Volodymyr Groysman: “In the nearest 5-10 years Ukraine will be the most interesting country in Europe” 

Volodymyr Groysman’s tenure as vice Prime Minister could have ended after the 100 days that he had worked in Arseniy Yatseniuk’s team. Immediately after the inauguration, President Petro Poroshenko asked him to lead his Administration. Groysman refused, motivating it with the necessity to finish what he started in the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Essentially, the reform of local government. 

“If we are to give power to the oblasts, we will get feudal principalities; no, the power should be delegated to territorial communities directly,” says Groysman. In “civilian life,” so before Maidan, the young mayor of Vinnytsya was considered one of the most successful mayors in the country. Mobilised to the government, today he works in the office he inherited from Olexandr Vilkil and Boris Kolesnikov.

Groysman has already prepared the theoretical basis of the reform, the realisation of which in practice is being halted by war. In addition, purely political circumstances are unfolding as well: the new Constitution, re-election, without which any means will be half-baked.

This interview is the dissolution of stereotypes. The stereotype that decentralisation is something extremely complex and complicated, that one cannot make sense of that. That it is not beneficial to regular citizens, but the local elites, which are simply fooling the regular citizens. That decentralisation and coherent budget policies are discordant. That Donbas is unique in its demands to be “heard in Kyiv.” 

“I remember the social investigations that were conducted from time to time in central Ukraine. In particular, in Vinnytsya. The measures of non-acceptance of the central government: the President, Prime Minister, its other representatives, is stably over 50%. Anti-ratings were simply off the scale,” says Groysman. 

“Everyone has to be interested in earning more” 

Let’s start with the good things. Today it so coincided, is the 100-day anniversary of the work of Yatseniuk’s government. Obviously you have something to report. 

I would like to talk not more about the interim results but about the fact that we have finally established ourselves on the way of serious reform of the country. This is more important. A political decision was made: we are ready for decentralisation, we are ready to give power to local governments.

As basis, we have passed the Concept of reform of local governments. Proposals of amendments to the constitution have been developed based on the Concept and sent to the Parliament.

To the constitutional committee of the Verkhovna Rada?

Yes. My thematic discussions with the members of this committee, and the members of the Verkhovna Rada overall show that there are no real arguments regarding the reform of local government.

When speaking about the hundred days, I will also mention the bill regarding cooperation of central government and territorial communities – it has also been sent to the Parliament. As well as the order of the Cabinet of Ministers regarding decentralisation of administrative services.

Besides, the government has approved the law regarding the bases of state regional policies. The first proposals regarding municipal police have been developed; we are working on a new model of financial activity of the local communities.

While there is no new Constitution, de facto these developments cannot be implemented, right?

We have two options, strictly speaking. The first is cardinal reform through the approval of a new Constitution. The second is the so-called “soft” option – which, it seems to be, will not satisfy neither the society nor the politicians.

What does the “soft option” entail?

Edit some laws in some party. But, I reiterate, it’s a half-attempt. More so under the current conditions. So we have four levels: the state, the oblast, the district, the local communities. They have to cooperate in such a way so that each one, on their part, is interested in earning more, producing more and, as a result, for more to remain on location. And if we are talking about electing the government of all levels and not appointing it from Kyiv, then yes, for this, the Main Law has to be changed.

When do you think the new Constitution can really be passed? Taking the known circumstances into account? And taking into account, that we have only sent a table of given proposals and not the text of the new Constitution to the Venetian committee?

I am sure we have to do it in 2014.

How so, if its realistic?

First – through the Parliament. The session is over on July 4th, right? So, before July 1st we need 226 votes in support. In the summer, we need the verdict of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and 300 by the fall. I am not talking about political factors now, but about the terms.

It is absolutely necessary to pass the new Constitution. And this year exactly. Either through the 226 and then 300 “ayes” in the Parliament, or by means of a referendum…

A referendum? 

I am talking about hypothetical possibilities. There is no third option.

So the summer will be spent in search for three hundred votes. 

If we are talking about the part of Constitutional amendments that have to do with local government directly, it seems to me already have these votes as of today. This, I emphasise, is my own personal vision.

However, of course, the issue of the new Constitution is much broader and includes a number of other positions. In this light it is necessary for the Parliament member corps to work with the representatives of the political groups that are presented in the government today.

Do I understand you correctly: you personally also participated in the consultations with representatives from all political powers? If so, whom did they involve exactly? Did you meet with Yefremov, for example? 

No, I did not speak with Yefremov. There were no direct political consultations with the fractions and groups, however, taking the sum of pure human communications into account, I make the conclusion I have just announced.

“Yes, I am on the President’s team!”

Is it true that one of the main lobbyists of the new Constitution, particularly the editor of the aforementioned “universal table” is Olexandr Turchynov? 

I did not participate in the general political consultations, the talks process, it is difficult to say but I think it is important that the president of Ukraine has been chosen in the first round, who has all the chances of uniting society, the elite, the politicians. Besides, the Cabinet of Ministers supports the President’s line, it, overall, is supported by the parliament and this way we have the consolidation of key branches of government in the matter of reforms of primary importance.

Are you on the team of this President or not? 

Of course I am! Can it be any different? In general I think that this segregation has to stop: who is on whose team, we are all working for a common result.

Have you been a member of Poroshenko’s team since he became President or even before? 

You know that Petro Olexiyovich and I have known each other for a long time and that we have a good relationship.

Yes, back in Vinnytsya. Do you understand that you will be considered his man 100%, and not otherwise? 

Personally, I am ready to do everything in my power – help the President so that he succeeds in all his endeavours, everything he talked about; for the government to succeed, our entire team. I essentially came here to do this.

When was the last time you spoke to Poroshenko? 

Not so long ago, several days ago.

And he proposed that you head the AP, correct? 

Well, such an option was discussed. We exchanged opinions on this matter and that’s it… The issue is that I don’t have the personal goal of heading the AP. I came to the government to meet a very particular goal, today I began realising it and I would like to finish it.

“The powers should not be given to the regions but the territorial communities.” 

Don’t you think it’s strange when Party of Regions representatives talk about decentralisation, demand the widening of regional powers? Taking into account how many years they have been in power, they could have realised it all. 

Yes, the former team had the chance to do everything with maximum efficiency. It is a question you should ask them as to why it never happened.

Today we are doing what should have been done 20 years ago. However realising this without the help of the Parliament is impossible, this also has to be understood.

Are you talking about decentralisation?

Yes.

Is the country ready for this?

The country has been ready always. The issue is that centralisation in itself is killing it. It is killing social initiative, professional human resources, economical development, however it instigates corruption.

Possible, in the short-term perspective of two-three months, the concentration of governance in one point does have an upside, but overall it is a huge disadvantage. Therefore now it is necessary to talk about the transfer of power to the level not even of the regions, but of territorial communities.

There is a difference?

Of course. A huge one. This difference is the key to success.

If we are to give power to the level of the oblast, we will encourage the creation of a feudal principality, a closed dictatorship world of course, just at a smaller scale. What for?

Every city, every community has to receive their rights and opportunities. Not look back at the governor, the head of the district – whether they are good or bad, but to orient ourselves towards the community, our electorate, think about how to get more funds in our own treasuries.

The goal of the oblast is to use the mechanisms available at their levels in order to help the districts develop, create good conditions. The task of the central government is to help the oblast develop, once more, using its instruments.

For example, some oblast is subsidies, so the state has to think how to lower its dependence on subsidies within, say, five years. Or, for example, another oblast has high – in comparison to others – energy spendings, therefore a state program to decrease them is necessary.

Everything is very easy in reality. Everyone has to work on their lot.

The main issue is budget policies

The base level are the village and the city. Further – the district, the oblast. And, finally, the centre. Overall we have a hundred per cent of taxes, yes. The system has to be constructed in such a way for each of these levels to receive their part from the tax income.

The maximum amount of money has to remain on the level of the community, a little less – on the district level, a little less on the level of the oblast, and some part on the state level. If there is not enough money for everyone, the state’s task is to optimise expenses, attract outside investments etc.

This is an ideal model. Acceptable only in case all the regions have equal starting conditions to begin with.

Let’s take the “90-120” formula. If you cannot reach 90% the state will finance you additionally. If you have earned more than 120%, the surplus is taken into the “communal pot” in order to reinvest it into this or that direction. These are simple principles of social justice. And the interval until 120% is a stimulus for your own development.

“Without the governor’s signature you cannot even get an approval for the state support of construction for a new kindergarden.”

Does it seem to you that now you are settling more with the local elites than the people? 

No, I think decentralisation is needed in society. Meanwhile federalisation is necessary for politicians who want to ruin the country. Even if we hypothetically allow the possibility of federalisation, for this Ukraine has to be completely taken apart first, and then gather separate subjects into one. Of course, this cannot be, we have a unitary state.

Another example is relevant here, by the way. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea. It was and remains Ukrainian but this is not the issue, the issue is whether it was more effective than other regions. No, it was not. This means that something is discordant in this “theory of separation.”

It is not the governors in the office who decide how many billions should be sent where, which road to build or which bridge to renovate. This has to be decided by the community. We have to do everything to give it such an opportunity. And the people want this, they are expecting adequate government action.

The government on location will be effective only when it has the powers to make independent decisions and its own funds to realise these decisions. On its part, the community needs an instrument to control the actions of the government. Simply, through the mechanism of local referenda.

For it not to happen as it does today, when a governor comes and has all the power – budgets, the law enforcement block. Anything is in their power. Without the signature of the governor or the head of the district one cannot get the approval even for the state support of the construction of a new kindergarden. And how to get this approval? Logically, you have to agree with the governor, interest him etc. “Whom are you planning to vote for?” He will ask you then. Or he will propose to appoint someone to your territory. How do you react? If you refuse – all of your initiatives will be killed. To agree is to come full circle.

Remembering your tenure as the Vinnytsya mayor? 

No, I am talking about general practices. As to my own personal experience, I was lucky, so to speak. As a mayor, I worked with various governors, but we have always found common ground, did something together. But my example is an exception. Alas.

Are the communities to decide on the language question independently as well? 

I think so. They should have the right to pass a local normative act, which would allow them to use the second language on the given territory equally with the state language. Russian, Hungarian, any language.

…I recently met with the representative of the local government of one of the eastern oblasts, where it is far from peaceful at the moment.

Luhansk. 

Yes. It was not our first meeting, we communicate regularly. So, they themselves are saying: we have no problems with language.

Of course. To begin with, it has been political speculation beneficial to the local elites, imposed by them. 

They created an artificial feeling for the people as if someone was to come and attack the Russian language. Of course, this worried them.

The main complaint of the southeast is “we’re not being heard.” How to establish dialogue with the people? What should it be: a well-constructed propaganda job, meetings with Kyiv officials, mass media explanations? 

All together. With all available means. As the result we have today in the southeast is the consequence of constant pressure on the people. They really never talked to the people and they were never heard.

…Social initiative, but the government, traditionally, “beat it down.” Our task is to give it an impulse, a possibility to develop. And when the process starts, when it comes into orbit, it will be unstoppable, the government will be unable to interfere as it has done until recently. And you know, this will be a very interesting process. In general, I think, in the next 5-10 years Ukraine will be the most interesting country in Europe. Lively development awaits us, we are expected to survive what other countries survived 30-40 years ago, but we will pass through it much faster, literally within several years.

What do you think, at which moment the idealistic protest of Donbas – and first it was exactly so – converted into violence, looting, kidnapping, shootings?

It was planned to be thus since the beginning. The role of the Russian side in these processes in unfortunately obvious and clear. But there is another instance – propaganda. Not of Russian TV channels, put some local elites. Not all, some. Which literally wound the people up: “Right Sector” will come not, there is a junta in Kyiv etc. They wound them up counting on hiding behind the people like a screen.

Logically, the people have a reaction for self-preservation. But here I would like to cite Leonid Danylovich Kuchma, who said during one of the roundtable talks: “excuse me, but starting the nineties there has been no Kyiv government in Donbas, the government here has always been yours.”

And the people did not rebel against the Kyiv junta, but against the consequences of the “Family’s” bandits, Yefremov’s mines etc. 

Absolutely. Among the southeastern elites there are some who sincerely love Ukraine, love their little motherland and is doing everything possible to save the situation. But there are some who is acting in direct contradiction.

Let’s be more concrete. Could have Rinat Akhmetov stopped the situation at the very beginning, in your opinion? 

Whether he could have is the issue of possibilities. Neither you or I know which possibilities he had and which he did not. The other question is whether he wanted to. My personal impression: yes, he wanted to, but somehow it did not happen.

As to the Luhansk elites, in particular Yefremov. Practically everyone is convinced that he is leading a double game, helping the separatists.

A lot is being said about this, even written in the media, but no proof has been presented. This means what we will have to make sure, find out. But if it turns out to be true, then he must be severely punished for betraying his own country.

About dialogue. Its active phase, one should think, is to start at the end of the ATO. Peaceful dialogue with the people and war do not “stick” together very well. 

It seems to me that the President is making a very correct proposal of the local elections, as one of the options of solving the issue. Elections are the best and the only right mechanism to update the local elites. The people are disappointed in the former representatives of the elites, this means that they should choose new ones, and then we will work with them regarding decentralisation implementation.

The truth is that not all the discontented in the east are Russian mercenaries or armed bandits. Yes, they are a minority, but there are idealists there; there are propaganda victims. How to speak and agree with them? Is it possible to “remake” them? 

We can gain their trust. Without flirting, hypocrisy, by speaking honestly and openly.

…I remember social investigations that were conducted from time to time in central Ukraine. In particular, in Vinnytsia. The numbers of discontent with the central government – the President, the Prime Minister, its other representatives, is stably over 50%. And anti-rating were simply off the scale. I don’t know what it’s like not, but a couple of years ago the picture was such.

All regions did not like the central government, but only the east is raising a flag. Why? 

Because nowhere else was this discontent fuelled so intensively from outside.

Parliamentary elections. Do you think it is possible to have them this year, like Poroshenko promised?

Absolutely possible.

You’re an optimism. 

The political decision is important. If the Parliament makes it, legislative mechanisms can be found.

Is it possible to hold elections without two oblasts and Crimea? The ATO will not end within a week even if we really wanted it to. 

There is no simple answer to this question. On one hand, the elections (without two oblasts and Crimea) cannot be, from the political point of view, quite legitimate. On the other, today a fool reboot of the government is necessary. How to combine these two needs is a question to the President and the Parliament.

What system is it best to carry them out with? If the elections are to happen by fall, then they will not manage to change the electoral law in time, but still? 

Personally I support open party lists. On one hand, they open the way to political structuring, on the other – the people know whom they are voting for. But even if the elections are held with the old system, another step to renew the government will be made. And that update processes should speed up with this Parliament or the new one is obvious to me.

Source: LB

Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina

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