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Interview with Nataliia Aliushyna, Head of the National Agency of Ukraine on Civil Service, Interfax-Ukraine
posted 28 August 2023 12:02

You recently made a rather resonant statement: “A significant shortage of civil servants creates additional risks for the country. If current trends continue, it will affect the stability of the entire state apparatus. Could you explain exactly what you meant?

We monitor the number of civil servants on a quarterly basis. And based on the latest figures, we were, frankly, very concerned. The risks are as follows. According to the results of the second quarter, the authorized number of civil servants in the entire civil service is 206 206, while the actual number is 163 200. If we compare the first and second quarters, we see a decrease of 2 700 people. In the previous quarter, the figure was plus 850.

The National Civil Service Agency is currently conducting a survey on the working conditions of civil servants during martial law. Last week, 40 000 civil servants responded. 93% of the respondents said they were working in their jobs as usual. Last year the figure was 68%. In other words, in 2022, 32% of civil servants were working remotely, today it is 6.3%. When the full-scale war started, people were put on standby. But if it was 9% then, it is 1% now. These figures will change slightly before the survey is completed, but the dynamics are clear.

We analyzed the reasons why people were laid off. More than 70% reported a significant increase in workload during the year. One of the reasons is the mobilization of, 3946 civil servants for the armed forces. Their duties are being taken over by those who remain. In addition, 35% of respondents worked at weekends and 8% at night. At the same time, 19% said that there was no compensation for such work in their government agencies.

The next issue is safety. The heads of government agencies must provide it for civil servants. However, the statistics are alarming: 61% of civil servants say they have access to a shelter at work, 22% have partial access and 17% have no access at all. This means that out of 40 000, 6 500 have no access at all.

Regarding the need for psychological support for civil servants 59% of respondents reported a deterioration of their health during the year, almost 10% added that their psychological state negatively affected their work performance, 39% felt the need for psychological help, but only 5% sought it.

More than half of the respondents noted a decrease in salary. This means that civil servants experience excessive workload, critically low and unfair salaries, psychological stress... Under these conditions, it is impossible to expect people to work properly for a long time. The answer to these challenges is dismissal. I would like to point out that the country is the first to lose the best trained and most competitive civil servants. What is the real impact of the functional audits carried out by government agencies?

In fact, 65 government agencies have carried out functional audits. Their results and proposals have been submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers. The government is the body that has to decide on the next steps. The National Agency has analysed the proposals for optimisation. According to our information, some agencies have reduced the number of civil servants. In particular, the statistical report shows a decrease in the total number of posts by 1640 after the functional audit was completed. This seems to be an insignificant number, but it deserves attention in the theory of small numbers. And it represents a budgetary saving.

It should be understood that proposals to reduce the number of staff in each government agency are the responsibility of the minister or the head of the central executive body. There should be a government decision to adjust them, taking into account NAUCS proposals. The purpose of the functional audit was to analyze and find out which functions were irrelevant during the war and which could be abandoned. Incidentally, there are government agencies that have given up such functions.

A year ago, the global reform of the civil service was presented in Lugano, but today there are no significant developments. What are the main reasons for the delay?

A conceptual message of global transformation was presented in Lugano. On the basis of this vision, strategic documents and policies were further developed, and changes were made to the government's action plan.

Has a change been achieved? I note that it is impossible to feel the results of large-scale reforms immediately. The civil service system has been reformed since the Law on the Civil Service came into force on 1 May 2016. Four areas of civil service reform have been identified. These are the scaling up of the Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS) and the professional development of civil servants. In particular, the Ukrainian School of Government was renamed the Higher School of Public Administration last year. This includes HR tools. Despite the suspension of tendering procedures, staff are recruited through a simplified tendering procedure, with selection through internal interviews. And, of course, draft law no. 8222 is a transition to a new model of labor remuneration. This is a very important challenge. So far, all the regulations have been developed, in particular the catalog of positions in the civil service, an experiment has been carried out to classify positions in four central committees, and the level of salaries in the civil service has been compared with the level in the labor market. So we have all the calculations and the constructed grade system.

Let us recall the adoption of the Law of Ukraine “On Service in Local Self-Government Bodies”. This is a significant step towards strengthening the system of local government. We are currently working on secondary legislation, and the law itself will come into force after martial law is lifted. Let's also mention the introduction of new tools for learning foreign languages. First, a joint project between NAUCS and the international education company EF Eng4PublicService for the free learning of English by civil servants.

So, to come back to your question, I would say that the reforms are underway but not yet completed.The draft law on the reform of civil servants' remuneration, which you mentioned, has passed its first reading. What are the prospects?

There will be expert discussions in parliamentary committees. A working group is currently being formed, in which both experts and heads of some Verkhovna Rada committees have expressed their willingness to participate. Amendments to the second reading will be submitted by 18 August. They will be discussed further. At the moment it is difficult to say what the final version of the second reading bill will look like, but there is a lot of interest in it.

Is there a chance that its rules will be in place before the end of the war?

Nobody will give an exact date now. The bill was submitted to Parliament in 2022. The final transitional provisions state that it should come into force on 1 January 2024. If it is adopted in the second reading, the norm will be clarified there, but definitely not from 1 January 2024.

How long after its adoption can it enter into force?

If it is adopted in 2023, then probably from 1 January 2025.

So it will take a year and a half from adoption to implementation?

Yes, this is an optimistic forecast – from 2025, definitely not earlier.

Why do you think it is necessary or not necessary to resume civil service competitions now?

Nothing prevents us from organizing competitions now. We are ready, including for category A positions. In the shelter of our assessment center, it is possible to pass a full cycle of tests, including knowledge of legislation and a foreign language. We tested the system during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we conducted a competitive process, including online. I believe that it is technically and organizationally feasible to resume competitions in all state institutions. We are ready to offer both offline and online procedures. It is only necessary to amend the Law “On the Legal Regime of Martial Law”.

Why are they not included? Who cares if competitions are not held if they can be held? Are you ready, and does the current situation in Ukraine allow it?

I recently had a conversation with the First Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Oleksandr Kornienko. He supports the position of NAUCS. I should note that we are in regular contact with our European partners on this issue. They insist on the expediency of resuming civil service competitions, believing that this is a step towards transparency and strengthening human resources in the public sector. I hope that this decision will be taken.

How long will it take from the resumption of competitions, whenever that may be, to completely fill all the temporary positions that have been filled since the beginning of the full-scale invasion?

After the resumption of competitions, according to the law, there will be six months to announce them for all positions in state bodies for which people were hired by selection. As a general rule, these employees will be able to remain in their positions within a year of the end or lifting of martial law.

This means that all competitions must be held during the year. Will the system cope?

Of course. We already have the relevant experience.

How many people are currently working in these temporary positions in all government agencies?

In 2022, 20,297 people were appointed for the period of martial law. In 2023, as of July, another 18,519 specialists have been appointed. Of course, not all of them stayed to work. Some have already resigned.

Last year, you said that “B” category civil servants with minor and underage children could continue to work from abroad, but no changes have been made to the decree. Why not?

Other amendments were made to the effect that heads of state bodies, heads of structural departments should work in Ukraine. It is now a restriction to stay abroad. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons for the exodus of civil servants. In general, this is a difficult issue. On the one hand, civil servants should be here at a difficult time for the country. That is our job. On the other hand, I understand my colleagues who thought of their children and went abroad. I am a mother too... But at the end of the day, unfortunately, we are losing a significant number of professionals.

Recently, the head of the “The Servant of the People” faction, Davyd Arakhamiya, initiated a discussion on the issue of whether it is necessary to introduce into the law on civil service a norm for all officials, according to which they are obliged to keep their families in Ukraine. What is your opinion on this matter?

Ukraine is a legal state, our Constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens of Ukraine. It is difficult for me to imagine that such an exotic initiative would be supported at the official level.

A new project has recently been launched – a human resources reserve for the reoccupied territories. How many staff members at different levels will be needed to meet the needs of all the currently occupied territories after they are reoccupied?

We had consultations with various representatives, with the leaders of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, with the permanent representative of the president in Crimea. We discussed how many people they would need. The preliminary figure that was mentioned was 50 000. As for other territories. When we talk about the areas where active hostilities are taking place or where hostilities are possible, we have to admit that people have practically left there. So, in effect, we will have to re-establish the work of the authorities from scratch.

So how many people will be needed for the rest of the future reoccupied areas?

Nobody can give you an exact figure at the moment. But it will definitely be more than 10 000 administrators for all the areas where hostilities are currently taking place. We are only talking about the civil service. The number will be higher if we take into account the staff of schools, hospitals, and other public institutions.

Ukraine has the State Employment Service, which has a huge number of people registered with it. Isn't this a talent pool, and why a separate project? Why not use this large pool of unemployed people who want to work?

The Public Employment Service deals with all categories of specialists. It is more important for us to select specialists who, through their education and experience, meet the requirements of the civil service and understand public administration. NAUCS, as the main HR institution of the civil service, is best placed to understand these processes.

As far as the Public Employment Service is concerned, we are actively cooperating in the field of training. We hope to deepen our cooperation in the field of employment. We are ready to offer them personnel who, for whatever reason, cannot work in the public sector.

The conditions of this reserve include a provision that veterans will be given preference. Will veterans have an advantage when applying for jobs in the civil service in the future, after the resumption of competitions?

Such initiatives have already been expressed. At the same time, I would like to point out that the civil service must adhere to the principle of meritocracy. This means that the most capable and qualified citizens should be given first priority for positions in the public sector. However, if a candidate meets the requirements and is a veteran who has withstood the trials of war, then I am sure he or she should have an advantage over others. Such people will be much needed in the civil service.

But will this be regulated de jure? Will there be a specific law that will ensure their priority in entering the civil service?

This question needs to be clarified. When the competitive procedure is restored, I think we will see such initiatives. The National Agency is ready to provide education and training for such candidates. This is only fair. After all, these people defended the country while others gained leadership experience in peaceful conditions.

You have raised an important issue. We need to learn how to deal with veterans properly. We have set up special training courses for this and we are currently attending them. When martial law ends, we will come into contact with veterans in different situations. The war will leave its mark for decades. And we need to understand how to communicate properly with people who have faced extremely difficult life challenges that others have avoided. Today we have to learn to live together under different conditions.

Are there known cases of collaboration between civil servants in occupied or frontline territories? If so, how many and in which government departments?

The National Agency does not keep such statistics. We do not have the authority to carry out relevant investigations. Of course, there are such cases. But we are talking about the minimum percentage of employees in the public service. I would like to note that during the war, civil servants proved themselves to be conscious citizens, capable of taking responsibility and showing initiative. I am proud of thousands of colleagues who showed dignity and respect for people. Likewise, I hope that after the war we will see a change in society's attitude towards the representatives of the state who, together with the military, have preserved Ukraine.

Text: Yehor Shumikhin

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