Public administration reform is key for Ukraine as all other transformations in the country hinge on it. Implementing any reform before civil service functions effectively seems unthinkable.
Assessment of the EU
20 Deliverables by 2020, a joint Eastern Partnership working document, says that the member-states should improve the quality of governance by strengthening institutions and implementing proper governance practices. When Ukraine adopted the Public Administration Reform Strategy in 2016, it declared commitment to the Principles of Public Administration developed by SIGMA (Support for Improvement in Governance and Management). The EU provides sectoral budget support to Ukraine for implementing a comprehensive public administration reform.
SIGMA’s Principles of Public Administration cover six core areas: the strategic framework for public administration reform; policy development and coordination; public service and human resource management; accountability; service delivery, and public financial management.In a nutshell, this is the EU’s model for relatively good governance. Since 2015, SIGMA has done a comprehensive assessment of the extent to which public administration complies with these Principles in seven candidates and potential candidates for joining the EU, as well as in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. The results of this assessment define the starting point for work towards the goal of improving public administration and for the roadmap of reforms.
The assessment of Ukraine was conducted upon request from its government using the methodology applied to the candidates for EU membership. The criteria are harsher than those used for the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) countries.
The response of different government institutions and expert groups to the findings varied. SIGMA found that “overall, Ukraine has already made considerable progress in reforming some areas of its public administration”. In September 2018, the EU decided to issue another tranche of sectoral budget support to it. Ukraine received 3 or more points out of 5 in half of all the criteria. At the same time, little has been done on nearly 20% of the criteria. According to the EU experts, Ukraine’s indicators are overall better than those of Western Balkan candidates and potential candidates for EU membership that have long been in the process of reforms, and still better than of those countries in the “civil service” segment.
Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers took into account the findings of the assessment and used them as the basis for updating the Public Administration Reform Strategy in December 2018.
Launching the process
What specific results of the reform effort are visible by now? First of all, Ukraine’s ranking in a number of indices points to some progress in this key reform. It went 34 points up to position 65 in Transparency of Government Policymaking in the 2018 Global Competitiveness Index by the World Economic Forum. Also, it improved its position by 23 points to rank 31st in the Open Data Index.
Ministries are undergoing restructuring, with the respective procedures for analysis and government policymaking integrated into their work. Ten pilot ministries and the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers have introduced new apparatus structures.
Among other things, general policy directorates and directorates for strategic planning and European integration were established. This allows the ministries to gradually shed excessive functions of public property administration and administrative service provision, and of the routine “administration of the national economy”, a standard function of the old-school administration. Starting from 2018, impact outlook will be a mandatory element of decision making in the government. This means defining target groups and the impact these decisions will have on them in the short and long term .
1,300 posts of reform specialists were introduced in the government bodies, with almost half of them already filled through open, transparent competitions with nearly 19,000 applicants. A special procedure for the selection of reformers allowed the government to hire people experienced in civil service and external specialists with respective competency and experience in business and non-government sector. The new general directorates are staffed with graduates of some top international European and American universities, and specialists with experience in think tanks and investment companies, well-known NGOs and projects, including Tabletochki foundation, National Anti-Corruption Platform, Factcheck-Ukraine project and more.
New law on civil service
When the new law on civil service came into effect in 2016, it essentially made a huge step towards the creation of professional, stable and politically neutral civil service. The institute of state secretaries was introduced in the ministries. Currently, new people are hired and promoted in civil service through competition exclusively. Replacements in the top echelons of civil service are based on a competition held by the designated Commission for the Top Segment of Civil Service. 60% of the Commission members represent civil society, including trade unions and employers’ associations. What is more, since 2018 there has been a stricter requirement for contenders for the top segment of civil service to have the A2+ command of a foreign language, English or French, proven by the respective tests.
The new philosophy of civil service requires new approaches to personnel management. For this purpose, HRM departments have been introduced in all government bodies, replacing the current “staff management units” whose only function was to keep records on human resources. In 2019, Ukraine plans to launch the HRMIS staff management information system with the functions of hiring staff for civil service and keeping record of it, assessing professional activity, organizing professional learning and tracking salary progress.
The National Civil Service Agency developed a knowledge management portal, which will serve as a marketplace for professional learning and development of civil servants. The vacancy web-portal www.career.gov.ua was launched to ensure more transparency of hiring competitions. It allows users to track open vacancies and announced competitions, as well as apply to these competitions electronically using digital signature.
2018 saw the first full cycle of assessing civil servants’ work based on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The results serve as a basis for individual programs of personal development for civil servants, as they focus on identifying the competencies to be developed further and the education programs to be used for that purpose on a yearly basis.
The reform of civil servant salary system was launched. Starting from 2019, a solid system is in place whereby 70% of the salary is a permanent component tied to subsistence minimum and 30% is the variable bonus component. This approach allows employers to minimize the subjective factor and bias in remunerating for civil service. According to The Reform of Remuneration for Civil Servants (2017), a study by the independent Center for Economic Strategy, Ukraine has competitive wages for civil servants on the local level, while the wages for civil servants in central authorities are still below the ones in the private sector.
The #NewCivilService (#НоваДержавнаСлужба) awareness raising campaign was launched to attract top quality specialists into the public sector, with the focus on young people.
Administrative services go online
The system of administrative services is a special priority. It is an essential component of proper public administration that defines how taxpayers experience its quality. At the end of 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the Law of Ukraine On Administrative Procedure and submitted it to the Parliament. This framework law defines an essentially new policy for administrative service provision.
The Single Portal for Administrative Services was launched allowing citizens to receive many administrative services electronically,which minimizes corruption and speeds up the service. International technical assistance has helped Ukraine expand the network of one-stop-shop or front-office Administrative Service Centers (ASCs). By 2018, 775 ASCs were in operation and have provided 11 million services so far. Individuals and legal entities get an average of over 40,000 services through all ASCs daily.
Based on the government decision, the Single State Open Data Portal works at www.data.gov.ua. It has published over 27,500 data sets and registered over 2,000 data set administrators.
Tested by elections
All these accomplishments do not overshadow challenges in the public administration reform. Moreover, criticism will get more prominent as Ukraine walks further into the political turbulence over the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections. All transformations, especially in public service, are not yet stable enough, which remains the key challenge. If the government changes after the parliamentary election, they will have to stand the test of the change. Late 2019 will show the extent to which public administration is resilient to political influence, especially on staffing the top offices, managing the system of salaries, and continuing reformist positions in ministries. Another worrying factor is financial unsustainability of the reform implementation.
Noteworthy is some perfectly obvious internal resistance to reforms. A good illustration to this will be the intensified efforts of the newly-elected Audit Chamber to undermine many reformist programs and projects through audits that often provide controversial findings.
Undoubtedly, the system of strategic planning, administrative procedure and government policymaking procedure are still far from being fully operational.
The next steps on the crucial public administration reform should be more decisive. Hopefully, Ukraine will manage to navigate through the election turbulence and deliver the expected results in 2020. The reform can not last forever. If protracted too long, it risks drowning itself without delivering the expected result.