Up­grad­ing the Rada:

How ca­pa­ble is Ukraine's Par­lia­ment of work­ing dif­fer­ently and re-in­vent­ing it­self?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ro­man Malko

The epoch of uni­ver­sal re­for­ma­tion that Ukraine is strug­gling through to­day sim­ply could not avoid touch­ing one of the most sa­cred of its in­sti­tu­tional cows, the Verkhovna Rada. Nor is it merely a trib­ute to a trend. In its quar­ter cen­tury of in­de­pen­dence, Ukraine’s leg­is­la­ture, which has gone through many a cat­a­clysm and achieved heroic deeds, has changed very lit­tle in its essence, stub­bornly re­main­ing a kind of soviet pre­serve. Few would ques­tion that the process of re­form­ing it, from the leg­isla­tive work of MPs to the in­ter­nal re­form of the sec­re­tar­iat, has not only long been due, but even over­due.

In­deed, it would be hard to find an MP who pub­licly is against the idea of mod­ern­iz­ing this shrine of democ­racy. But this is the bit that is lit­tle more than a tip of the hat to a trend. In prac­tice, Ukraine’s MPs fear any change to their cozy lit­tle nest like the plague and will do any­thing in their power to pre­vent it.

The first at­tempts to or­ga­nize the work of the coun­try’s high­est law­mak­ing body when Volodymyr Gro­is­man was Speaker. In Fe­bru­ary 2016, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’s Needs Assess­ment Mis­sion to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine led by Pat Cox, who was Pres­i­dent of this par­lia­ment in 2002-2004, pub­lished Re­port and Roadmap on In­ter­nal Re­form and Ca­pac­ity-Build­ing for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. And it did a great job. For nearly half a year, it im­mersed it­self in all the sub­tleties and ex­plored the un­der­wa­ter reefs of Ukraine’s par­lia­men­tary sys­tem: the re­sult was bril­liant. Euro­peans fi­nally un­der­stood who they were deal­ing with and the deep abyss into which the high­est leg­isla­tive or­gan of a coun­try that they hoped to draw closer had fallen. Most im­por­tantly, they were not in­tim­i­dated by it and did not give up. A to­tal of 52 re­al­is­tic rec­om­men­da­tions were drafted that, if im­ple­mented, will make it pos­si­ble for the Verkhovna Rada to achieve greater open­ness and ac­count­abil­ity in its leg­isla­tive ac­tiv­i­ties and would bring it in line with the high­est stan­dards of Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary sys­tems.

On March 17, 2016, the Verkhovna Rada even passed Spe­cial Res­o­lu­tion № 1035-19 “On mea­sures to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions on in­ter­nal re­form and ca­pac­ity-build­ing for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine,” in which MPs rec­og­nized “Ukraine’s ir­re­versible course to­wards Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion” and, “guided by the pro­vi­sions of the As­so­ci­a­tion Agree­ment,” re­solved to rec­og­nize the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’s Mis-

sion as the ba­sis for VR in­ter­nal re­forms and ca­pac­ity-build­ing and to take all the nec­es­sary steps to im­ple­ment it.

What the Euro­pean ex­perts rec­om­mended chang­ing has been writ­ten up in de­tail many times and all the re­lated doc­u­ments are openly avail­able. To sum it up, it has turned out to be a kind of re­form­ers’ Bi­ble that of­fers MPs guide­lines to gen­uinely reach hith­erto un­reach­able heights in self-im­prove­ment. In­deed, ev­ery Ukrainian who is even a lit­tle in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics should con­sider read­ing them over as well. At least then it would be­come clearer why there is lit­tle point in tak­ing the word of their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives at face value as they con­tinue to say one thing and do an­other, what it is they are so afraid of, and why a year has passed and Ukraine’s law­mak­ers still have barely had the courage to start this ad­mit­tedly dif­fi­cult and risky process.


So far, the only thing on the long list of items pro­vided be­low—which has ef­fec­tively be­come a list of com­mit­ments— that has been achieved has been strictly tech­ni­cal changes that don’t re­quire a vote in the Rada cham­ber. They may not be so ob­vi­ous, but they are def­i­nitely there.

For in­stance, be­fore, is­sues were not con­sid­ered in pack­ages, whereas to­day this prac­tice is firmly es­tab­lished, thanks to the ini­tia­tive of Speaker An­driy Paru­biy. This ap­proach, when bills that are re­lated to the same is­sue are de­bated in a pack­age on spe­cific days has been praised by MPs them­selves. Com­mit­tee heads have said that this is cor­rect, log­i­cal and con­ve­nient, and not only be­cause deputies don’t have to con­stantly shift their fo­cus. When bills are scat­tered and come up for de­bate in a ran­dom queue, their qual­ity suf­fers. This seem­ingly mi­nor change, which is ac­tu­ally not writ­ten down any­where, should be a stan­dard pol­icy by the time the next con­vo­ca­tion is elected and be prac­ticed as a rule.

Ukraine’s MPs seem to adapt to good things quickly and aren’t will­ing to drop them. For in­stance, Mon­days have tra­di­tion­ally been a day off from the weekly ses­sion work. Ear­lier, Mon­day was an or­di­nary work­ing day: a co­or­di­nat­ing ses­sion in the morn­ing and then the ple­nary ses­sion. But in the late 1990s, more than 100 deputies de­cided to pick up some wis­dom at the Na­tional Academy for Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice. In or­der not to miss their Mon­day lec­tures, MPs de­cided that, while they were study­ing, Mon­day would be a free day. They even passed a Spe­cial Res­o­lu­tion in­sti­tut­ing this on a tem­po­rary ba­sis, but the prac­tice be­came per­ma­nent. To­day, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to get a deputy to work on a Mon­day.

One more fairly im­por­tant mat­ter is greater open­ness in the leg­is­la­ture. Not just ac­cess to the build­ing it­self and a near dou­bling of VR ex­cur­sions in the last year. Most of all this means ac­cess to a site with doc­u­ments, tran­scripts of ple­nary ses­sions, and any in­for­ma­tion about what com­mit­tees are do­ing. Not ev­ery­thing hap­pens ac­cord­ing to plan but jour­nal­ists have be­come used to work­ing this way. Por­tals called “Pub­lic Dis­cus­sions of Bills” and “e-Con­cil­i­a­tion Board” have been set up. Next in line are the Verkhovna Rada’s “e-Bill” sys­tem and the im­ple­men­ta­tion a new IT strat­egy un­der the aus­pices of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. This means that the ses­sion hall will be re­or­ga­nized and the Rada vot­ing sys­tem up­dated, as it is badly out­dated. For­tu­nately, this last project is ex­pected to be funded largely by Ukraine’s in­ter­na­tional part­ners rather than the coun­try’s bud­get.

Con­sid­er­ing the ac­tive as­sis­tance and co­op­er­a­tion with a va­ri­ety of donors, such as the USAID RADA pro­gram, the EU/UNDP “Rada for Europe” project, the US-based Na­tional Demo­cratic In­sti­tute, and the West­min­ster Foun­da­tion for Democ­racy, which are not only pro­vid­ing con­sul­ta­tions and ex­pert as­sess­ments, but also fund­ing to fi­nance projects, con­sid­er­ably more could have been achieved, but the hold-up is with Ukraine’s own MPs. A year ago, a Rada re­form de­part­ment was set up, but donors could not un­der­stand why ev­ery­thing was so dif­fi­cult. Only when they were in­vited to a work­ing group ses­sion did they “get” it.


To speed up the re­form process and en­cour­age MPs to work more ac­tively, last Oc­to­ber a work­ing group of top MPs met in Paris at the ini­tia­tive of Pat Cox, in­clud­ing speak­ers, fac­tion lead­ers and lead­ers of groups. The only groups that did not have peo­ple at this meet­ing were the Op­po­si­tion Bloc and Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, who sent her deputy. A se­ries of sup­pos­edly agreed po­si­tions on re­form­ing the Rada were ap­proved at this time and a list of bills that needed to be voted on to im­prove the VR Rules of Pro­ce­dure and the work of the Rada would to be voted on. Ev­ery­body kissed and shook hands, and pho­tographed them­selves with Mr. Cox and mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. But the minute the plane with the del­e­ga­tion landed in Bo­ryspil, the sit­u­a­tion changed rad­i­cally and all re­form ef­forts stopped.

At that point, the Speaker sup­pos­edly also ap­proved a de­ci­sion to set up a work­ing group con­sist­ing of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all the VR fac­tions, the VR Sec­re­tar­iat and the Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters. “Let’s get down to some real work” seemed to be the mes­sage. “Let’s pick those items on the Roadmap that are the least dis­rup­tive and can please ev­ery­one and slowly move for­ward.” At first, in­ter­est in the work­ing group was high. Ev­ery­body wanted to join it. But when it turned out that this would not be closed, as such, but that it would also not be a pub­lic work­ing event and there would be no TV cam­eras, in­ter­est dis­ap­peared in­stantly. In­stead, dis­cus­sions raged for a cou­ple of months. An­other few months went by and the work­ing group met six times: all the pos­si­ble is­sues were dis­cussed and dif­fer­ent op­tions were con­sid­ered. Mean­while, the lat­est “Mon­net Dia­logues” took place in Ir­pin, just out­side Kyiv, where all the fac­tion reps said that they were ready. Fi­nally, they seemed to have reached an un­der­stand­ing and even drafted up two bills on com­mit­tees and all the mem­bers of the work­ing group and VR fac­tions signed off on them.

The first bill deals with syn­chro­niz­ing VR com­mit­tees in re­la­tion to the num­ber of min­is­ters with port­fo­lios in the Cab­i­net. Fol­low­ing the Euro­pean sys­tem, where most leg­is­la­tures work on the ba­sis of 20 com­mit­tees that are cor­re­lated to min­istries. In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the Rada, a slew of com­mit­tees ei­ther have no con­nec­tion to any min­istries or are con­nected to more than one at the same time, the key func­tion of con­trol dis­ap­pears from their ac­tiv­i­ties. Mak­ing laws is only a frag­ment of the work of MPs. Of course, there might be com­mit­tees that don’t have a clear con­nec­tion, such as the reg­u­la­tion, bud­get and Eu­roin­te­gra­tion com­mit­tees, but this should be the ex­cep­tion. An­other ex­cep­tion could be ad hoc com­mit­tees that are con­nected to some ur­gent is­sue that has come up. But they are tem­po­rary and are formed for a brief pe­riod. For in­stance, the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment now has a com­mit­tee that is re­spon­si­ble for Brexit. As soon as that is­sue is re­solved, the com­mit­tee will be dis­banded. In gen­eral, this ap­proach is with ref­er­ence to per­ma­nent com­mit­tees, which will strengthen re­la­tions be­tween min­istries and com­mit­tees, and en­cour­age bet­ter qual­ity leg­isla­tive work. More­over, pass­ing this bill would re­move the op­tion of horse-trad­ing and set­ting up fake com­mit­tees just be­cause some­one felt like it.

The sec­ond bill, also re­lated to com­mit­tees is about their dis­tri­bu­tion. To­day, the com­po­si­tion of com­mit­tees de­pends not only on the num­ber of mem­bers in a given fac­tion but also on back­room deals. The big­ger the fac­tion, the more it gets, while small fac­tions get lit­tle—and some­times noth­ing at all. To main­tain some kind of cor­re­la­tion and fair­ness, a sys­tem used in most Euro­pean coun­tries is be­ing pro­posed: sim­ple math­e­mat­i­cal pro­por­tion. And though big­ger fac­tions will con­tinue to have the

ad­van­tage, the sys­tem nev­er­the­less bal­ances ev­ery­one’s chances bet­ter.

How­ever, when it came to ac­tu­ally ap­prov­ing the al­ready agreed-upon bills in the Rada, ev­ery­thing went on hold. The bill on the dis­tri­bu­tion of com­mit­tee mem­bers is not even reg­is­tered, while the one that in­volves syn­chro­niz­ing com­mit­tees with min­istries has al­ready been brought down suc­cess­fully three times. It turns out that, from the very start when the work­ing group be­gan to func­tion, of most of the mem­bers that rep­re­sented fac­tions ad­mit­ted hon­estly that this ap­proach was not con­ve­nient for them. Even the pro­posal that these bills be passed but come into force with the next con­vo­ca­tion—of course, no one would redis­tribute the com­mit­tees now—had no sup­port. Un­for­tu­nately, it seems that the cur­rent group of MPs is sim­ply not pre­pared to un­der­take any se­ri­ous re­forms.

And how­ever much deputies might talk at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity about the need for these re­forms, they have no in­ten­tion of turn­ing their words into deeds. They’re more than happy to talk about re­forms, to em­brace their for­eign coun­ter­parts, and to travel abroad at donor cost, but they aren’t pre­pared to have their “rights” im­pinged upon. Ev­ery MP who looks into any re­form first wants to know what ben­e­fits it will bring—if not for the MP per­son­ally, then for that their peo­ple or aides. In the last few years, deputies have prob­a­bly trav­elled half the world at the cost of Ukraine’s in­ter­na­tional part­ners os­ten­si­bly on be­half of re­form. They will prob­a­bly re­quest that the next Mon­net Di­a­logue take place in Paris, be­cause, you see, Ir­pin doesn’t work for them: it doesn’t quite have that charm. So far, donors haven’t said much although they can ob­vi­ously see that they are be­ing used, that their money is be­ing milked and the re­sults aren’t there. How much longer they will put up with this is any­one’s guess.


Right now the Rada is wait­ing for the Venice Com­mis­sion to vet Bill #5522 “On amend­ing the Verkhovna Rada Rules of Pro­ce­dure,” which should bring the main leg­isla­tive rule­book in line with the Con­sti­tu­tion. It has al­ready been de­bated in all the com­mit­tees, but whether MPs will ac­tu­ally vote for it in the end is any­body’s guess. There are also el­e­ments that ap­peal nei­ther to the rul­ing fac­tions nor to the op­po­si­tion ones. And this has not even touched on one of the sor­est points—chang­ing the work sched­ule to in­clude more ple­nary weeks. Or the op­tion of chang­ing the vot­ing model to al­low most leg­is­la­tion to be passed by a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of those present in the ses­sion hall, pro­vided there is a le­git­i­mate quo­rum, which also re­quires amend­ments to the Rules and the Con­sti­tu­tion both.

In the House of Com­mons in the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, which has 650 deputies, the pass­ing of purely tech­ni­cal bills re­quires only 26 MPs to be present. Of course, there are im­por­tant pieces of leg­is­la­tion that re­quire the pres­ence of half or even two thirds of elected MPs, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is the prob­lem of a par­tic­u­lar MP who was sup­pos­edly in­ter­ested in a par­tic­u­lar bill but did not show up for the ses­sion to vote. That MP will then have to pub­licly ex­plain why this hap­pened.

An­other prob­lem in the Rada to­day is the dom­i­nance of leg­isla­tive spam. Just since the start of sum­mer this year, MPs man­aged to slap to­gether 4,500 bills, a vast num­ber of them of dread­ful qual­ity. The com­mit­tees can­not re­work this quan­tity, nor can the Sec­re­tar­iat. All this soviet-style make-work takes place for one pur­pose only: to brag to the MP’s vot­ers. The fact that out of hun­dreds of bills, none might pass in the end, does not bother any­one. Re­duc­ing this leg­isla­tive storm can only be the re­sult of clear re­stric­tions and screen­ing. One of the points of re­form pro­poses es­tab­lish­ing the leg­isla­tive process in such a way that a bill is only reg­is­tered af­ter it has re­ceived all ap­provals and been brought to a proper state, in­clud­ing a clear out­line of the re­sources needed: where the fund­ing to im­ple­ment it will come from and what the so­cial im­pact of pass­ing it will be. Of course, those same MPs are sup­posed to ap­prove these changes, too, and so it’s easy enough to imag­ine that they are in no hurry to do so.

The same sit­u­a­tion holds for re­form­ing the VR Sec­re­tar­iat. It in­cludes quite a few units and de­part­ments whose func­tion­ing is ir­rel­e­vant. The sys­tems for hir­ing peo­ple and pay­ing them salaries need to be over­hauled. There’s plenty of talk about the need to min­i­mize the pa­per­work in­volved, and this is truly very im­por­tant. But, once again, this means chang­ing the way the Sec­re­tar­iat works. The IT de­part­ment needs to be re­in­forced and its staff ex­panded...

The way the press works within the Verkhovna Rada is a sep­a­rate is­sue, again. Some­thing needs to be done so that the poor MPs aren’t of­fended that they are be­ing per­se­cuted and can’t work prop­erly, while mem­bers of the press don’t re­ally overdo it at times. Here, what is needed is a Rada pool and a change in the way jour­nal­ists are se­lected to work in the leg­is­la­ture. Right now, more than 4,000 pen-wield­ing and cam­era-shoot­ing sharks are ac­cred­ited, which is clearly non­sense: there sim­ply aren’t that many real me­dia out­let that are writ­ing about pol­i­tics in Ukraine. In the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, for com­par­i­son, there are only about 100 ac­cred­ited jour­nal­ists, but they ac­tu­ally work and of­fer re­sults, rather than hang­ing around and act­ing im­por­tant. Jour­nal­ists are se­lected very straight­for­wardly: the me­dia out­let ap­plies and the ap­pli­ca­tion is re­viewed as to whether the out­let re­ally does write about the Par­lia­ment. If yes, then is it about the ac­tual work of the leg­is­la­ture or is it about what brand of purse some­one is car­ry­ing? Only then is an ac­cred­i­ta­tion is­sued.

In­deed, a good deal has al­ready been achieved in re­form­ing the Rada Sec­re­tar­iat. Things are slowly but surely mov­ing along. Speaker Paru­biy and act­ing VR Chief-of-Staff Petro Bon­dar are do­ing their best to push this cart for­ward. Not long ago, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy was ap­proved that cov­ers sev­eral years and pro­vides for the proper brand­ing of the Rada, set­ting up a VR pool, and work­ing with the press. It has al­ready passed the Com­mit­tees for free­dom of speech, cul­ture and spir­i­tu­al­ity, and is in­line for the Rules of Pro­ce­dure Com­mit­tee to re­view. But it, too, is run­ning into the fear of MPs. Any re­form within the Sec­re­tar­iat that re­quires staff lists, changes to the num­ber of staff and a clear sys­tem for pay­ing salaries de­pends, first and fore­most, on a vote in the leg­is­la­ture. And that’s where the re­sis­tance will rear up.

Re­cently, Bon­dar met with the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Klaus Welle, in Brus­sels, and the two agreed on the as­sis­tance of Euro­pean Par­lia­ment ex­perts in car­ry­ing out a com­plete per­for­mance au­dit of the Sec­re­tar­iat in or­der to demon­strate all the pluses and mi­nuses of its work and which of its ac­tiv­i­ties need to be changed. They also promised to fol­low best avail­able prac­tice in Euro­pean par­lia­ments. This should rad­i­cally change the en­tire sys­tem: from the se­lec­tion of em­ploy­ees and prin­ci­ples and ar­eas of work to how the work­load is dis­trib­uted among units and who is re­spon­si­ble for what. The Euro­peans are pre­pared to help to the point that a ready doc­u­ment can be pre­sented for ap­proval to MPs in the Verkhovna Rada. The ques­tion, again, is whether the same fate awaits it as awaited the Roadmap with the 52 rec­om­men­da­tions. This will be the ul­ti­mate in­di­ca­tion of just how ready Ukraine’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are pre­pared to re­form.



Tak­ing over the task. Volodymyr Hro­is­man handed the EP rec­om­men­da­tions on VR re­form to Speaker An­driy Paru­biy af­ter he switched to the prime-min­is­ter's seat

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.