New-style public service
While Ukraine’s newly-appointed Cabinet hasn’t gained its momentum yet, the candidates for a number of posts in various state structures have made their best to get their appointments secured, at any cost, before May 1, 2016. On this day, a new law on public service entered into force, radically changing the Ukrainian state apparatus.
The law was adopted in December 2015 and initially had to come into force from January 1, 2016. However, the launch of the public service reform was postponed until May. "And the closer the date, the more inventive the local officials become, trying in every way possible to get around the innovations and avoid competitions for the posts," the leader of the Popular Front parliamentary faction Maksym Burbak said last week.
However, it’s like that not only in the regions. After the new government started its work, some unpleasant rumors started spinning about potential appointments to the central bodies of executive power. There are 48 of those, not counting the ministries. At the same time, five of them still have no chiefs appointed, in some cases – since late 2014 (after lustration started with the entry into force of the law on the cleansing of power). Naturally, the candidates for the vacant posts that "suddenly" emerged on the eve of the entry into force of the new law on public service, as well as the haste with which these candidates were being imposed onto certain positions, raised questions.
After the new government started its work, some unpleasant rumors started spinning about potential appointments to the central bodies of executive power
"We know that there is a high probability of appointment of a head of the State Service for Geology and Subsoil without due competition, before the entry into force of the Law on public service. We believe the replacement should take place through a competition open to experts, journalists and the public. If not, then what kind of transparency of government and reforming the state can we be talking about?" said a member of the NGO called “All-Ukrainian Union ‘Anticorruption checkpoint’” Oleh Rybalchenko, picketing the Government on April 27.
It is interesting that the representatives of the Cabinet Secretariat, while speaking with the activists, explained the situation with the fact that the competition can take long time. Actually, it may take months, they said. This position is quite strange, given that it was Prime Minister Groysman who asked not to hurry with the appointment of new heads of executive bodies under the control of ministries. Besides, the competitions may be held as early as in the autumn of 2016, according to experts.
A new body will ensure the holding of such competitions: the Higher Public Service Commission. It will consist of 12 people, including representatives of the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Verkhovna Rada, the National Agency of Public Service, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, the State Judicial Administration, as well as four representatives of the public.
It should be noted that competitions significantly complicate easy promotion of various officials. The thing is that, when a new vacancy in the ministry is announced, the ministry’s employees won’t have any preferences in such competitions over third-party candidates. In addition, the Commission will protect public servants from undue dismissal. "If the president or the prime minister does not like the work of some high-ranking officials, they won’t be able to arbitrarily dismiss them. They will have to convince the Commission that those officials do not suit their positions," said the deputy chairman of the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, Viktor Tymoschuk.
It has become a tradition since Leonid Kuchma's presidency (which is in violation of the Constitution) that the Presidential Administration is engaged in selection of candidates for the posts of Governors (heads of regional state administrations)
Actually, this innovation aims to guarantee that the public servants retain their posts if the Cabinet’s composition changes, because today’s reshuffles in senior positions along with a change of government can reach up to 70%, the experts say. This, in turn, does not contribute to the quality of implemented reforms.
Another interesting point is the competitive selection of candidates for the posts of heads of local state administrations. It has become a tradition since Leonid Kuchma's presidency (which is in violation of the Constitution) that the Presidential Administration is engaged in the selection of candidates for the posts of Governors (heads of regional state administrations). However, after the entry into force of the new law on public service, it will be a competition commission which will choose the candidates, after which the Cabinet will submit them to the Presidential Administration, and the President will appoint the chosen ones. This procedure is so much resented on the Bankova Street that there even were proposals voiced in the Verkhovna Rada ahead of the May holidays to have the traditional procedure engraved in the new law on public service, by passing the corresponding amendments. But that did not work out. At the same time, on April 28, a "parade" of presentations of the newly-appointed Governors swept across Ukraine – in Khmelnytsky, Rivne, and Kherson regions. Thus, these new Governors made it without competitions and the Cabinet’s involvement.
The "icing on the cake" of the reform, which is the competitive selection of candidates, destroys the core of any political agreements and traditional “quotas,” when the positions are distributed among the representatives of various political forces or their appointees. So, to this day, the staff of any ministry was in fact headed by a certain deputy minister, who was a political appointee. And after the entry into force of the new law on public service and the introduction of an institute of state secretaries, it will be them who will take over such control. "This is the end of an era of political corruption in Ukraine,” says the manager of the working group on a public administration reform called "Reanimation Reform Package," Mykola Vyhovskyi. “There will be no more appointments under a quota principle."
A new law on civil service clearly distinguishes the positions that relate to public service from the political ones. According to Viktor Tymoschuk, depoliticization is perhaps the most important innovation. Politically neutral public servants will be able to perform their duties impartially, no matter the party flags under which a coalition is created and the Cabinet formed.
Actually, the law prohibits top level public servants to be members of political parties, take part in the election campaign, combine public service with the duties of MPs or deputies of the local councils, etc.
According to the head of the National Agency for Public Service, Kostyantyn Vashchenko, one of the limitations (regarding the ban on combining public service and a representative mandate in the village council or district council) has become controversial long before the new law came into force. "Plenty of local officials, who happen to have such combination of duties, got agitated," he said.
The law prohibits top level public servants to be members of political parties, take part in the election campaign, combine public service with the duties of MPs or deputies of the local councils
However, Vashchenko noted that the expert community's position is that this ban should only refer to those who will be elected. The current members of the local councils should have the right to continue combining the mentioned functions.
To cross the t’s and dot the i’s, a group of deputies has already prepared the relevant amendments to the law on civil service. However, considered by the Verkhovna Rada they will have after the May holidays.
By the way, other amendments can also be considered. It should not be ruled out that there will be attempts to push for returning the status of public servants to aides of people's deputies and secretaries of parliamentary factions. In addition, as mentioned above, the Administration of the President is not happy about losing grip on the possibility of electing the heads of regional administrations, so the corresponding changes to the law will also be considered in Parliament.
Anyway, the candidates for positions in public service, have another motivation to take those chairs: the new law not only defines a mechanism for entering the cohort of public servants through open competition, it also significantly increases their salaries. It will become possible primarily due to the fact that a significant number of today’s officials will lose their status of public servants.
In particular, this applies to the President of Ukraine, his press secretary, the advisors, the envoys, head of the Presidential Administration and his deputies, the staff of the Verkhovna Rada Speaker secretariats, assistants-consultants of people's deputies and judges, the judges themselves, the prosecutors, the military, law enforcement officers, deputies of local councils, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, the members of the Cabinet of Ministers, deputy ministers, employees of the National Bank, the Central Election Commission and other collegial bodies...
From May 1, public servants are considered the employees of the secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers, the ministries and other bodies of executive power (excluding service staff), local state administrations, prosecutors’ offices and military headquarters, foreign diplomatic institutions. According to the law, the posts in the public service are divided into three categories, depending on the order of appointment, the nature and scope of authority. Category A is the supreme corps of public service (a state secretary and his deputies); category B includes heads of structural departments and their deputies; category C – specialists working in the structural units.
In general, to date, there are about 280,000 public servants in Ukraine, but experts are not sure, how many positions will be cut. "It all depends on what the reforms will be further implemented,” said the head of the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, co-chair of the public initiative "Reanimation Reform Package " Ihor Koliushko. “For example, nearly 70,000 public servants work in local administrations. If the decentralization reform is completed, this amount will be reduced to approximately 20,000 employees of prefectures."
The minimum salary of public servants will be equal to twice the minimum wage set by the state, but only by 2018
Secondly, the increase in salaries is objectively tied to the fact that the law cancels special pensions and additional vacations, reduces bonuses and surcharges. "Previously, 70% of the wages the officials received were bonuses and surcharges, while only 30% was a stable salary. Now, on the contrary, the salary will be 70% of the total amount of wages," said the expert at Reanimation Reform Package, Volodymyr Kupriy.
However, this will not happen immediately. According to him, the minimum salary of public servants will be equal to twice the minimum wage set by the state, but only by 2018. It will be a “rookie” official who will qualify for such salary. At the same time, for example, the Minister will receive 10 times the minimum wage.
It is also interesting that in the case of reduction of some positions of public servants, their salaries will still remain in the agency's payroll. "If the employees’ positions are eliminated, their salaries will remain in the wage fund and will be able to be distributed among other employees," Kupriy said.
Experts believe that this innovation, in particular, can become an incentive for the government agencies to reduce and optimize their staff.
The third thing is that the salaries of public servants will be financed both at the expense of the state budget, and at the expense of programs of the European Union and international organizations. The entry into force of the new law has given the government an opportunity to negotiate with the European Commission on the establishment of a special fund to finance the additional payments to Ukrainian officials.
The government now has a unique chance to implement quality reform. But the entry into force of the new law is only the first step.