Amendments from Kolomoyskyi VS Parliament’s solution

09 April 2020
Amendments from Kolomoyskyi VS Parliament’s solution
Home > Analysis > Amendments from Kolomoyskyi VS Parliament’s solution

Nazar Zabolotnyi, analyst of the Centre of United Actions, for CENSOR.NET

When MPs submitted 16 thousand amendments to the so-called ‘anti-Kolomoyskyi law’, a public discussion started on how to protect the Parliament’s work from been blocked by unreasonably large numbers of amendments. A solution to this problem has to comply with the Constitution and preserve Parliament’s opportunity to parler, which is a French word for “to speak”.

Open and public discussion on draft bills and resolutions in the Parliament is, pretty much, the only guarantee that voters can understand how and why their representatives vote. This openness makes it less probable that the Verkhovna Rada will pass some harmful laws. It also gives Ukrainian citizens an opportunity to hold politicians and parties that break their promises to their supporters accountable when elections come.

At the core of a problem of legislative junk is also “parler”, i.e. in the opportunity to speak. When MPs submit amendments, they have the right to speak about it first at the committee and later from the parliamentary tribune. One such speech can last no more than a minute. MP that initiated an amendment dismissed by the committee can insist to still consider it during the session, other MPs can initiate a vote on amendments approved by the committee.

Each of these small procedures takes several minutes: a short speech and a vote. As was shown by the Law on Language, it is possible to consider only near 300 amendments per day. There are near 8 plenary days in a month, so to consider 16 thousand amendments can take near 6 months of the Parliament’s time — not including the time while committees work on the draft bill and all amendments to it. That takes a considerable amount of time with such a tremendous number of amendments.

There are no easy ways to deal with this problem. The Constitution grants the MPs the right to initiate legislation. Amendments and proposals to the draft bills adopted in the first reading are a part of this right, so it is impossible to prohibit MPs from submitting amendments or restrict the number of amendments. It is also doubtful that it is constitutional to oblige MPs to submit amendments only jointly, i.e. only if some minimum number of MPs supports a certain amendment. Every MP has a right to initiate legislation. Thus, such restrictions will hardly be legal without changes to the Constitution.

Another possible solution can be derived from the root cause of the problem: the more amendments an MP submits, the more time he or she gets to speak from the parliamentary tribune. Since it is impossible to restrict the number of amendments or speeches, it may be possible to redefine what constitutes an amendment.

Often MPs submit several amendments to one of the articles of the draft bill or even to one paragraph or a sentence. At the same time, a particular article is supposed to regulate some single issue concerning the bill’s subject matter. Therefore, it is logical to submit several amendments to the same article as a single proposal. In such a way MPs still can rewrite even the whole text of the draft bill, so the right to initiate legislation is preserved in full.

That will restrict the number of speeches at the committee and in the parliament to the number of articles in a new draft bill or subparagraphs in a proposal on changing some laws. At the same time, provisions from the rules of procedure should allow to discuss and vote on single parts, paragraphs, subparagraphs, sentences, and articles. That way the opportunity for a detailed discussion of the most important issues from draft bills will be preserved.

Hence, if a new draft bill contains 100 articles, then an MP can submit no more than a hundred amendments. If we also allow submitting amendments also to the title, preamble, closing and transitional provisions of the project, then even in theory there will be no reason to claim that the right to initiate legislation was restricted.

If such a change had been introduced, the time necessary for considering draft bills like the “anti-Kolomoyskyi” one would have reduced dramatically. For example, the MP Anton Poliakov who submitted 6 thousand amendments would have got not 6 thousand speeches but only near 70. The most important here is that the MP’s right to initiate legislation is not infringed and discussions as an integral part of parliamentarism are preserved.

However, such an idea can solve only problems that will appear in the future: it cannot be applied ex post facto, so it cannot be applied to amendments that have already been submitted.

The only way to actually apply it to the “anti-Kolomoyskyi” law is to start considering it anew. However, it will be useless to concentrate on this law alone: without changes to the parliamentary rules of procedure, similar situations will arise in the nearest future.

Ideas on how to counter ‘junk amendments’ have to be discussed further to work up the best solution. Now, the instrument of amendments has degenerated from the process of finding a compromise or a better legislative solution into a tool to block the work of the Verkhovna Rada.