On the need to depoliticize the civil service



Volodymyr Fesenko, Head of the Lenta Political Research Centre writes in his article on Ukrainska Pravda that he was impelled to write it by the political games being place over the draft Law on the Civil Service, and parliamentarians’ plan to remove a crucial norm on depoliticizing the civic service.

The draft Law was introduced on 7 April 2011 by the Minister of Justice who particularly highlighted the President’s initiative to depoliticize the Service. Lavrynovych did however go on to say that “for the sake of dialogue with the opposition”, the President would not insist on linking depoliticizing with membership of a political party.  As the author puts it, the ball was passed, and was accepted.

During the discussion it was mainly the norms on depoliticizing the Civil Service and ban on belonging to political parties which came under most attack, from members of all factions in parliament.

The draft bill was passed in its first reading but without three norms, including that banning party membership.

Fesenko notes that there are also some political analysts who have come out against the depoliticizing of the Civil Service. He, however, is adamant that “the possibility of officials being affiliated to a party is seriously deforming the functioning and development of Ukraine’s democracy. it furthermore creates serious risks for the very prospects of democracy”.

He says that from the second half of the 1990s there were regular efforts to create a power in power. Each such attempt led in the first instance to recruitment – whether by driving people in or enticing them with career prospects – of officials. “Through membership of officials in their ranks the party in power not only ensures its influence over the system of State governance, but also consolidates its leading status.

There is a fusing of the ruling party and the system of State governance. Does one need to explain that this has nothing in common with normal competitive democracy? “

This was a problem, the author says, even under the parliamentary – Presidential system. With the move to an electoral system based on party lists and a coalition principle for forming a government, he asserts, the leading posts in the executive from ministries to district administrations were distributing according to a party quota principle.

“In staffing policy party affiliation took first place, not professional qualities”. There was a considerable increase in the number of ministers, leaders of central and regional executive bodies and their deputies since large numbers of parties wanted their people to have a place.

He adds that this led to inter-party conflicts within the Civil Service especially during the period of intense confrontation between President Yushchenko and the then Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Fesenko says that over the years we have seen that what rules is an unthinking and corruptible system based on party affiliation within the system of State governance.

He asserts that if party affiliation of public officials is not banned,   the majority will fairly soon be in the ranks of the Party of the Regions, and one will see what happened in Russia in 2009.  United Russia is no longer the party in power, he says, it is also the party of officialdom.

This may seem attractive to many Party of the Regions members, but it can hardly foster the development of competitive democracy in Ukraine.

Fesenko considers first the argument against depoliticizing that the rule does not apply to the President, National Deputies, etc. 

He responds by noting that in European political practice a differentiation is drawn between administrative and political posts.  Administrative positions should be filled on the basis of professional qualifications with candidates competing for posts.  Political posts are held by those who are elected to them, and this can obviously be linked with party affiliation.

“This is not our invention, it is European practice”. The author points out that the situation with the President is different and according to Ukraine’s Constitution he cannot hold a position in a civic association, that including in a political party.

He believes that it would be difficult to consider assistants to National Deputies as political figures.

Of fundamental importance, he says, is the principle that the heads of local State administrations should not be treated as political positions.

Fesenko considers untenable the argument that a prohibition on party membership within the Civil Service breaches Article 36 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of association, including membership of a political party. This Article, he says, allows restrictions established by law. “They say that a ban on party membership for public officials will make it difficult for them to take part in the elections. It will make it harder, but not prohibit it. If norms are added to electoral legislation about people being able to put themselves forward, there won’t be any problem.

“More important is the fact that the draft Law on the Civil Service bans officials, except those standing for office, from taking part in election campaigning, publicly demonstrating their party preferences. This is a very serious restriction of administrative resources.”

“The problem with present parties is that they seek support in administrative resources – in those same officials and in political corruption. Parties must seek support and strength in society and in widespread, social interests, not in the artificial party dependence of the Civil Service”.

Fesenko ends his article by stating categorically that civil servants must work for the country and not for a political party. He says that in a normal democracy there is a clear division between civil servants, party politicians and businessmen and expresses the hope that Ukraine will nonetheless become such a society. 

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