Zelensky's decentralization: New districts and prefects

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

The head of state plans to carry out administrative reform: redraw the existing map of Ukraine and introduce the institution of prefects
20:52, 19 December 2019

Volodymyr Zelensky
Open source

Bill No. 2598 has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by President Zelensky, who mentioned the bill as urgent. The head of state plans to carry out administrative reform: redraw the existing map of Ukraine and introduce the institution of prefects. What for? Formally, in order to introduce decentralization. However, if you read between the lines, you can see another likely application of the bill. With its help, it is quite possible to transfer the occupied east of Ukraine to a new format, even without a law on the special status for some regions of Donbas.

By the way: this abbreviation in a short (6.5 pages) bill is not mentioned at all. But the opportunity is declared to establish new boundaries of the regions by simple vote in parliament. That is, if you strain your imagination, you can imagine, for example, how the Donetsk region joins the Zaporizhzhya, and Luhansk join Kharkiv. Together with uncontrolled parts, of course. And then the newly created administrative entities hold elections, as a result of which either co-called LNR and DNR join Ukraine, or Ukraine joins them. And after the elections, which legitimize the existing order of things, the conflict in the east of Ukraine automatically goes into the category of purely internal problems and becomes the very “civil war” that Russian propagandists are talking about.

But we will not spread the buzz. The bill has not yet been considered by parliament, and so it has not been voted. Moreover, tomorrow or before the end of the current plenary week, the MPs will try to send the presidential bill for constitutional analysis to the Constitutional Court. And only if the Constitutional Court gives the go-ahead, the document will be returned to the session hall, says Olexandr Kornienko, deputy chairman of the Servant of the People’s faction.

Decentralization: what it was and what it has become

Kornienko himself actively praises the presidential brainchild: “A very balanced bill regarding the completion of the decentralization reform - one of the most important reforms that began five years ago. And we need to make sure that all of Ukraine is covered by communities (this is the so-called principle of omnipresence), and also there are other important principles (this is the European charter of local self-government, which Ukraine has ratified),” the MP said.

By the way, this summer Kornienko gave an interview in which he outlined his vision of administrative-territorial reform. It followed from his interview that he was a supporter of the “enlargement” of everything that could be enlarged. So, in particular, according to him, the united territorial communities should become large, 30-40 thousand people each.

And the district will become a superstructure over the community. Now there are districts, which number about 500. Their number will be reduced and merged into 100 districts. Each district will have 10 to 15 communities. But districts will only become a formal association - at this level there will be no power institutions elected by citizens.

The next level is the area. Regions remain, as does the Crimea. (Although the draft predecessors, that is, at the time of Groysman’s premiership, proposed the triad "community - district - region" instead.) All this is in the bill submitted by Zelensky. The only difference is that no numbers are indicated in the document, that is, the number of districts is not detailed and the number of inhabitants in the area is not specified.

Related: Zelensky submitted draft law on decentralization with amendments to the Constitution

Why? Because, as already mentioned, the final decision on the territorial structure remains within the parliament. "The formation and liquidation of communities, districts, regions, the establishment and change of their borders, the classification of settlements as villages, towns, cities, the name and renaming of settlements, communities, districts, regions occur on the proposal of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine," the bill says. That is, the government proposes changes, and the Rada votes for them.

And who will take the initiative and apply with relevant proposals to the Cabinet of Ministers? Theoretically, these are communities that are alpha and omega of decentralization. The community itself will be governed by the head, together with the council, as well as the heads of the villages elected in the elections. Communities promise to “lower” more budgetary authority and provide greater autonomy in determining the strategy of their future.

But, this independence should not be too independent, so prefects will follow communities, their  councils and heafs. This is a new position, which is proposed to be introduced by Zelensky. The idea is that in each newly created district there will be a prefect. And regional prefects will stand above the district prefects.

More than governors

The Institute of Prefects in Zelensky’s bill is given special attention. It is literally said:

"The executive power in regions and districts is exercised by the territorial bodies of the central executive bodies.

Representatives of the state in districts and regions, and in the city of Kyiv are prefects.

The composition of the prefect's office forms the prefect himself.

The prefect is appointed and dismissed by the President of Ukraine on the proposal of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

The term of the prefect in office in one district, region, city of Kyiv may not exceed three years.

The prefect is a civil servant.

The prefect, in the exercise of his powers, is accountable and controlled by the President of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. "

In short, at the district level, the prefect will be virtually the only power entity. This resembles the vertical that the new law on the capital is forming in Kyiv: there is a mayor elected by the townspeople, there are restored district councils, but the final word in decision-making remains with the city administration and its head. They monitor the law, control everything that happens at the grassroots level, and if desired, can taboo any definition or regulation initiated from below.

But back to the prefects. The entire vertical of district and regional prefects will be formed by the president of Ukraine together with the government. Functionally and organizationally, they will report to the Cabinet of Ministers in the same way as the current chairmen of regional and district state administrations do today.

So, we have: communities and councils of general relativity; districts without elected authorities, but with district prefects; regions with regional councils and executive committees, as well as regional prefects, which will be appointed by the president along with the Cabinet. The design is somewhat complicated, but this is not its main drawback.

The fact is that all these innovations are not discussed in the Constitution of Ukraine. Incidentally, communities are not mentioned there as objects of local self-government. That is, the united territorial communities are an unconstitutional thing. But, in the end, rewriting the Constitution is a simple thing (at least as long as the “Servant of the People” can still cooperate with other factions in a situational constitutional majority). That's just a legitimate question – what for?

Devil in detail

Obviously, because of the prefects. The president and his team need to prepare Ukraine for local elections. At the end of November, Zelensky’s rating, according to the KIIS, fell to 52%, and by the elections (whenever they take place) will almost predictably fall again. Therefore, the institution must be updated and mobilized. Why didn’t governors, that is, chairpersons of the administration, who were also appointed by the president, take this role?

Meanwhile, in addition to the prefects, there is another cool story. Namely, how the date of the local elections is determined. The transitional provisions of the bill say: "the first local elections of the heads of communities, community councils, district, regional councils are held within 90 days after the entry into force of the law, which establishes the administrative-territorial structure."

The Ze-team is in a great hurry, and this is obvious. Less obvious is the reason for such a rush - either with the declining rating of the president, or with the status of Donbas? "The fact that the bill was introduced a few days after the meeting of the Normandy Four in Paris, makes us understand: there may be aspects related to Donbas and the peculiarities of local self-government in the self-proclaimed republics. Zelensky obviously wants to demonstrate the readiness of Kyiv to implement the Minsk agreements before the next Normandy format meeting, "said political analyst Oleksiy Yakubin.

The Ukrainian expert community is still sluggishly responding to the submitted document. But in the Kremlin, the bill from Zelensky has already been read. And now they promise to "study it very carefully" "for compliance with the Minsk agreements and the Steinmeier formula," said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Related: Zelensky offers parliament to approve decentralization without Donbas special status


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