Are the authorities trying to “tame” the public?
On 30 January 2007 in Lviv, a roundtable discussion was held on the issue “Public hearings: preparation, how to run them and results”. It was organized by the Lviv branch of the Civic Network OPORA, the information and legal Centre “Our rights” [“Nashe pravo”] and the Secretariat of the Lviv City Council.
The event was of topical interest since during 2006 around 30 public hearings were held in Lviv. This is a very high figure in comparison with previous years. It should in general be seen not as an exception, but as a trend which in the near future will continue.
Speakers included Yaroslav Zhukrovsky (honorary chair of the “Our rights” Centre, Oleksandr Neberykut (member of the Coordination Council of the Lviv branch of OPORA), Vitaly Ilyk (member of the Union of Consultants “Expert Group”) and Yury Lukashevsky (acting head of the department for social partnership of the Secretariat of the Lviv City Council.
Oleksandr Neberykut stated: “What have been labelled “public hearings” in Lviv have in the majority of cases been “chats on a subject”, with a more or less successful imitation of the institution of public hearings. And if the procedural part can be regulated on the basis of legally established guarantees, the contents will continue to resemble “chats” if the local authorities do not have the wish and political will to take specific steps towards taking the proposals made at public hearings into consideration”.
Representative of the authorities, Yury Lukashevsky, analyzed Ukraines experience in developing the institution of public hearings. He said that there was only one regional centre in Ukraine that had a full normative base regulating public hearings, this being in Kherson.
It is interesting to compare this fact with the following statistics: over 2006 186 public hearings were held in Kyiv, 25 in Lviv, 2 in Kharkiv and in Kherson only one (according to figures from the official sites of the relevant city councils). He also announced that from now on the running of public hearings by bodies under the Lviv City Council would be coordinated by a separate department which he is to head.
The Secretary of the Lviv City Council, Volodymyr Kaurt, stated that the city council was attempting to cooperate with the community. He mentioned, for example, that the Councils regulations guarantee consideration at its sessions of local initiatives from the community. However OPORA representative Taras Hatalyak in response said that up till now the local initiative of civic organizations regarding tariffs for heating and water heating had not been considered at these sessions, although it had been officially submitted in November of last year.
OPORA called on the local authorities to hold dialogue between the community and the authorities aimed at resolving the following issues:
What kind of legal mechanism is needed for holding public hearings?
Are the authorities ready to establish the legal mechanisms proposed by civic organizations?
Are the authorities prepared to guarantee the efficacy of these mechanisms?
In general, summing up the discussion at the roundtable, it can be seen that the greatest problem is connected with the authorities not heeding proposals put forward in the course of public hearings. However there can be some grounds for optimism in the fact that unlike previous years, the city authorities have begun to initiate public hearings themselves. It is not inconceivable that a role in this was played by the radical actions run by OPORA last year on Rynok [Market[ Square since these actions had been preceded by roundtables and public hearings. However then the authorities ignored the calls for dialogue and OPORA was forced to resort to decisive actions. It appears that the city authorities have decided to work on the principle “if the process cant be stopped, we need to head it”. The Lviv City Council has begun running public hearings, however resolutions passed at these hearings have absolutely no impact on the decisions of the authorities.
At present there are doubts as to whether such policy can hold out for long. This is seen also in the situation over tariffs for heating and water heating. In autumn of last year 3 public hearings on this issue were held. The proposals of civic organizations and independent experts were ignored. Then OPORA resorted to protest actions lasting all November and December. It was only under the pressure of these actions which essentially expressed the same proposals as at the hearings, a special commission of the Lviv City Council was created to study the economic justification for these tariffs. The members of the commission found that the tariffs were anti-social and economically unjustified. As a result there are more and more statements from deputies of the Council about the need to change the tariffs, i.e. they are saying what OPORA said in October of last year.
We hope that this situation will force the Lviv authorities to understand one simple thing – public opinion must be taken into account.
If the authorities do not listen to the advice of the Lviv public at public hearings, then Lviv residents will simply have to use radical means of influence. Perhaps the city authorities should seriously consider whether it is better to resolve problems at a roundtable of public hearings, or again wonder what to do when an enraged crowd gathers outside the town hall.
OPORA Press Centre