Competitors during the 27th Ukrainian Firefighting Championship in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo by Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Barcroft Media/Getty Images.
3. Progress with Amalgamation to Date
As of July 2019, 4,277 or 39 per cent of the old small local communities, covering 39.7 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, had been amalgamated into ATCs. Over a quarter of the population (28.3 per cent) now live in ATCs. Another 42 per cent live in ‘cities of oblast significance’, which already enjoy strong and sustainable local self-government and typically have not participated in amalgamation so far.
The rest of the population still live in communities that continue to suffer from weak local self-government and are largely ruled by upper subregional (rayon) administrations. The central government has not yet granted these communities all the powers, responsibilities and subsidies associated with decentralization.
There are several reasons why certain communities have not yet joined the process of voluntary amalgamation. First, many non-amalgamated communities remain unable or unwilling to negotiate the territorial design and set-up of an ATC in a way that satisfies the centrally set criteria for their classification as ‘self-sustaining’ or ‘capable’. There is widespread hesitation among some communities to take on additional responsibilities for managing social infrastructure, despite the promise of potential financial gains from amalgamation. Moreover, local communities that already have profitable businesses on their territories, and that collect taxes from these for their budgets, are less keen to amalgamate with poorer communities. Sometimes small local communities are afraid to amalgamate with larger ones, fearing that their interests will be insufficiently represented in the new ATC.
Sometimes small local communities are afraid to amalgamate with larger ones, fearing that their interests will be insufficiently represented in the new ATC.
Second, some regional (oblast) and district (rayon) councils and their administrations are unwilling to give up resources and functions to ATCs. Such councils have sometimes exercised their administrative influence over non-amalgamated territorial communities to prevent or postpone amalgamation. For example, it was only after much delay that the regional executive of the Zakarpatska oblast in Transcarpathia allowed ATCs to be formed on its territory in early 2019.
The personnel of certain administrations and councils are also unsupportive of reform because they fear losing their jobs as a result of amalgamation – and the accompanying transfer of funds and functions to ATCs. On the other hand, several officials of local government bodies that are in the process of being dismantled have been running for election to positions within ATCs. These cases offer hope that many officials will eventually cease their resistance to decentralization, and find their places in the new structure.
The retraining and redeployment of personnel transferred from the old Kyiv-controlled state administrations to the ATCs will need to continue and expand. Such efforts, in particular, need to address the re-employment of personnel from upper subregional (rayon) state administrations. Officials from the old system can be appointed to branches of central ministries in oblasts, or to the departments of the enlarged rayony that are expected to emerge out of a further, second phase of amalgamation at upper subregional level (see Section 5).
A third factor slowing the amalgamation of local communities is a lack of coordination among institutions at the centre. Contradictory signals make it difficult for local communities to calculate the costs and benefits associated with creating an ATC. The (recently renamed) Ministry of the Development of Communities and Territories is the lead institution for decentralization, but it is not responsible for certain sectoral reforms that have been designed and implemented at the regional level by other ministries.
Ukraine’s many simultaneous current reforms sometimes have contradicting aims and divergent rationales. For example, healthcare reforms – while empowering patients and doctors on site – also envisage a certain recentralization of control over transfers to local medical service providers in Kyiv. Moreover, as of mid-2019, there was still a lack of clarity about the final design of the newly emerging hospital districts across the country.
Notwithstanding these and other issues, Ukraine’s fiscal decentralization and the fusion of local communities have significantly contributed to a bottom-up territorial reconstitution of the country. The process has opened up new electoral arenas and is promoting local democracy. These changes are incomplete, however. As of mid-2019, their finalization was a pressing issue in light of the desirability of completing the amalgamation of territorial communities before regular nationwide local elections due in October 2020.