Will Verkhovna Rada become modern European-style parliament?

Since 2014, MPs have registered around 6,000 bills, 90% of which have not been passed into laws. “Legislative spam”, populism and corruption have led to the lowest level of trust in parliament among citizens of other European countries – only 5%. What has been done to rectify the situation and what else needs to be done by lawmakers and the parliamentary administration. To read an interview with Jonathan Murphy, Project Manager, EU-UNDP Rada za Evropu. 

Since 2015, the Verkhovna Rada, with the support of the EU and UNDP, has been implementing a self-reform strategy. The key tasks are to improve the efficiency of the parliament, get rid of the “legislative spam”, ensure the transparency and openness of the work of members of the parliament and the whole institution.

However, trust in parliament remains one of the lowest among all the institutions in Ukraine. Is it possible for the Verkhovna Rada to be transformed and how these transformations should look like?

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Hello Jonathan. I will start with a more general question: what, in your opinion, was the most important task of the Verkhovna Rada during the last years and did it manage still to achieve it?

I would say that the general idea of ​​reform is that the parliament should become a more effective institution. The one that would be able to represent the aspirations of the citizens who brought them to Maidan. The Rada had a tendency to accumulate thousands of bills from all possible areas, often many of them on one and the same topic. At the same time, Ukraine has assumed obligations of European integration, implementation of reforms that will make it a democratic European state – reforms should have become a priority for Ukraine. But the key task was to increase efficiency, transparency of the institution and thus accelerate the reform process.

Many have heard such a phrase as the “legislative spam”. How would you explain it and did you manage to overcome this phenomenon?

Members of the Ukrainian parliament, like members of the parliament all over the world, have the right of legislative initiative. For sure, they can offer many of their own bills. But members of the Ukrainian parliament are probably the world champions in implementing their right of legislative initiative. In the current convocation, members of the parliament have proposed about 6 thousand bills since 2014. This is an incredible number of documents. Many parliaments in the world approve only 10 or 20 laws throughout a year. Meanwhile, most of these documents, namely almost 90 percent, never become laws. But the parliament should consider these bills that often overlap each other. It is called the “legislative spam” or the legislative “tsunami.”

E-declarations are the most important element that they managed to implement. Even in comparison with the other European states, it is a very strong control and accountability tool 

Among other elements of the parliamentary reform, there was the task of making it more open and transparent. Did this succeed and what was the Verkhovna Rada really needed to do to become a more open institution?

In 2016, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a plan of work towards greater openness and transparency. It was developed together with representatives of civil society and it included many different elements. In particular, the financial transparency of the members of the parliament and their activities, budget of the institution, greater openness of the committees.

In my opinion, e-declarations were the most important element that they managed to implement. Even in comparison with the other European states, it is a very strong control and accountability tool. It allows citizens monitoring whether officials suddenly become considerably richer in service, given that their salaries at public positions are relatively low. This is a huge step forward and it will have a positive effect for many years to come, if this law is, of course, observed and if the declarations are actually followed up and checked properly.

If we talk about subjects of legislative initiative, who in Ukraine offers the largest number of laws – whether these are members of the parliament, the government, or the president, and what does this certify in terms of the balance of power?

Compared to other European states, the balance between different branches of power in Ukraine is really a bit special. In most countries, the government is mainly the legislative initiator, it forms the agenda. So, 80-90% of the laws that are proposed and approved are government initiatives. The main task of the parliament is to debate these initiatives, often to work out and improve bills, but in general, it is important for the government to maintain a certain consistency. It means that the government should adhere to its reform strategy, which is implemented through the parliament.

In Ukraine, everyone is engaged in lawmaking, and only 40 to 50% of the government’s proposals turn into laws. It is a much lower indicator compared to the other countries. At the same time, the president’s proposals are more likely to turn into laws – with a probability of 80-90%. But this is normal. Mainly these initiatives are related to national security, defense, where these laws are a priority and, in general, there is a general consensus on them.

Another problem in Ukraine is that often important bills are a personal initiative of parliamentarians, and this is again a certain sign of weakness of the government. Probably, it is often difficult to reach agreement in the Cabinet of Ministers, therefore the minister appeals to the member of the parliament, who in turn proposes the bill. This is uncharacteristic for most democratic countries. And it shows that there is no consistency in the management of the state. Ukraine will have to work on it.

The fact that the members of the parliament are the main legislative initiators is considered part of the Ukrainian political culture, the key element of which is corruption. Many of the Ukrainians are convinced: to offer any law, it is enough to pay a member of the parliament – this is often the case. How to change such an understanding of political culture and, indeed, the political culture itself?

Indeed, corruption is a key issue – Ukraine is far from being on the best positions in the world corrupt ratings. But many members of the parliament propose bills, believing that their districts will then be satisfied with them, because it is a sign of how hard they work. But this is not the best train of thought. These hundreds of bills actually just block the work of the parliament.

In fact, in most countries, the parliament is the institution with the least trust among citizens

In order to ensure that political processes are managed not by hidden financial interests, it is necessary to claim further transparency, declaration of business interests, regulation of lobbying – all these things are very important. But ultimately, it is Ukrainian citizens who must bring government officials to justice. I think that still many people in Ukraine do not believe that they can influence the political system.

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Is this also one of the reasons why the Verkhovna Rada still has the lowest level of trust among all state institutions?

In fact, in most countries, the parliament is the institution with the least trust among citizens. So it’s not so unusual. But in general, trust in the parliament in Ukraine is lower than in other countries of the world. I think this is a reflection of the fact that people had high expectations after the Revolution of Dignity, and these changes did not happen as quickly as we wanted them to happen. But, in my opinion, changes re never occur so quickly after the revolution. However, people also have the right to be disappointed.

The only solution in this case can be to involve the citizens themselves in this process, at the same time realizing that there is no simple and fast solution: the salary from tomorrow cannot be doubled; gas cannot be made free of charge. And politicians who promise such things actually undermine democracy. After all, when you give promises that cannot be kept, people cease to believe in the political system and this is a threat to democracy.

But we are talking not only about the Revolution of Dignity and its demands. We are still a country that is experiencing war. Does the parliament perform its role here? Does it communicate how to resolve this conflict, how to live after the war? Does it at least show readiness for this?

The Ukrainian parliament, which is truly democratic, demonstrates different political views on this. There will always be people who will express stronger or more extreme views on war issues. I believe that Ukraine should build a vision of the state after the war, based on the benefits that other countries do not have.

Populism is a great risk as in other countries. People who say loudly that they have simple solutions to complex problems. But, as great politicians have said long before me: there are simple solutions to complex problems and all of them are wrong

For example, in comparison with its great neighbour from the east, Ukraine is a free state, it integrates into Europe, and has a very positive future, namely because of its integration into European democratic values. In my opinion, the development of the Ukrainian state should be based on what all Ukrainians share, not on what separates them – either the language they speak or the region they live in.

In Ukraine, the election campaign has actually started. Soon, we will elect the president, a little later – the parliament. What are the main challenges for Ukrainian democracy and what would you call the main task for the Verkhovna Rada for this period?

In my opinion, populism is a great risk as in other countries. People who say loudly that they have simple solutions to complex problems. But, as great politicians have said long before me: there are simple solutions to complex problems and all of them are wrong. So, in fact, there are no simple solutions. In order to avoid the risk of populism, which the whole world faces today, it is important for the parliament and the government to continue reforms, demonstrate results, get rid of corruption and work on economic growth.

The main thing is to show that there is some progress. Perhaps not as fast as people want, but there’s a move forward, and let’s not rely on simple solutions that will not work anyway. They can only worsen the situation and launch another cycle of problems that Ukraine does not definitely need today.

By Anhelina Kariakina

The original article was published on Hromadske

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