Citizens’ views contribute to advancing the rule of law in Ukraine

Three years ago the protests on Maidan square in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv led to President Viktor Yanukovych being removed from power. The war is in its fourth year. At the same time efforts are underway to strengthen democracy and human rights in the country.

Ukraine is one of the countries where FBA has the most civilian personnel deployed to international missions. Currently there are 13 seconded to EU, UN, the Council of Europe and OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in Ukraine. The security situation is difficult. FBA’s Director-General Sven-Eric Söder recently visited the OSCE special monitoring mission (SMM) to get an update on the conditions for the Swedish observers. During the visit an American observer was killed by a mine in the eastern part of the country.

FBA’s largest project in terms of budget is also carried out in Ukraine. Since 2015 FBA supports selected municipalities in their work to improve local self-government and the rule of law. Initially they were 12, today they are 15. It is an important task that comes down to creating transparent decision-making processes, making sure that it is possible to appeal administrative decisions and that everyone is treated equally before the law. Things we often take for granted in Sweden.

– We work to improve access to administrative service delivery, but also to increase the citizens’ awareness about their legal rights, says Ludmila Ceban, desk officer at FBA who has been working with the project since the start.

Gaps in the legislative framework and cumbersome procedures are some of the obstacles citizens encounter when claiming services, she explains. Moreover, guidelines and instructions for local authorities on how to handle cases are often lacking, which has complicated the implementation of legislation in local decision-making. But despite the shortcomings there are still prerequisites for development. A decentralization reform is ongoing in Ukraine and there is a desire to change.

Halfway through the project, local authorities in the participating municipalities have undergone self-assessments indicating the level of respect of the rule of law principles in administrative service delivery. To reflect citizens’ views, over 5,000 people have been interviewed about their experiences in seven of the twelve partner cities.  

The assessments cover many different areas: From registration of real estate rights to land services, housing and construction permits. Transparency in decision-making, respect for the citizens’ right to be heard, and the presence of corruption and discrimination are some of the issues examined.

– In certain cases there is a substantial difference between how the citizens and the civil servants perceive the situation. The confidence in authorities is low. If citizens were more engaged in local decision-making processes this could enhance legitimacy, Ludmila Ceban says. She was present when representatives from local and central authorities recently gathered at a conference in Kyiv to summarize the results so far and discuss the way forward.  

In six of the cities action plans have been developed to build on what actually works well, identify problems and localized solutions to promote rights’ based service delivery. During the year self-assessments will continue in the remaining five partner cities.

Ludmila Ceban says that FBA’s partners in Ukraine have worked hard to promote good governance and safeguard that decisions are made in accordance with laws and rules.
– Clearer guidance for staff officials and step-by-step roadmaps on how to apply for a certain service are some of the initiatives tested to improve service delivery, she says.

Apart from strengthening the work at local level FBA seeks to spread the results from the analysis to have a national impact. Actors at national level are responsible for creating the conditions needed for the principles of the rule of law to be mainstreamed and put into practice at the local level.

This was also highlighted by Oksana Syroyid, Vice Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, at the conference:
– A lot of work is already being done at the local level. But the parliament’s responsibility is to formulate laws that are accessible and that the citizens can easily refer to when claiming services without the need for legal expertise.

Photos: Dmytro Mokryy-Voronovskyy.

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