Sumy City Council of the VII Convocation: 5 Betrayals and 5 Victories in 5 Years of Work

Kornienko Maksym

Specialist in local budgets and public procurement, expert in the field of public control and public participation. The previous experience gained while working in the civil service and in the…

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29 October 2020

The Sumy City Council of the cadence of 2015-2020 was almost the first, unlike its predecessors, to feel what real self-government is, having received real money and real powers for the development of the city from the central government.

Due to budget decentralization, when most taxes remain in place due to changes in legislation and are not transferred to the capital, the total city budget has tripled and the city development budget (i.e. funds remaining after covering mandatory expenditures that can be directed to repair of roads, reconstruction of sidewalks, modernization of squares and premises, purchase of trolleybuses, etc.) has increased in 10 times.

If you notice that infrastructural changes have been noticeable in the city in recent years, you will be right, but the reason for these changes is not that Lysenko works better than Minaiev, but that the current city council received an order of magnitude more opportunities thanks to the “government of kamikaze” Yatseniuk.

The Sumy City Council of the VII convocation includes 6 factions: the All-Ukrainian Union Batkivshchyna, BPP Solidarity, PP For Ukraine!, PU Samopomich, PP Opoblok, the All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda. The majority is formed around Batkivshchyna. At the local level, the formation of coalitions is not provided by law, but the informal coalition is followed by three factions: Batkivshchyna, Samopomich, Svoboda with a situational connection (regardless of the name) of the Opposition Bloc.  

The highlight of our city council is the fact that at a time when power at the national level was in the hands of the BPP Solidarity and People’s Front parties, representatives of these political forces in Sumy City (For Ukraine! is closely associated with People’s Front) had no real influence on the city authorities and were in the undeclared opposition.

Analyzing the betrayals and victories over 5 years of Council-7 activity on the eve of the next elections by the city residents of their representatives in the city government, I propose to focus on the areas of cooperation between the government and the community.

We are all accustomed to noticing the negative, despite the positive moments, but the positive in the work of the Council-7 is yet there.

The victories we want to draw attention to concern the main function of deputies - rule-making.

In fact, much has been done by the city council to make its activities transparent and to participate in the life of the city.

It is about developed and approved policies and rules. We do not currently consider the actual use of the adopted instruments by the executive bodies of the council.

And the work of deputies is primarily in the development of norms and rules. Their implementation and observance is the responsibility of the executive bodies.

1. Introduction of Participatory Budget

Probably the greatest achievement of the city council of the VII convocation is the introduction of the participation budget, i.e. a tool for residents to propose and select projects that will be implemented at the expense of the city’s taxpayers.

Every year, a certain amount of funds (about UAH 10 million) is allocated for the consideration of citizens, which they manage independently: initiate ideas and look for like-minded people, write projects, activate the community to support projects, choose the best initiatives to implement them, control projects.

The procedure is usually useful both in terms of community activation and public participation and in terms of increasing citizens' understanding of budget procedures.

There are problems in implementation, and there are many of them, but the process is alive and moving in the direction of development, constantly improving. Deputies are positive about the initiatives of the public and the coordinating council, and the priority Regulation has been amended several times since 2016, supported by all factions.

2. Adoption of Budget Regulations

The city council also adopted budget regulations in 2016. The document defines organizational and procedural issues for the preparation, consideration, approval, implementation, amendment, control and reporting of the city council budget. It clearly describes the stages of the budget process, the content of work, contractors, deadlines, as well as public involvement and transparency in the preparation and implementation of the city budget.

There are certainly ways to improve this document, in particular, the public has comments on the procedure for collecting proposals for the draft budget from citizens, but in general the existence of procedures clearly regulated by local regulations at the time of adoption was quite a progressive step.

3. Elimination of the Loophole of the Working Order of Decisions of the Executive Committee

One of the significant victories of the Council-7 was a step towards a ban to the executive committee from making important decisions behind the scenes in the so-called working order, i.e. behind closed doors without publishing the agenda and holding an open meeting - only with the consent of the majority.

In 2017, with the support of all factions, the Sumy City Council amended the Rules of Procedure of the executive committee of the Sumy City Council to prevent backstage decision-making (with some exceptions on urgent social issues).

This was one of the demands of the public, voiced on the eve of the 2015 elections. Of course, the problem of lobbying has not disappeared, but since then, in order to reach a much-needed solution, the authorities have to publicly voice arguments and even from broadcasts of meetings of the executive committee we see with the naked eye lobbyists on certain issues.

4. Development of Regulations on Electronic Petitions

Another requirement of the public agenda in 2015 was the adoption of the Regulation on E-Petitions, which would clearly define the algorithm of e-democracy at the city level. Two years later, at the initiative of the relevant deputy commission, a document was developed and unanimously adopted, which in addition to the framework law specified a significant number of points such as the number of necessary signatures, deadlines for collecting votes, the mechanism of consideration of decisions.

An e-petition is one of the tools of e-democracy. Ukrainian law defines an electronic petition as a collective appeal in electronic form to a subject of power in the form of the text of a complaint (protest) and/or proposal. The subject of authority should publicly announce its position on the agreement or disagreement on the merits of the petition, inform about the arguments in case of disagreement and organize joint work with the authors and their supporters to develop and implement a plan of petition in case of agreement.

The effectiveness of the instrument of public participation raises many questions for citizens, as well as compliance with the adopted provisions by the executive bodies. However, the provision itself is quite thorough and undoubtedly useful.

5. Approval of the City Development Strategy

At the end of 2019, Sumy City has finally received a 10-year Development Strategy. The fact itself is undoubtedly very important. It is very right to live by long-term goals, regardless of the mood of the specific people in power. But only if those goals are really relevant, and if they are really taken into account when making management decisions. In the case of “made a document and put it under a cloth” it does not work...

As we can see, there are undoubtedly victories… But behind each of these victories lies betrayal at the stage of practical implementation of these initiatives.

In general, the betrayals we have drawn attention to relate the control function of deputies

Developing useful projects and making the right decisions is very important for the community representative, but it is also important to monitor how these decisions are implemented.

Where did we see the key omissions in the work of city council members-7?

1. Lack of Deputy Control Over the Use of Development Budget Funds by Managers

Due to the lack of a comprehensive approach to determining the priorities of annual use of development budgets and resource allocation in budget planning between a large number of facilities, the city has a significant number of started and unfinished reconstructions, the cost of which increases 2-3 times from the initial contract prices, and the budget loses hundreds of millions of hryvnias unnecessarily.

Until the current year, the deputy corps had practically no influence on the manual mode of distribution of funds according to the title lists instead of the program’s clear and transparent definition of the order of reconstruction of the so-called “Euroyards”. Back in 2016, at several meetings of the planning and budget deputy commission, the head of the Capital Construction Department was given the task of developing a program for their reconstruction with a clear definition of priority. To date, the program has not been developed, but the budget specifies the objects of reconstruction. According to the analysis of the previous 3 years, more than ⅔ repaired yard territories fell on the districts of the ruling Batkivshchyna Party.

To control the use of funds by the largest administrator of the development budget, the capital construction department even set up a temporary control commission at the request of the public. But it never started working...

2. Failure to Provide Financial Resources for Development Programs

As well as the above-mentioned strategy, the target development programs in the city are prescribed extensively and in detail, they contain quite positive standards, the achievement of which will really lead to socio-economic development of the community. However, at the stage of their implementation, problems arise again.

First of all, when adopting the budget, insufficient funds are allocated for the implementation of planned programs. So, for example, according to the program of development of passenger transport, 10-20 trolleybuses should be bought annually, and at budget planning the plan was reduced to 0-4. Another example is ignoring the public program for the development of urban cycling infrastructure, and planning unrelated sections of bike paths as a stolen part of the sidewalks during their reconstruction.

3. Indifference to Ignoring Own Recommendations for Using the ProZorro System

Since 2016, the decision of the city council recommended all budget managers to use the electronic system ProZorro in the so-called pre-threshold procurement (worth up to 200 thousand UAH for goods and services and up to 1.5 million UAH for works).

However, absolutely all managers over the next three years ignored this recommendation, completely non-transparently conducting 9 out of 10 such procurements. Tens of millions of hryvnias were spent annually from the city budget. But city deputies were not embarrassed at all.

Attempts to introduce mandatory “transparent thresholds” in 2018 at the initiative of the Samopomich faction and in 2019 at the initiative of the coalition of the NGO “Sumy Platform for Reforms” failed. The draft decisions were not supported due to the resistance of the Batkivshchyna and Opoblok factions.

In 2020, the problem was solved thanks to a law passed by the Verkhovna Rada.

4. Transport Lobby in the Session Hall

During the cadence of Rada-7, there were several attempts to control deputy functions in the transport sector. In particular, they tried to break the decision of the executive committee to approve the results of the transport tender and to set unreasonable tariffs for transportation.

Several stages of the transport competition of 2016-2017 did not differ in openness from the formation of the tender commission and prescribing requirements for participants to the procedure of conducting and approval of results: closed meetings, disregard for proposals, conditions for old participants, court appeals, smoke bombs...

At the session of the City Council on March 29, 2017, deputies tried (the initiator was the Solidarity Party) to cancel the results of the competition. The Batkivshchyna, Opoblok, and Samopomich factions did not support the proposal.

The Batkivshchyna, Opoblok, and Svoboda factions did not support the attempt of the executive committee to cancel the decision of the executive committee to unreasonably increase the fare (taking into account the overestimated amount of transportation, inappropriate cost of fuel, underestimated passenger traffic) on February 21, 2018.

In addition, on July 30, 2019, the coalition of the NGO “Sumy Platform for Reforms” initiated a draft decision on the mandatory placement of minibus schedules at bus stops in order to monitor compliance with the terms of the agreements. Thanks to the Batkivshchyna and Opoblok factions, the decision failed.

5. Unsettled Communication between Citizens and Deputies

Another failure of the current composition of the city council is the lack of proper communication between voters and elected officials:

- It is not so easy to find a deputy in public receptions according to the schedule

- The e-mail boxes listed on the city council’s website do not always correspond

- The annual deputy reports provided by the law do not occur systematically

- Citizens often have no idea who is a deputy in their district

- Understanding of the essence of deputy work (including by the deputies themselves) is quite far from the truth

- Deputies inquiries are used as a PR tool, not a solution to issues

When citizens were invited to the session, the deputy read the request, the council supported, and citizens were satisfied, not understanding that the council supports absolutely all requests and support the request is only permission to submit it to the executive authorities, not resolving the issue in essence ... and this support means absolutely nothing, because in most cases the answer to the request is similar to the appeal of citizens “thank you - we heard you, stay on the line” ... but it seems the deputies are satisfied with this approach “what about me? I applied - I was denied”

In addition, a separate item (because it is no longer about the council) should make the closure of the online reception of the mayor. When no better IT solution for communication between citizens and the mayor was offered to replace the perhaps not very convenient means of online reception (as well as it is not available for communication with the deputy corps), instead boxes for paper wishes were placed in the lobby of the city hall.

It is absolutely necessary to carry out informational and explanatory work in this direction, including using the tools to cover the activities of the council, which should work not on PR of the mayor, but on conveying socially useful information to taxpayers.