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Ukrainian Case: The War as a Global Challenge for the Public Administration System

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nataliia Aliushyna
July 8, 2022

The war of Russia against Ukraine is a significant challenge for my country. At the same time, it is a unique possibility for the civilized world to test the European state’s public service system in its attempts to oppose the war risks. These tragic events allow Ukraine, the United States or any other democracy to assess its resilience, as well as the resilience of the national public service system in the face of foreign aggression. It also provides an opportunity to determine its ability to transform “on the march,” to adapt to real and potential risks.

During the war in Ukraine, a number of semantic cases of public service have been formed, emphasized by Russian aggression. They allow us to consider a real military training ground, into which the east and south of Ukraine have been turned by Russia, as a laboratory for expert analysis and development of effective public administration practices.  

A significant portion of public servants are in the occupied territories and areas of combat actions; there are about 5,500 of them there today. They perform their duties on a regular basis or remotely. Thanks to them, in the first weeks of the war, we provided the evacuation of citizens and logistics of food and medicine supplies—critical services for the locals.

In general, Ukraine’s public service system proved to be quite effective during the first stage of the war. This was facilitated by the system of special online communications and trainings previously initiated by our agency for employees of regional public administrations. We practiced remote communication skills in an attempt to counter COVID-19, but it turned out that we were preparing for the war. We wish we had done it earlier.

I am sure this practice is relevant for countries threatened by Russia: Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It would be useful for all of them to use remote formats to train their public servants in the skills of civil defense, extreme logistics, chemical protection of the population and psychological support for people in emergencies. It allows one to maintain social stability during crises.

It should be noted that after three months of the war, Ukrainian public servants have practically lost the opportunity to have a real influence on the situation in the occupied communities. They effectively used the accumulated margin of safety, having a fairly strong foundation, but this resource turned out to not be enough for further actions. The Russian military formed the occupation administration and took control of the main processes on the territories.

They also repress Ukrainian public servants, fearing their authority among the people. We have collected sad statistics that confirm the criminal actions of the Russian Federation against our colleagues. Just imagine: 39 civil servants were killed, 56 were injured and 141 are missing. Note that this is not exhaustive information. The situation is much worse, since it is impossible to collect accurate data in combat zones.

Another lesson is the need to foresee the timely evacuation of public servants and their transition to remote formats. In times of war, the challenge, aimed at optimizing public service and its adaptation to the conditions of war, is aggravated. We assume the confrontation will be long enough and will require organizational and technological innovations. Obviously, the physical activity of public servants under occupation is dangerous and ineffective. Therefore, we focus on remote forms of control and a wide range of digital formats. I am sure that this semantic case will be useful not only for Ukraine, but also for our international partners.

We are working on these tasks within the framework of the strategy of the National Council for the Reconstruction of Ukraine, initiated by President Volodymyr Zelensky. The national agency determines the markers of the public sector’s development strategy. First, we are talking about the transformation of the traditional civil service system into a digital format, with an emphasis on remote services and a course toward establishment of a service state that is as loyal as possible to the needs of citizens. In these matters, the vision of Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Fedorov, who is responsible for the digital restart of Ukraine in the system of state power, is close to my efforts.

It is the war that has prompted Ukraine to realize the importance of its national leadership in promoting the digital state’s format. Traditional options are no longer available. The family sedan is useless and dangerous in times of war. A protected armored car is much more appropriate in this case. We Ukrainians understand it like no one else. Therefore, we are sewing “digital armor plates” into the frameworks of the traditional civil service.

We are confident in our victory and will try to meet it with a public service system adapted to post-war terms. The main marker will be the closest possible cooperation with international partners in the reconstruction of the country. We understand that only the high-quality projects attract investments, projects in the fields of an effective system of public administration particularly. This is extremely important for the formation of a new system of public administration in Ukraine.

Author: Nataliia Aliushyna the head of the National Agency on Civil Service of Ukraine and an international expert on the institutional development of public administration and professional development of public servants. Nataliia can be reached at [email protected].

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