Should we merge ministries or is it a mistake we should not make this time?

01 February 2023
Should we merge ministries or is it a mistake we should not make this time?
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Text republished from Censor.Net 

The authorities once more are toying with the idea to merge ministries. According to one of the versions, the Cabinet considers the possibility to create 12 new ministries to replace the current 20 ministries. In particular, to merge the Ministry for Communities and Territories Development, the Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories, and the Ministry of Infrastructure. Also, there is a possibility that a megaministry will be created that will cover education, culture, information policy, youth, and sports. The Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Environmental Protection will possibly be merged again too. 

Gigantomania is a bad idea when it comes to ministries 

This idea is not new for politicians currently in power. The first time Zelensky’s team implemented this idea was right after the victory of the Servant of the People party in the parliamentary election of 2019. The newly-appointed Cabinet of Honcharuk merged the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Informational Policy, and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Also, the Ministry of Agriculture was incorporated into the Ministry of Economy, and the Ministry of Energy was merged with the Ministry of Environmental Protection. 

Honcharuk’s Cabinet worked for a quite short time, only half a year. MPs were disappointed with the results of the work of his ministers, especially with the unpreparedness for the coronavirus pandemic. One of the reasons for early dismissals was the poor work of the amalgamated ministries. And there were objective reasons for that. 

Any merger requires determination, time, and the right personnel. A prominent example was the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports led by Volodymyr Borodianskyi from Honcharuk’s Cabinet. It became probably the largest ministry in the history of Ukraine after the merger. Only proper staffing required almost half a year: designing and approving the organizational scheme, announcement and completion of the required competitions. For the newly-created directorates to learn new spheres of responsibility and coordinate their work, years were needed. But the time was short. The giant ministry has never started to work properly. In Shmyhal’s Cabinet, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Youth and Sports were separated. 

Do not merge the unmergable 

Any merger should be driven by some logic. The scopes of work of the ministries have to be not just similar but also non-conflicting. That was the mistake made during the merger of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Energy. 

The Ministry of Energy is responsible for the work of central heating and power plants, thermal power plants, and nuclear power plants, mining of minerals, including natural gas and coal. This sphere makes probably the most damage to the environment. The minister is interested in the increase in the mining of minerals so he or she hardly pays attention to the environment. 

The Ministry of Environmental Protection is supposed to protect the environment, in particular, to control the mining of minerals and prevent its negative consequences. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Energy pursue different goals. That is why their merger produced an ideological conflict of interests, and one goal was sacrificed for another. Environmental organizations warned that such would be the outcome of this decision. Shmyhal’s Cabinet has two separate ministries once more. 

Do not make the same mistake twice 

The idea to amalgamate ministries in 2019 failed because it was ill-conceived and there were not enough time and human resources. So what the authorities should understand now while considering this idea? 

It is a bad idea to artificially set a particular number of ministries since each of the ministries has its separate scope of work. It is, of course, possible to merge them. However, it is the same as to appoint a cook working at the plant to work as an engineer and then demand he designs a drone. He, probably, will make a sketch of a drone, but not much more. 

An attempt to “reshape” the ministries will destroy the reform of civil service. Directorates under ministries responsible for designing state policies and strategic planning will be dissolved. The directorates are responsible for the reforms’ proper implementation in accordance with the plans. Without them, the stability of processes will be disrupted. 

Also, the ministries can become too politicized. The dismissal of a large number of civil servants that is now planned will lead to a situation when only ministers, their deputies, executive support service, and support staff will remain. Who will do the actual work? Unless there will be significant deregulation of the work, the actual load will not become smaller. As a result, ministries could become bottlenecks where most of the decisions will be stuck. 

Even back in 2020, Volodymyr Zelensky complained that there were not enough cadres. After the war, the situation will not be better, it can even worsen — for obvious reasons. The state will require quick and pointed decisions, and giant ministries will be unable to keep up with their implementation.