Implementation of parliamentary reform

(January-February 2018)

One of the key reforms is the parliamentary reform, which is focused on strengthening the Parliament’s institutional capacity and ensuring fulfillment of its main functions: legislative, oversight, and representative. Effective performance of these functions directly impacts the quality of legislation, oversight of the implementation of laws, and representation of the interests of the entire state as well as of the individual voters.

The problems that the parliamentary reform is meant to address include the following:

  • Low level of legitimacy of the law as an effective regulator of social relations, a tool for implementing state policies. The law is not aimed at addressing any particular problem;
  • The Parliament fails to fulfill its oversight function, which fact can be seen from the lack of systematic parliamentary oversight of the implementation of laws, violation of the Rules of Procedure concerning the Hour of Questions to the Government, etc.

In February 2016, the European Commission proposed “The Roadmap on Internal Reform and Capacity-Building for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (below, the Roadmap). This document contains recommendations on ways to reform the Ukrainian Parliament, aiming to resolve the said problems, to improve legislative quality, to ensure transparency and openness of the VR of Ukraine and the MPs’ compliance with ethical rules and standards, and to raise the level of the Parliament’s administrative capacity.

Parliamentary reform implementation measures taken in January-February 2018

Creation of an independent parliamentary civil service

The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which is the sole legislative body in Ukraine, must exercise institutional, administrative, and financial autonomy. Administrative autonomy means the Parliament’s ability to independently form the parliamentary civil service and support its operation. An effective, professional, politically neutral, and credible parliamentary civil service is a prerequisite for high legislative quality. Creation of an independent parliamentary service will be instrumental in raising the status of the Secretariat of the VR of Ukraine in the legislative process, ensuring expert analytical support, and increasing the level of public confidence in the Parliament.

Recommendation No. 41 of the Roadmap provides as follows:

“In the longer-term perspective the VRU could consider moving towards the establishment of an independent parliamentary civil service.”

On November 24, 2017, the USAID RADA Program held a roundtable on “Parliamentary Service: Reform, Operating Principles, and Guarantees for the Activities of the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine,” presenting for the first time an Analytical Note with recommendations on reforming the parliamentary service.

In January, the USAID RADA Program conducted a survey of internal stakeholders to identify parliamentary service problems and possible ways to address them.

On January 17, 2018, the Committee on Rules of Procedure and Support to Work of the Verkhovna Rada created a working group to prepare a draft law of Ukraine on parliamentary service.

On January 22, 2018, the Committee on State Construction, Regional Policy and Local Self-Government, together with the Committee on Rules of Procedure and Support to Work of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, with support from the Council of Europe Program “Decentralization and Territorial Consolidation in Ukraine,” organized a discussion “Creation of Parliamentary Service as a Component of VRU Reform.” The key stakeholders, who had been invited to take part in the event, presented their vision of parliamentary service. The event also featured the presentation of the USAID RADA Program’s Analytical Note “Problems of Parliamentary Service,” materials from the European Information and Research Center on international experience in parliamentary service regulation, and the magazine Parliament – Issue 4 / Specifics of Parliamentary Service Performance at the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine published by the Agency for Legislative Initiatives.

Public discussion of draft laws

From the beginning of 2018, four draft laws were published on the e-portal for public discussions. A total of 41 citizens of Ukraine took part in the discussion. In January-February 2018, the participants were most active when discussing Draft Law No. 6674 “On Amending Certain Legislative Acts to Ensure Public Openness of Information on Funding of Civil Associations and Use of International Technical Assistance.”

Since the launching of the portal, the most-discussed bill was Draft Law No. 1135-1 on civilian firearms, with 861 participants. The bill got about 900 commentaries/proposals/critical remarks from the audience.

Parliamentary reform actualization

Reducing the number of Committees of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

At the beginning of February, Andriy Parubiy emphasized that parliamentary reform is one of the key priorities of the current, eighth session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

On February 22, 2018, a discussion was conducted that had been organized by the Committee on State Construction, Regional Policy and Local Self-Government, Committee on Rules of Procedure and Support to Work of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, with support from the Council of Europe Program “Decentralization and Territorial Consolidation in Ukraine.” At the event, the Speaker emphasized that he would insist on consideration of Draft Law No. 6256, which provides for a reduction in the number of Committees and for aligning them with the spheres of jurisdiction of the Ministries. Andriy Parubiy also said that he would insist on submission and registration on the draft law on distribution of positions of Committee heads based on the d’Hondt method.

These recommendations were proposed in the Roadmap on parliamentary reform. At present, the Verkhovna Rada has 27 Standing Committees and one Ad Hoc Commission on Privatization. According to international standards, the number of Standing Committees is relatively high. It should be noted that the number of members varies over the Committees, ranging from 7 to 33. The trend towards increase in the number of VRU Committees is accounted for by the political need to meet the contradictory demands of the parliamentary factions. To enhance the effectiveness of MPs’ work in the Committees and to strengthen interaction between the legislative and executive branches in the legislative process, the Pat Cox Mission proposed Recommendation No. 17:

“A reduced number of parliamentary committees (approximately 20), closely paralleling ministerial portfolios, should be considered to take effect from the beginning of the next convocation.”

To ensure proportional representation of each faction in the Committees, the Pat Cox Mission came up with Recommendation No. 18:

“The application of the ‘d’Hondt method’ should be considered in order to ensure proportional representation in the VRU committees and delegations and should take effect from the beginning of the next convocation.”

The USAID RADA Program conducted a study of the distribution of top positions in the Committees in which it used the d’Hondt and Sainte-Laguë methods to determine how many positions of heads / deputy heads / secretaries of Committees would be allocated to each of the factions. The study showed that the distribution of positions conducted at the beginning of the 8th convocation of the VR of Ukraine, which was based on the number of mandates received by the factions, yielded the same results as the d’Hondt method would have produced.

Current state of parliamentary reform implementation

Bringing the Rules of Procedure in Compliance with the Constitution

Last year, Draft Law No. 5522 “On Amending the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine was referred to the Venice Commission. In October, 2017 Parliament received the positive inference about changes to the Procedure. On December 6, 2017, the Committee on Rules of Procedure approved, at its meeting, changes to the Law’s amended text, claiming that those changes were based on the Venice Commission’s recommendations and the decision of the most recent meeting of participants in the Jean Monnet Dialogue. It should be noted that when addressing issues subject to constitutional and legal regulation the Committee made reference to the Coalition Agreement. This had also been mentioned in the previous version of the bill. At present, the bill is pending resubmission by the Committee.

Bringing the Rules of Procedure in compliance with the Constitution was proposed in the recommendations to the conference on parliamentary reform “The Role of the Parliament, the Head of State, the Government and the Public in Improving Legislative Process Quality” which was conducted by the USAID RADA Program on December 12, 2017.

System of adoption of ordinary laws by a simple majority in the presence of a quorum

There is no progress regarding implementation of Roadmap Recommendation No. 13 on the procedures for the adoption of legislation in the Verkhovna Rada by instituting a system where ordinary laws can be adopted by a simple majority providing that a quorum of MPs is present.

In April 2017, two bills, No. 6299 and No. 6299-1, on amending the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (to improve the procedure for adopting decisions) were submitted; the bills proposed that the adoption of all interim decisions voted upon in the process of consideration of draft acts of the Verkhovna Rada require a simple majority of the votes of the MPs taking part in the voting. Currently, these draft laws are being processed by the Committee on the Rules of Procedure.

The oversight functions of the parliamentary Committees

At present, work is underway to implement the Pat Cox Mission’s recommendations on ways to improve the performance of the Parliament’s Committees. However, there are no actual results as regards fulfillment of the oversight function by the Committees and implementation of Roadmap Recommendation No. 16, which provides for a systematic organization of the Committees’ efficient oversight of respective Ministries.

Hour of Questions to the Government

During the third session of the Jean Monnet Dialogue, a new format was agreed upon for the Hour of Questions to the Government; according to it, the first 20 minutes will be dedicated to the Government’s report, the next 20 minutes will be evenly distributed between all factions and groups, and the concluding 20 minutes will be allocated to all the MPs. These recommendations were proposed in the Analytical Note to the roundtable on the Hour of Questions to the Government as a parliamentary oversight tool, which was organized by the USAID RADA Program on October 13, 2017.

These changes, however, are at odds with the procedure prescribed by the Rules of Procedure. To conduct the Hour in line with the new format, the chair will have to put to the vote a procedural decision on ad hoc departure from the Rules of Procedure. Procedural decisions only need 150 votes to be approved.

At the second session of the Jean Monnet Dialogue it was proposed that the questions being asked during a Government Question Hour be related to a preset topic. So far, this recommendation has not been implemented.

The Accounting Chamber

Reforming the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine to transform it into an efficient auditing state service was mentioned in the Roadmap for Reforming the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of 8th convocation and included in the Coalition Agreement as part of the public finance reform (Section VII). The need for such reform was also confirmed by the World Bank, EUROSAI and supreme foreign audit institutions, including the UK National Auditing Office, the Bundesrechnungshof in Germany, etc.

So far, there has been no rotation of the members of the Accounting Chamber. In June 2017, a competition was announced; based on its results, 60 Accounting Chamber candidate members were selected. Following a checkup, 30 persons remained; of these, 9 candidates were chosen by MPs. However, subsequently the entire Parliament failed to support the nine Accounting Chamber candidate members by the required number of votes.

Other parliamentary reform matters

On February 15, the USAID RADA Program, together with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Ukraine, organized, within the framework of a visit by a CDU/CSU Youth Caucus delegation, a discussion on “Parliamentary Coalition Formation. The Roads to Understanding and Reaching a Compromise” with the participation of MPs and representatives of the German Bundestag. At the roundtables, the attending members of the German and Ukrainian Parliaments shared their experience in forming a coalition majority in Parliament and discussed methods of search for a consensus.

The Reform Roadmap recommendations include a number of provisions regarding facilitation of an inter-party dialogue, increasing confidence within the Parliament, and fostering mutually beneficial communication among MPs to achieve approval of reforms and decisions indispensable to the state.