EU diplomat: Ukraine’s public administration needs new talent

The reform of Ukraine’s public service is one of the most important parts of the country’s on-going transformation. It is difficult to have economic and social systems working efficiently without a modern and competent civil service. Ukraine’s system of public administration, however, has many obsolete structures and functions, and extremely low salaries make the public service uncompetitive as an employer on the national labour market. 

In order to address this issue, the EU is helping Ukraine to undertake large-scale public administration reform. The transformation, which is expected to take 3-5 years, will reorganise Ukraine’s public administration and help attract new people into the system.

In order to understand the EU’s approach to assisting Ukraine in this field, we talked to Berend de Groot, head of cooperation with the EU Delegation to Ukraine.

Below are the key points from our conversation.

 

On human resources in public administration

An important component of the public administration reforms is human resources management. The government apparatus is probably too big for the purposes the country needs it to serve. And it is certainly not up to delivering the kind of public service quality that Ukraine requires.

We could compare the government’s central administration to a company with 220,000-230,000 employees. It is all but bankrupt, but we need this company regardless because it has, so to say, a monopoly on the product it delivers. So we have to reorganise it.

This reorganisation requires an assessment of the actual needs and an adjustment of human resources where necessary. First, Ukraine is now going through a decentralisation process. This means that responsibility for a lot of tasks will go to the local governments. This is expected to substantially reduce the workload of the central government. Second, there is also an on-going privatisation process, which targets about 3,000 companies and means another major reduction in the central government’s workload. Finally, the rise of e-governance means a lot of manual tasks can be done in a more digitalised way, which will also improve efficiency.

All this means changes in terms of the human resources required to perform public administration tasks.

On attracting new people to the civil service

In order to attract new people, you have to consider what you pay them. The government, as an employer, has to compete with the private sector in Ukraine – not with EU institutions, embassies, and international organisations, but with private companies working all over the country. That’s the salary level you have to be looking for.

Our support aims to kick-start this process. We are asking the government to start recruitment of new and better-paid staff to induce the reform process using its own budget. The EU will contribute €90 million to the Treasury of Ukraine, but it will only contribute if the process of public servant renewal is also really taking place. This demonstrates the EU’s support to the government to move ahead with the reforms.  This process will take several years, but to begin, the government should bring a critical mass of talented people into the ministries to help the political leadership reorganise the ministry and make it more effective. As the reorganisation progresses, the total size of the ministries’ staff is expected to gradually decline. In turn, this will provide the fiscal space needed for a gradual increase in salaries for all staff. It is not a matter of the EU providing better salaries to Ukrainian public servants, but of the government implementing such reform on its own.

 

On reform support teams

In order to accelerate the process of bringing new people into the public service, we have designed a relatively simple tool called reform support teams. These teams of professionals provide direct support to Ukrainian ministers on a temporary basis. We are talking about teams of 30-40 people who are provided to a ministry for a period of one or two years to help it implement the reform process.

This instrument will draw on people who have higher education and some professional experience and provide them with the opportunity to start working for a ministry. The pay levels will be attractive; we suggest about 15,000 to 25,000 Hr per month, which is at least as much as is paid for equivalent types of jobs in the private sector. The expectation is that these temporary professionals will be gradually moving into the civil service as the reforms progress.

Ministries receiving a reform support team have to develop a package of commitments with regard to the reform process. The ministry has to have a plan for how to use these people in its reorganisation efforts. For example, it took the ministry of finance a couple of months to work this out, but now the ministry is developing a new public finance management strategy, doing functional reviews, and preparing for reorganisation. Thanks to our support, it has the additional resources it needs to realise all this.

On the link between reform support teams and broader public administration reform

The system of reform support teams does not make sense if its role is not gradually taken over by the reform process, and if there are no new public servants, which have undergone a rigorous selection process, to sustain these improvements. So, the reform support teams and general public administration reform go hand-in-hand. They are two sides of the same coin.

 

On high-level reform advice

To pursue its reforms, the government requested a group of international advisors, the so-called Strategic Advisory Group, to help with short, medium, and long-term planning. The National Reform Council will also continue its work. This is a platform that brings together the three entities that constitute the Ukrainian government: the president, cabinet of ministers, and the parliament. There will however, be a reorganisation affecting the support mechanism for the National Reform Council. This was formerly called the Programme Management Office and was aimed at monitoring the reform process; this monitoring function has now been taken over by the Reform Delivery Office, working under the Prime Minister. Monitoring of reforms is basically the responsibility of the government. It is important for us that the ministers are directly responsible for their respective areas of work. Some areas are cross-ministerial, in which case the process may be better controlled at the level of the Prime Minister, who is ultimately responsible for the success of all reforms.

So, in order to stimulate this process, it is good to have a team of dedicated and capable people at the Prime Minister’s level looking into this process, promoting it, bringing people around the table, and helping get things done.