Decentralisation Discussions as Arranged for by the DESPRO Project Encouraged Non-Amalgamated Communities in the Kharkiv Region not to Lose Time
"To what end should communities amalgamate?" this very question became the top one for the participants of discussion on decentralisation held in the town of Krasnokutsk in Kharkiv Oblast.
The event was arranged for by the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine, with the assistance of the Krasnokutska Rayon State Administration and the Centre for Local Self-Government Development in Kharkiv Oblast.
There was good reason to select Krasnokutskyi Rayon as the venue for discussion, because it is one of the sixteen Rayons in the Kharkiv Oblast where there is not a single amalgamated territorial community established. It is notwithstanding the fact that, according to the information provided by the Ministry of Regional Development of Ukraine, Kharkiv Oblast ranks first in Ukraine in terms of capability. In terms of quality of the Long-Term Plan for the Formation of Territories, which plane includes the analysis of territory coverage by potential ATCs, and lack of gaps, it ranks second.
Trying to find why the Krasnokutsk region is slow in terms of amalgamation, the DESPRO Project gathered together chairmen, members of village and local councils, representatives of health care, pedagogical collectives, and community leaders who, with the assistance of experts and chairmen of the amalgamated communities from Kherson, Poltava, and Zaporizhia Oblasts discussed apprehensions and benefits of future amalgamation.
During the discussion, it was found that the major reasons of sceptical mood regarding the amalgamation lie rather in uncertainty than open reluctance to amalgamate. Consequently, chairmen of village councils, while being sensible of responsibility for the residents of their villages, continually ask the following questions: "What will become of schools and medical and obstetrical stations?", "Will there be the reduction of employees of village councils that have amalgamated?", "How the participation in the reform will help to restore the infrastructure?". Chairmen of village councils in Krasnokutskyi Rayon named the roads and, as consequence, the lack of basic services as the most sensitive issue.
- The lack of roads is the most sensitive issue for us, Chairwoman of the Kachalivska village council in Krasnokutskyi Rayon Larysa Nikonova said. - We, chairpersons of village councils, have to arrange for the supply of bread to remote villages by ourselves, as well as medicines requested by residents since there are no pharmacies there. That is, people in those villages see new bread once a week and only after it is brought there by the chairman of the village council. We would have amalgamated with Parkhomivka if the road is constructed.
- We face no such problems pertaining to remote settlements, as mentioned by you. And, after the amalgamation, we repair the roads by ourselves and do not wait for anybody to have done it, Oleksandra Sheremetieva, the Chairwoman of Omelnytska amalgamated territorial community, responded to Larysa Nikonova. We extended our competence over the social sphere and established a territorial centre of the social security department. And today, we have social workers assigned to villages who provide services to the residents in need of social protection services.
Chairpersons of the operating amalgamated communities emphasised that, after the amalgamation, the community was vested with a number of powers earlier exercised by the state, including powers in the area of education and health care. Therefore, the community, thereafter, independently makes decisions on where and which schools are needed so that children can get competitive education and how to make it that the residents receive health care services to the fullest extent.
- In terms of education, it will be in accordance with the decision of people, Ivan Dudar, the Chairman of Kochubeivska amalgamated community in the Kherson region, explained. There were four comprehensive schools in the territory of our community. Their maintenance required a lot of money, however they did not ensure the provision of a high-quality educational service. However, everything settled naturally. A part of children went to another school because there was a better educational service provided there. And when there remained four schoolchildren, 10 teachers, and technical personnel in the school, there was nothing for it but to close the school since there was nobody to be taught there.
And the answer to the question regarding the actual quality of primary health care in villages is as follows: - We had only one ambulance station in 2015. Today, they are two, Oleksandra Sheremetieva said. - We are planning to open two more (...) And the people decide themselves what should be done. Prior to each session meeting, we hold a meeting of residents and they decide what should be done in their headman circuit.
Also, they discussed personnel related issues in Krasnokutskyi Rayon, especially in village councils. The key focus was whether the staff would be reduced when several village councils amalgamate in a single community.
Communities need experts because the powers and resources required for exercising thereof have increase by many times. Somebody should do it, Petro Kiyashko, the Chairman of Veselivska community in Zaporizhia Oblast, replies. - I expected to take a part of experts from the Rayon State Administration. They refused because there would be a lot of work in the community, as they put it. We did not reduce anybody. Those who did not want to work quitted office. Those willing to work can always find a job in the village. Personal interests of two or three employees of a village council may not be pursued at the expense of interests of the entire community.
Ivan Dudar emphasised the importance of pursuing common interests and the ability to reach agreement: "After the amalgamation, you will independently deal with the infrastructure. Like the owner in his house, you will set priorities for yourself and decide what is important for you. You will decide that this day you have to repair one school and tomorrow, another one. You will be able to channel funds to priority projects".
"Amalgamation is the process of negotiations. You come to the community, create a working group, you may sign a memorandum stipulating expressly that you agree to amalgamate subject to compliance with a set of terms and conditions. If you submit it for public discussion in the community, then no chairman would later repudiate it and say that he or she wouldn't do it. Precisely open negotiations in the course of amalgamation protect against oblivion of some territories and disregard of people's interests", Director of the Centre for Local Self-Government Development in Kharkiv Oblast Diana Barynova said.
- Where lies the capability of amalgamated communities? - expert Yurii Hanushchak asks and answers his question himself. For instance, in the accumulation of personnel, concentration of funds and power. To draw up an inventory of lands you need a surveyor rather than an axman. In order that owners and lessees pay applicable land tax, there should be a competent legal support. Now, the competition for investors has started among the amalgamated territorial communities. More than 700 communities have been established. Their territory is big enough for an investor to be able to make choice.
The discussion continued for three hours. Upon completion, the participants of discussion were afforded an opportunity to answer the question "Do you support the process of amalgamation into a community?" 68% of the participants answered "Yes".
Summing up the results of the meeting, Head of the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine Oksana Garnets said the following: "As we see, today we said that the amalgamation meant not only serene scenes and bright prospects. First of all, it means sustained efforts. I think that the real result of the today's meeting will come a bit later when everything that was said today could be analysed and weighed on the scales that you use: does your community currently need the amalgamation or not. You cannot arrive at a decision at once. Nevertheless, it will be arrived at and maybe even faster than expected. The main thing is that all are acting in concert here - the local self-government and the executive branch and the general public".