The main idea behind the public administration reform is to build out a modern, digitized and citizen-oriented country.
In practice, this involves setting up powerful government institutions, making informed government decisions, developing a professional civil service, advancing e-governance and delivering citizen-oriented services.
The cornerstone of many reforms needed to achieve economic development, attract investment and create jobs across the country is the ability of the administrative apparatus of the state to formulate and implement effective policies that minimise the administrative burden on businesses.
Modernised public governance is also crucial to restoring public trust in government, not least through high-quality and accessible public services delivered just as well as the private sector does.
A capable bureaucracy is a necessary, albeit insufficient, foundation for the implementation of reforms that are important for Ukrainian people. It is a prerequisite of success and competitiveness of any country.
The public administration reform commenced in 2016 with the passage of the new Law On Civil Service and adoption of a comprehensive five-year strategy. Both the European experts and officials were very positive about the two documents, which helped Ukraine receive tens of millions of euros as financial assistance.
An integral part of Ukraine’s European integration course, public administration that is accountable is also indispensible to building a strong democratic state.
The European Union continues to expertly, technically and financially support the reform of public administration in Ukraine and ranks it among the country’s few successful reforms.
The year 2018 saw OECD/SIGMA carry out the first large-scale assessment of Ukraine’s public administration focusing on the current state of play in the entire machinery of government rather than on the progress of the reform. What is more, parliamentary scrutiny and administrative disputes – the issues that had not been included in the strategy – were assessed as well.
The EU’s experts explored the problems, looked at their causes and prepared recommendations for further development of the European-style public administration in Ukraine.
The findings and recommendations of the European experts, and the analysis of 2.5 years of reform experience helped update the Public Administration Reform Strategy.
Why is this important? The modern world is changing rapidly, so the revision and review of strategies and plans is an imperative of our time and a manifestation of responsibility and willingness to solve problems rather than hide behind yet another important document.
What areas of public administration are expected to be further changed?
The Strategy’s principles and objectives complement rather than stand alone from each other, as barely professional and ineffective civil servants cannot draft good quality government decisions.
Likewise, the citizen-oriented services can only be delivered provided that public authorities have effective and efficient processes in place.
Only a transparent, open and accountable apparatus of the state can ensure the country’s sustainable development.
Good quality government decisions
Another crucial task of the reform is to make sure that government decisions are informed and coordinated while government decision-making is transparent and predictable.
The practice of “putting out a fire” must eventually give way to long-term national development planning.
Ukraine has already transitioned to triennial budget planning. It is necessary to continue building strategic planning and government policy-making capacity. This includes:
- planning for a longer term horizon (5-10 years) making sure that various national strategic documents are clearly harmonised;
- preparing draft decisions in a timely and transparent manner, ensuring an open stakeholder engagement process;
- informed decision-making based on quality analysis and mindful of the government’s financial capacity and influence on stakeholders.
Professional civil service
Building an effective, honest and outcome oriented civil service that protects public interests was a challenging and long-lasting task even for well-developed western economies: it took Canada 15 years and Sweden almost 40 years to put the one in place.
In Ukraine, it is especially difficult to cross the civil service over from the “within authority and in a manner” approach (see Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine: “...officials shall only act subject to, within authority, and in the manner stipulated in the Constitution and laws of Ukraine”) to good governance principles.
That is why a newly added clause of the Strategy envisions the transformation of the organisational culture in government bodies towards a focus on results, responsibility, innovation, open communication and service orientation.
To become a competitive employer, the government, in addition to cultural transformations, needs to implement the state-of-the-art best practices in human resource management across both private and public sectors.
This involves switching over to a modern HR cycles in civil service, from recruitment, training and motivation to performance evaluation, duties and termination of employment. Key tasks are as follows:
1) A centralised Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS) allowing public authorities to share an integrated IT system containing details of the structure and staffing table, civil service positions, personal files of civil servants, remuneration and payroll, leaves and vacations, career achievements, professional competence and training.
This is an extremely important step towards an effective, efficient and transparent civil service. “IQusion IT” LLC has been selected as the system’s supplier following the World Bank bidding procedures already in February this year. It will take about two years to implement the system in more than 50 government agencies.
2) Modern recruitment
The point at issue is the streamlining of competitions for civil service positions for both candidates and selection committees.
In particular, the Candidate Assessment Centre has been set up as part of the National Agency on Civil Service to first test analytical, verbal and mathematical skills, and then centralise other competitive selection stages.
In addition, the career.gov.ua website will advertise all vacancies in ministries, and subsequently in other government agencies.
Running information campaigns to attract qualified professionals and improving the prestige of government jobs is a stand-alone and challenging task.
3) Professional training and development of the necessary skills
The reform involves launching the market for capacity building training services and promptly tailoring the training to the real needs of the civil service in terms of leadership, innovation and contemporary approaches to managerial decision-making.
Accountability of public authorities
This is the area in which overcoming a “fortress” syndrome, i.e. when every ministry or government agency is a stand-alone body that enjoys a legal entity status, is very acute.
Sometimes they even litigate each other, a strand grotesque and irrational in the European context, let alone the allocation of cost of each ministry’s or agency’s administration where it would be right to provide for their centralisation and optimisation of cross-cutting functions.
When speaking about accountability, it is first and foremost necessary to reorganise the executive branch in a way that ensures clear delineation of responsibilities of a government agency and its officials and eliminates overlapping of functions.
It is necessary to implement modern approaches to the delegation of authority in order to mitigate micromanagement and toughen responsibility and accountability of every government body and its chief executive.
The updated Strategy pays much attention to improving access to public information.
Information about executive agencies and what they do should be made available in an accessible and user-friendly format and in simple language.
Information published on the websites of ministries and other agencies, such as annual plans, budgets, reports, etc., must be user-oriented, up-to-date and easily accessible.
Informing the public should be turned from “one-lane traffic” to a two-way communication in which citizen feedback is heard and respectfully considered.
High-quality and accessible public services
It is citizens who should predominate in citizen-government communication.
That is why the Strategy focuses on digitalising all public administration processes, improving the quality of services rendered by administrative service centres and increasing the number of online services.
Another important priority is to put in place a uniform, citizen friendly procedure for interaction with government agencies through the passage of a revolutionary Law On Administrative Procedures.
The new objective of the Strategy was to create a modern IT hub, an e-Government Competences Center that will reinforce coordination and concentrate most recent ideas and products for digitalization of the public sector.
The e-governance is the key to Ukrainian reforms. It is a powerful digitalisation tool and an essential element of enhancing institutional capacity of public authorities.
On the one hand, this involves optimizing internal processes and enhancing public administration, on the other, a new quality and convenient interaction of the public and businesses with the state.
Importantly, implementation of e-government is not a matter of hardware or software, it is primarily about proper regulation of key matters of modern digitalization listed in the global agenda — electronic identification, personal data protection and processing, electronic democracy etc.
The OECD/SIGMA assessment and the updated Strategy are two important steps for continued development of an effective public administration in Ukraine in line with European principles of good governance.
It should be understood, however, that the reform of the executive, the Cabinet of Ministers and its ministries, cannot succeed without a concurrent reform of the Parliament and quality law-making. These are like two cerebral hemispheres of the country.
Besides, focus on institutional reform plummets during elections in Ukraine and other countries alike.
This is because institutional change, unfortunately, cannot produce quick and clear political outcomes.
In any case, further reform outcomes will depend on collaboration of and practical steps made by key political players, international partners, and non-governmental organizations. None of them can implement quality reform of public administration alone. So, reform success depends on teamwork.
SIGMA (Support for Improvement in Governance and Management) is a joint initiative of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to assist Central and Eastern European countries in improving their public governance and preparing for EU membership.
Ivan Khilobok, Head of the Public Administration Reform Team at the CMU Reform Delivery Office, for UP