The events of this week will be remembered by history since they will have a significant impact on the balance of power in Ukraine. First, the Constitutional Court refused to implement a presidential decree that has the potential to provoke a constitutional crisis. Later, a parliamentary committee published the text with changes to the Constitution on decentralization. This is the third attempt of this parliament to finish the implementation of the decentralization reform.
Our digest today will outline the reasons for these decisions and their probable consequences.
Constitutional Court postponed the swearing-in of new judges appointed by President
Decision-maker: the Constitutional Court.
Who is affected: Ukrainian citizens, businesses, government bodies, local governments, the President, “dismissed” judges of the Constitutional Court Oleksandr Kasminin and Oleksandr Tupytskyi, newly-appointed judges Oksana Hryshchuk and Oleksandr Petryshyn.
Summary of the resolution: judges of the Constitutional Court recently appointed by the President will be sworn in only when there will be vacant positions in the Court.
- in March 2021, President Volodymyr Zelensky repealed the decrees appointing the judges of the Constitutional Court Oleksandr Kasminin and Oleksandr Tupytskyi and thus “dismissed” them
- after the Supreme Court reinstated the “dismissed” judges, representatives of the President appealed against this decision claiming that the judges are “in opposition to the reform”
- later, 49 MPs appealed against the presidential decree, and the Constitutional Court initiated the case in response to their appeal
- ignoring the legal proceedings, the President announced and conducted a competition for “vacant” positions in the Constitutional Court.
What is right: the decision by the Constitutional Court has prevented a constitutional crisis. If the newly appointed judges were sworn in, it would have discredited the Court.
What is wrong: Court’s decision violates the law. The Chairperson of the Constitutional Court is obliged to swear in newly appointed judges within 5 days after the appointment.
A parliamentary committee has published the text of the changes to the Constitution on decentralization
Issued by: the parliamentary Committee on State Building, Local Governance, Regional and Urban Development.
Who is affected: Ukrainian citizens, businesses, government bodies, local governments, employees and management of local state administrations, the President, the Cabinet.
Summary of the proposed changes to the Constitution:
- the administrative and territorial structure. “Amalgamated territorial communities” become just “communities” (hromadas). They are supposed to be the key actors of local self-government. Raions will be renamed into povits, settlements — into towns
- hromada via local self-government bodies will be responsible for issues of local significance that are not specifically excluded from its mandate and are not a part of the mandate of other bodies
- raion and oblast councils will have executive bodies of their own instead of local state administrations. These state administrations will be dissolved
- the state will hold public consultations with representatives of local self-government on issues of local self-government
- executive power at the local level will be exercised by prefectures headed by prefects:
- prefects will be appointed either by the President upon the submission by the Cabinet or the Cabinet itself. There is no decision on the appointment procedure yet
- prefects will be civil servants elected via competition for three years
- prefects will ensure administrative oversight over the acts issued by local government bodies, they will also have other powers concerning oversight and coordination
- snap elections to local councils will be announced by the Central Election Commission
- Dnipropetrovsk oblast will become Dnipro oblast, Kirovohrad oblast will become Kropyvnytskyi oblast.
Why this is important:
- changes to the Constitution are the last step in the decentralization reform started in 2014
- changes proposed by the Committee are the third attempt to change the Constitution concerning decentralization during the last two years. The previous two attempts by the President were heavily criticized by local self-government, so Zelensky decided to withdraw his draft bill.
What is right:
- the changes in question take into consideration the results of public consultations with local self-government
- the new approach to local self-government bodies will allow them to solve problems of local significance. As a result, there should be fewer scandals like the abolishment of a pedestrian area on Kontraktova square in Kyiv.
What is wrong:
- raion and oblast councils will no longer have the power of vote of no confidence against heads of local state administrations. This will distort the balance of power between local self-government and central government
- raions (povits) and raion (povit) councils will have no powers of real significance
- prefects will consult and control local self-government bodies. There is a real risk that prefects will abuse their authority to pressure local self-government into submission.
- appointments and dismissals at the local level have to be a mandate of the Cabinet, not the President. Local executive offices are implementing state policies that are developed and implemented by the Cabinet
- prefects’ authority should be only to oversee, not to control local self-government
- raions should be removed from the administrative and territorial structure. Since raion councils and raion state administrations will have almost no significant powers, it is unreasonable to spend money on maintaining them.
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