In Slovenia, queues for medical certificates are long gone. Different departments interact with each other, saving citizens’ time. Because the task of the state is to solve problems, not to create obstacles. Adoption of the Law “On Administrative Procedure” will ensure the provision of admin services in a simple and predictable procedure, will protect citizens and businesses from possible arbitrariness of officials. What is the difference in relationship between the state and citizens in Ukraine and the EU, read in the column by Gregor Virant, former Minister of Public Administration of Slovenia, key expert of the project “Support to Comprehensive Reform of Public Administration in Ukraine” (EU4PAR).
Functional, reliable and predictable state governance is a key element of the welfare state. And this is the factor that distinguishes successful countries, such as Sweden, the Netherlands or Finland, from less successful ones.
In particular, citizens and businesses often find themselves in a situation where the state makes decision on their rights and responsibilities. For example, when you need a building permit, drawing-up of the passport, social assistance or a travel agency setting up, during the inspection of the company’s activities in relation to its compliance with the law, the cancellation of the license due to violation of the rules, etc.
In all these and hundreds of similar situations in the EU countries there is an administrative procedure – a general set of principles and an algorithm for action, which are governing the state when making decisions on the rights and obligations of individuals and legal entities.
In Ukraine, such a set of general rules is absent: each branch is regulated by separate laws, which creates chaos.
Why the administrative procedure has not yet start work in Ukraine?
First, because of the lack of understanding of the general administrative procedure concept.
Secondly, the lack of such a law increases the room for arbitrariness of officials and corruption. Unfortunately, there are still groups of people who are interested in it. If the official is not obliged to listen to the parties before making a decision, to justify it – then there is a huge field for arbitrary decisions, and the powers of officials are not clearly regulated.
Initiatives to launch an administrative procedure are facing a huge counterstand of corruption.
The Draft bill “On Administrative Procedure” No. 9456 is the fifth attempt to correct this situation. In addition to protecting the rights of citizens and business, minimizing arbitrariness of officials and corruption risks, it is a step towards the Europeanization of the state.
Ukraine has decided to move through the European integration process, implements the public administration reform and the adoption of this law in its framework will bring the relations of the state and citizens closer to the EU standards. In addition, it is included in the financial indicators, which will determine the budget support for the whole reform.
What are the general European principles of administrative procedures?
It’s worth to understand that the text of the law varies from country to country, but its common European principles are unchanged. For example, before making a decision, the authorities must determine all the circumstances of the case: no decisions can be based on the probability and the conviction of the official that they are correct.
The administrative procedure also guarantees the right of a citizen to be heard: officials are obliged to take into account his arguments before making a decision. It disables the principle of a “black box” when you apply, wait a month or two for a decision, and then suddenly get a rejection. The administrative procedure guarantees the citizen the right to present his case, evidence and actively participate in the process.
Another pan-European principle – the decisions of the authorities should be substantiated and made in writing. And the parties to the process should be informed about them.
A citizen, in case he does not agree with the decision, will be able to appeal it in a higher body. Thus, the administrative procedure also offers an alternative to appeals in the courts, which saves time and money. However, it does not cancel the right of a citizen to apply immediately to court. So there are several levels of control over the actions of officials.
One of the newly implemented principles also stipulates that if the data on citizens or the company are in official registers, public administration bodies have no right to re-request them. They shall find the necessary information on their own, saving time for citizens. This is also one of the common European principles of administrative procedures.
For citizens, the state is a big company, which, in particular, should provide them with services and solve their problems.
How it will do that – they as the clients should not be interested in. Therefore, the administrative procedure stimulates the authorities to interact with each other.
In Slovenia, the formation of interagency cooperation lasted for many years, but today it works and the queues for the offices for reference remained only as a reminder.
Administrative procedure – this is also about changing mentality
It’s not easy to pass a law, to change mentality – even harder. Citizens need to know their rights, and officials should understand that their function is to solve the problems of citizens, and not to create obstacles for them.
Therefore, in the case of a positive scenario, the adoption of the law that the EU actively supports, an information campaign must take place in parallel. Both for officials and for citizens.
When I was the Minister of Public Administration in Slovenia, I repeated for citizens at every occasion: look, you have the following rights. The main function of the authorities is to serve you, and you have the right to demand a better service. Officials, in turn, held training sessions on in-service education.
But communication is not all. There was a constant monitoring: the special inspection controlled whether the ministries, government agencies solve the problems of citizens properly, do not violate their rights. Slowly, but gradually, the mentality changed from both sides.
Reforms do not happen overnight – everything is happening step by step. And the Law “On Administrative Procedure” is a sure step of Ukraine towards Europeanism.
The EU actively supports this intention, but whether it is implemented or not – it is a question of the will and enthusiasm of people’s deputies to pass the law.
Author: Gregor Virant
Source: Evropeiska Pravda