Ukraine is one of the countries where there is a big number of participation tools. The Constitution and other laws of Ukraine provide a spectrum of various methods on how to influence citizens during decision-making. The source of power is the people – proclaims the Constitution of Ukraine. However, are there really any citizens in this matter and in to what extent will the elected board/government give the opportunity to Ukrainians to put this right into effect?
Read the special material made by Institute “Respublica” on the Constitution Day
Citizen Participation Tools
The tools of public participation are the methods that allow an active Ukrainian to influence the decision-making. The following is a significant number of the most popular tools we have identified and analyzed:
- Local Initiative
- Meeting of citizens in the areas of their residence
- Public hearings
- Electronic petition
- Participation budget
The right to use any of these rules (except for the participation budget) is guaranteed by the Law of Ukraine “On Local Government in Ukraine” and “On the appeal of citizens”. More details on how to use these tools can be found in the city constitution or in the local provisions.
At the beginning of spring, Institute “Respublica” sent out requests for information to local Councils of 32 settlements/ communities in Ukraine, where the “Active Community” is represented. The aim was to observe and investigate the state of the active citizens who use mentioned tools and to find out the level of their implementation.
Meeting of citizens
In general, there were 1909 meetings of citizens in the cities which participated in this research. A record fell in Odesa with a record number of 1522 meetings, which is 80% of the total. In 18 cities out of 32 were held no meetings, or the City Council does not keep any records of such events.
In general, how can community meetings bring benefits to citizens?
- Self-organization. After the assembly/gathering, the residents of the city/village decide about a particular problem and send it in the form of a collective appeal/complaint/statement to the City Council. This is a good step towards solving a problem.
- The assembly of citizens is an element of influence. If people are gathering, that means that they are really concerned about the raised question, which requires the interference of the authorities and its subsequent immediate solution. Deputies of the City Council, representatives of the executive committee, public enterprises and other authorized persons are often invited to the meeting as well.
- A meeting of citizens has an informational cause. If the citizens do not discuss the problem, it means it does not exist. The gathering of citizens and the dissemination of information about them, their meeting and discussion, contribute to a more rapid solution to the problem that needs to be solved.
Citizens and authorities used this tool 237 times in one year. The largest number of public hearings took place in Lviv (60), Ivano-Frankivsk (43) and Vinnytsia (25). Public hearings were not held in 8 cities out of 32, or the City Council does not keep track of these events.
Why are the public hearings helpful?
In accordance with Article 13 of the Law of Ukraine “On Local Government in Ukraine” – The territorial community has the right to hold public hearings – to meet with deputies of the relevant council, and officials of local government. During these hearings, the members of the territorial community can attend the meetings to listen, ask questions, bring proposals, and make suggestions on issues of local importance which are under the jurisdiction of that particular local government.
Public hearings are mandatory in cases of the decision making regarding urban planning, changes in the master plan. Often, buildings in cities hold a scandalous character, so if you do not want another building to grow under your nose, follow the announcements of public hearings on the website or information boards of your council. Ask your deputy to report on such meetings, which may decide the fate of the city or district.
In addition to the building development issues, citizens have the opportunity, according to a certain procedure, established by the charter/statue of local regulations, to hold public hearings on issues that are relevant today for the city and require the intervention of the local council.
Article 9 of the Law of Ukraine “On Local Government in Ukraine” says that members of a territorial community have the right to initiate any evaluation made by the council (which is in order with local initiative) on any matter that falls under the authority of local government. This means that citizens can submit a draft solution (an initiative) to the council session. In order to do this, it is necessary to find out whether the procedure is approved by the council – Statute or provision. If it is not possible, then it is necessary to submit such initiative through the deputies of the local council.
With a total of 32 cities, only 6 of them took the advantage of this opportunity, where 2,461 draft submissions were submitted. Out of this number, 829 draft submissions were voted on by the deputies. Kamyanets-Podilskyi is the leader among the cities of this conducted research: 2,429 initiatives, out of which 821 – 34% were implemented by the City Council.
Why local initiatives are useful:
- Citizens learn what it means to be a local legislator
- Social cohesion and the ability to influence important challenges of the city/village
- Establishing links between the elected government and society.
This tool is not regulated by the legislation of Ukraine but is rather a positive experience of introducing foreign practice at the local level. Participation budget can work where the local council has identified the appropriate procedure. Therefore, from those 32 cities in Ukraine, the participation budget was applied/used in 26 cities, where in 2017, were conducted 2,812 projects/plans/schemes by citizens, that means that 15% of them were implemented and the other part of the projects will be implemented in 2018, according to local councils.
Participation budget can be considered as one of the most successful tools. Although, there is a flaw which should be monitored by citizens or people should amend this point to the provisions, as it was done by the “Active Community” in Vinnytsia.
Activists observed that many projects represent municipal and state institutions. The tool started to deviate from the residents and turned into a method of state bodies in order to obtain additional funding for schools, kindergartens, etc. In Vinnytsia, activists approached this case in the following way: if the whole society has direct access to the results of the project, then this idea can be considered as a project for the participation budget. For example, the reconstruction of the school stadium, which can be used by the entire community.
How useful is participation budget?
- Citizens learn to understand the local budget and create their own projects.
- The real impact on the decision adoption: people do not get only the opportunity to resolve the issue, but also they get a chance to immediately receive the necessary amount from the budget.
- In order for the project to be implemented, people become more active and attract others to vote, and therefore to create joint projects.
There were 9568 petitions filed by citizens in 26 cities, 389 of them were introduced, which is 4%. The largest number of petitions were collected in Zaporizhzhya, Kharkiv and Kyiv – more than 1000 in 2017. The highest efficiency was achieved in Khmelnytskyi, with 83 out of 255 petitions, which is 33%. The electronic petition is one of the most popular tools for citizen participation, however, as statistics show, it is not very effective yet.
Possible reasons for this satiation are as follows:
- Not everyone local council gathers information about resolved problems, issues. Petitions are passed to the executive committees, and then somehow it will be! This is a negative practice because we can’t fully measure the effectiveness of this method.
- Not all electronic applications of citizens are meaningful, informative. Residents need to consult more with community organizations, local experts or government representatives before submitting a petition.
- In fact, the government very often ignores requests from citizens.
Why electronic petitions are useful?
- They save your time.
- They gather people to solve a problem.
- A petition that obtained the required number of votes in accordance with a provision or a statue, must be reviewed at the next session of the council.
Ukraine confidently walks towards direct democracy. This is a trend, a movement that does not stop. We can only thing about how to improve existing instruments of participation and to deepen citizens’ knowledge on how to use these tools. As it has turned out, in practice, local initiatives (mainly the experience of Kamyanets-Podilskyi) and the participation budge five the greatest effect. Electronic petitions can also be a sufficient effective mechanism, provided that the authorities would give at least answers to the petitions and explain why some petitions are supported by the council and others are not. This will simplify the further work of local councils, since the number of quality appeals will increase, and citizens will save such an expensive resource – their time, and they will be better able to understand the effective appeals of the electronic format.
In addition, in our time it is important not only to inform the authorities in the form of petitions, local initiative and so on. It is also important enough to bear in mind the systemic nature of the problem solving. Often, a single participation tool is not just sufficient. We also need control from citizens at the stage of consideration of an urgent problem, and then also during its decision process. Therefore, a meeting of citizens, public hearings, interviews in the media, the dissemination of information about the problem among neighbors and acquaintances, the deputies of the city council, will often give more effect than a single tool. You might think that this is too difficult…
However, now Ukraine is at the stage of development. Both public activity among the population, as well as transparency, and openness to the dialogue of power are increasing. Therefore, if we want the next generations to live better lives, we need to make use of our full potential. The more there will be a constructive dialogue between citizens and authorities and local government, the faster we will develop our cities, and the better our rights will be guaranteed by the Constitution.