Prime Minister Azarov’s Speech - Election battlefield identified

Here is the speech of Prime Minister Azarov from 7th March to the government and President of Ukraine.

Notable for drawing up the battle lines upon which the government seems intent to fight the October election  for many and notable for me due to his forth point, which is a point I have been making here for a very long time:

“Fourth. We will pay special attention, in my opinion, the weakest link in the implementation of all measures - the system of local government. Unfortunately, we have a paradox: the local authorities, who are closest to the people, often turn out to be the most far from the need of our people.

If you look at appeals to government’s call-center, post office of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers there is the impression that, besides the President, Government, there is no authority.

Why do people immediately address to the President, the Prime Minister, so that the wood would be brought, for example or an elevator would be established or turn the heat?

Why in the various local offices, a reception day - just one a week and then half a day? It creates lines, especially complicated the lives of those people who are forced to go to the office.

Why, for example, a person has to wait an elementary legal act on the land six months, a year or even a year and half?

Therefore, the Government has to pay special attention to it. I would ask local authorities, especially now when there is a process of deregulation, I stress, 54 different regulatory acts was canceled, do not take and do not create additional complications in the field, but on the contrary - as their decisions to simplify the work with the business.

Certainly there is a main task to increase the resources of local budgets, because what we are told will require a concentration of huge financial resources and they must focus not only on the level of the state budget, but also at the level of local budgets.”

To be fair to Mr Azarov, whatever faults he may have, he is recongised as a very capable administrator even by the opposition parties.  As I have pointed so many times, the regional fiefdoms and regional patriarchy are often responsible for ignoring direction from Kyiv.  In this speech Mr Azarov at least recognises that this is the biggest problem and the weakest administrative link.

The question is, as it has always been, how can central government control the regional fiefdoms without metaphorically lopping off the heads of elected regional dignitaries?  A perpetual cycle of election after election as each Mayor ignores Kyiv and does his own thing doesn’t suit anybody but following the Putin lead of appointing regional heads rather than electing them is somewhere that the government will not want to go given its authoritarian label.

As it happens, the Russians have just reintroduced electing region heads for reasons anybody watching Russia recently will understand.

Is there a structure that can leave elected officials in place whilst allowing for direct policy implementation and fiscal allocations from Kyiv in the regions?  Will core central government domestic policy be removed from the remit of local authorities when it comes to implementation and monitoring, in effect leading to a shadow technocratic local authority?

How many elected heads would need to metaphorically roll before the regional fiefdoms got the message from Kyiv?

How would the electorate respond to those they elected to public office being removed by Kyiv (even if Kyiv has a justified and legitimate reason for doing so)?

These are but a few questions of many that come immediately to mind when thinking about just how Kyiv can control the very strong regional fiefdoms when it comes to central government policy being effectively implemented in local society.

It will be interesting to see how Mr Azarov deals with such matters in the coming months having declared social policies the battle ground chosen by the government for the October 2012 parliamentary elections.

Whether social policies is a wise choice remains to be seen, however given the long list of broken social promises relating to the previous government (such as refunds to account holders when banks went bust which never or only partly materialised) and currently being in power when it is relatively simple (although maybe not affordable) to raise pensions, minimum wages etc, it maybe a reasonable platform for the October elections.

Time will tell, but the government’s chosen battle ground seems to be clear enough.  Like all governments before them though, effective implementation via ineffective and occasionally subversive regional fiefdoms is the real battlefield to which no government has ever risen to the challenge and won.

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