Recently, Delegation from Kropyvnytskyi has visited Netherlands within the international project supported by MATRA program of the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

Photo: Delegation from Kropyvnytskyi

Implementation of the program was made possible by the efforts of non-governmental organization "Democracy Development Center" (Kyiv).

The visit was dedicated to studying the experience of decentralization, which has long time been established in the kingdom. Europeans are actually interested in development of Ukraine. Today they gladly support social projects aimed to increase the living standards in our country.

Closer familiarity with operation of their social sector makes it clear − the entire public administration system is focused on care about an individual. We were particularly impressed by the phrase spoken by a public employee:

Sometimes people are unaware that they need help. Therefore, the state itself should take care of it!

Another surprising thing was the fact that the major problem of retirees in Netherlands is mobility. That is, not how to survive for retired pay, to pay utility bills, to buy medicines, and still have something remaining for bread, but merely the possibility or impossibility to quickly get to one’s destination.

Photo: The city council of Hague

Any reforms in the state begin with a question – "How else can we improve the life of every citizen?" Yet today we have a focus concentrated not only on an individual person, but also on their family. Objective of the state is to improve living conditions, to do everything in order to provide maximum services to satisfy all key needs. Because only such family will have the most positive climate, and only such family will bring up successful and happy citizens.

Photo: The Government House

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that people, who have created the conditions for a high quality of life in their country, are eager to share their experience and help others. Dutch implement similar programs not only in Ukraine. They also work with other Eastern European countries.

Basic training location for guests from Kropyvnytskyi has become the Institute for Public Administration – DutchInstitute for Public Administration (PBLQ) in Hague. Trainers of the project Marc van den Muijzenberg and Teresa Cardoso Ribeiro have familiarized the delegates with the features of social, fiscal and educational sectors within the framework of decentralization.

Europeans' experience is really enlightening.

Back in the 70s of the last century, the country has started decentralization. Currently it consists of 12 provinces where 390 municipal administrations operate (compared to 460 previously). Decentralization initially had met great resistance in society, because changes were taking place too quickly. Isn’t this the same as Ukraine is currently going through?

Municipal administrations operate independently of the central government, however, if during two years they have budget deficit, then they become a subject of attention and scrutinized inspection of special authorities.

Education is completely funded by the state. Schools are mostly public, but if parents have the possibility, then they may create a private school by means of their own funds.

The reverse experience is interesting as well – when once decentralized fields return to central management.  For example, now the police is subordinated only to the center. Many years of experience have shown that decentralization in this area only dilutes, while such a specific sector requires the consistence in decisions and actions. And Dutch are not afraid to speak even about this experience; on contrary – they warn about possible errors.

Another problem similar to ours is optimization of the schools. They still have schools that are being closed or are expected to be closed. The whole system works so that a school is built with consideration, that, in case of its future closing, building could be used for other purposes.

In Leiden University Graduate School of Teaching (ICLON), Kropyvnytskyi delegates have gained managerial experience of adaptation of the refugees, which will be especially relevant in work with the internal displaced persons.

Each refugee in Holland has many benefits. They receive social welfare payments; an adaptation program is developed for them. For each person, the mentor is assigned, helping them to adjust themselves. An adaptation program envisages language learning, finding home and work. People under 30 years old are also guided in obtaining an education. All refugees have the advantage over local residents in receiving a home. In densely populated cities where there are problems with free living quarters, the houses were dedicatedly built for them. An adaptation program is commonly designed for 24 weeks. During this time a refugee must find the work. The question – what if they pass the program but will not want to work? –has shocked the Dutch; they absolutely do not understand how this could be. Such precedents are not recorded.

In association of social support "Vеteranen instituut" (Institute of Veterans), Kropyvnytskyi dwellers have had a look at the details of state’s work with veterans who took part in peacekeeping missions.

The Institute has representatives in each municipal administration. Their work is aimed at providing maximum help for the veterans.

First of all, constant activities are carried out on promotion and informing the public about essentiality and nobility of their mission. For example, there is a social program called "Veteran in the classroom" where students hold regular meetings with soldiers. Every veteran has a social card providing discounts on certain services and products. Incidentally, store owners often address to the organization and suggest including their store to a social program; namely, society itself is ready to offer discounts to such people. This is despite the fact that the country is not fighting and there are no wars on its territory.

And, of course, veterans can always receive qualified psychological and medical assistance. According to the survey, only 5% of veterans are dissatisfied with the way they are treated in their country, while 95% feel totally secure.

In Quality Assurance Institute of Municipalities, the guests have learned about the taxation system in Holland. 70% of tax is paid in the country from each single Euro. And the most interesting thing is − all government policy is intended to convince people to do it with joy. But how can they be convinced? Naturally, only practically, by demonstrating where this money is spent – for instance, on ideal roads, on clean streets, on various social and educational programs.

Photo: Hall in the association of municipal administrations

Lots of emotions were also brought on by communicating with a special employee of the Association – an awesome Ukrainian Julia who has been living in Holland for seven years by now.

Photo: Unexpected meeting with Ukrainian Julia Soldatyuk at the municipal administration

Participants of the journey are grateful to "Democracy Development Center" and the Embassy of Netherlands for given possibility to explore valuable European experience.

Vasyl Smaglyuk, member of delegation, chairman of Dobrovelychkivska DSA

"Personally I have been most of all impressed by three things in Netherlands: 1. Political culture. It is crucial for the authorities to receive common social approval before taking major decisions. For example, to build houses for refugees, the municipality asked permission of the community.  2. Culture management. In the government of Netherland, management responsibilities mostly lie in delegating the authority to the level where the problem has occurred and where it is supposed to be resolved in the best way. Preference is given to the horizontal mechanism of interaction between participants of managing process. 3. Decentralization. In financial terms, local governance is truly independent".

Vita Atamanchuk, member of delegation, adviser of chairman of RSA:

"First of all, I want to thank to the head of NGO "Democracy Development Center" Ella Lamakh, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and Dutch Institute for Public Administration (PBLQ) for the initiative of establishing the cooperation with our region. This was an opportunity to see the result of decentralization in action. Whatever Dutch do – they primarily think about how this initiative will help each individual. It was economic crisis of the 80s that urged them to start active implementation of decentralization. And as a result − today this is the country having one of the best levels of citizens’ social security. They consider cooperation between the government and civil society one of the components of decentralization success".

In general, the journey was eventful and insightful. Gained experience will be useful in implementation of social projects within the framework of decentralization in Ukraine and Kirovohrad region in particular.

© 2015 ВГО Центр "Розвиток демократії"