(Washington, DC--April 29, 2005) A group of visiting Ukrainian local government officials said reform is now lagging at the local government level, despite the election last December of a reform-minded president. The panel told a recent RFE/RL audience that a "paradox" exists because the executive branch at the national and oblast (or regional) level is dedicated to reform and decentralization of decision-making, while local structures are unprepared for it.
Vladyslav Stemkovskyy, head of the non-governmental organization (NGO) "Nasha Sprava," said the new national government plans "to give maximum power to local governments within their competence." "Local taxes will be specified" by the national government, however, and local governments will not have the right to establish new taxes. For example, according to Tetyana Neilenko and Valentyna Kukoba, budget officers in the towns of Kremenchuk and Komsomolsk respectively, local governments are responsible for providing a broad range of services (transportation, sewage and water, education), but the income tax collected at the national level is the major source of government funding. Local governments are currently allowed to collect revenue from only a limited number of licenses and fees.
According to Vyacheslav Kozak, a senior official with the Association of Ukrainian Cities and Communities, the major challenge is "revenue and budget reform." "The central government will have to give local governments the power to find funding, he said, which involves constitutional changes. But, according to Kozak, the key question is "when to implement reforms at the local level -- before or after the 2006 parliamentary elections?" Although the presidential elections showed that Ukrainians want change, Kozak asked, should it be implemented in a short period through shock therapy or gradually?
Kozak noted that U.S. foreign assistance programs are helping to retrain local government employees and "this is very important." Kozak, "as an Easterner" from the city of Luhansk, said that he saw "no repression or selective negative pressure" from the new central government. He was worried about the new government's ability to "educate Easterners" about the benefits of European Union membership and getting rid of "old Soviet-era stereotypes."
Stemkovskyy also expressed concern about the future of reform in Ukraine, because "the new opposition" still controls the media outlets in the country and can undermine the reforms of the central government. He expects "lots of those political technologies [i.e. dirty tricks in the presidential campaign] will be played again in 2006" during the parliamentary elections.
The officials were in Washington to participate in a Department of State-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program on Accountability and Transparency in Local Government, administered by the Delphi International Program of World Learning
To hear archived audio for this and other RFE/RL briefings and events, please visit our website at www.regionalanalysis.org