Ukraine’s Forgotten Decentralization Problem: Amalgamating Local Governments – OpEd
By Paul Goble
Decentralization “under Ukrainian conditions,” the editors of DSNews.ua say, is about two things: the decentralization of the system of power to regions and cities, and “the voluntary unification of small rural communities” that can assume responsibility for the tasks of governance.
The first has received enormous attention because of Moscow’s demands about the Donbass; the second has not. But, as the editors note, “the first is impossible without the second” because one can’t transfer power from Kyiv to the localities when there are no institutions there capable of exercising it (dsnews.ua/temy_nomerov/kto-i-zachem-tormozit-detsentralizatsiyu-05062016213000).
Since 1991, the rural population of Ukraine has decreased by 2.5 million people, and the number of rural population points of various kinds by 348. But over the same period, “the number of rural councils has increased by 1067, a trend that has created duplication and confusion rather than good governance.
As of the beginning of last year, there were about 12,000 territorial communities with their own political structures in Ukraine. More than half of them had fewer than 3,000 residents in each; 4809 had fewer than a thousand people within them; and in the case of 1129 communities, the number of residents was “less than 500.”
Given these small numbers, the paper’s editors say, “it is not surprising that in the majority of rural communities executive organs of rural councils have not been established, budgetary institutions are lacking,” and so on. Unless that changes as a result of amalgamation of these small units, no real decentralization will be possible.
In March 2015, the Ukrainian government initiated a program calling for “the voluntary unification” of the smaller entities and provided financial incentives for them to take this step. This move has been promoted by Western aid organizations as well, but it has not moved as fast as Kyiv would like because of inertia and because of the unwillingness of officials to cede office.