituted to attract qualified staff is the competitive salary associated with the reform specialist positions, which has been publicized through an information campaign. As well, staff will have the opportunity to contribute to Ukraine’s reform processes, an aspirational goal for many.

Third, the reform has made the civil service more professional and transparent. The problem of a lack of institutional memory in the ministries was solved by providing more guarantees of job stability to civil servants and by introducing the posts of state secretaries (top-ranked civil servant positions). A special body to minimize corruption risks in the recruitment of high-ranking public officials, the Commission on Senior Civil Service, was formed, and in 2017 alone it hired sixty-five top civil servants. On December 12, 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (CMU) publicly released the results of the first annual performance review of the state secretaries, the heads of the central executive bodies, and their deputies. In addition to measuring each individual’s contribution to achieving the government’s strategic goals, the review evaluated compliance with rules on ethical behavior and anticorruption requirements.

A related measure is the introduction of the Integrated Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS), expected to occur in the first half of 2019. The concept of the HRMIS was developed in 2017 and an open procurement process, supported by the EU and the World Bank, began in 2018. HRMIS will replace the paper-based workflow of the human resource system of all governmental entities and help eliminate redundancy in the personnel management service, maintain employee rosters, and process the recording of personnel data.

Fourth, broader digitization, an integral part of the public administration reform, is well under way. Key administrative services, particularly in the social sphere, the construction sector, and business registration, have been digitized. Certain services, such as an online auction system of seized property, the government claims are the first in the world “to switch over to using blockchain to protect data.” The transition of state enterprises to an electronic reporting process is expected throughout 2019, and the subsequent public release of the results could breathe life into the typically inert system of state property management.

Fifth, the quality of policy decisions has begun to improve, with impact analysis becoming a mandatory part of policy decisions, as per the updated CMU’s Rules of Procedures. These rules are expected to undergo more changes in 2019 with respect to expert examination of governmental decisions and acts. At this point there is an abundance of such expert conclusions, prepared by center-of-government institutions, but their quality is inconsistent. The anticipated revision of the Rules of Procedures could streamline the process of examination by clearly defining the roles of the institutions involved.

Ukraine’s European partners, which disbursed €15.5 million in 2018 in support of reform, have acknowledged the progress in public administration reform. In 2017 Ukraine received the first tranche of €10 million from the EU budget support program. Disbursement of the next tranche of €10–20 million in 2019 will depend on Ukraine making more progress in reforms. One of the tasks of the government will be to take into account the comments of the SIGMA report and to update the Strategy for Public Administration Reform. (“SIGMA” stands for Support for Improvement in Governance and Management and is a joint initiative of the OECD and the EU.) Domestic experts сall for implementing the major measures of the strategy before the parliamentary and presidential elections, the latter scheduled for March 31, 2019. According to these experts, the main risk to public administration reform lies in its potentially incomplete state during a change of government, since a new government may be unfamiliar with the details or may choose to pursue a different course.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in 2019 could come with the adoption of the Law on Administrative Procedure. Such a governmental bill, awaited more than ten years, was registered in parliament on December 28, 2018. The draft law guarantees citizens’ rights in their interactions with state authorities. The 2018 report on the state of public governance in Ukraine prepared by the experts of the SIGMA program highlights the essential need for the law. It will unblock the further development of administrative services.

In sum, despite some criticism of the reform package and a certain degree of pessimism about its lasting effectiveness, it is hard to ignore its achievements, and they should not be downplayed. At the same time, considerably more work needs to be done to consolidate those achievements, and 2019 might become a key year for making the public administration reform irreversible.

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