A group of visiting Ukrainian local government officials said reform is now lagging at the local government level, despite the election last December of a reform-minded president. The panel told a recent RFE/RL audience that a "paradox" exists because the executive branch at the national and oblast (or regional) level is dedicated to reform and decentralization of decision-making, while local structures are unprepared for it.
According to Vyacheslav Kozak, a senior official with the Association of Ukrainian Cities and Communities, the major challenge is "revenue and budget reform." "The central government will have to give local governments the power to find funding, he said, which involves constitutional changes. But, according to Kozak, the key question is "when to implement reforms at the local level -- before or after the 2006 parliamentary elections?" Although the presidential elections showed that Ukrainians want change, Kozak asked, should it be implemented in a short period through shock therapy or gradually?
Kozak noted that U.S. foreign assistance programs are helping to retrain local government employees and "this is very important." Kozak, "as an Easterner" from the city of Luhansk, said that he saw "no repression or selective negative pressure" from the new central government. He was worried about the new government's ability to "educate Easterners" about the benefits of European Union membership and getting rid of "old Soviet-era stereotypes."
Stemkovskyy also expressed concern about the future of reform in Ukraine, because "the new opposition" still controls the media outlets in the country and can undermine the reforms of the central government. He expects "lots of those political technologies [i.e. dirty tricks in the presidential campaign] will be played again in 2006" during the parliamentary elections.
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