Democracy in action. At least, this is the bright goal of public councils. We explain what this democratic tool is, how to create it, and how effective it is.
Public councils: what are they?
A public council is a temporary consultative and advisory body under ministries or executive authorities, which allows citizens to participate and influence the formation of national affairs. Simply put, this is a connection between government bodies and the public.
The activity of such formations has become possible thanks to the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of November 3, 2010, No. 996 “On Ensuring Public Participation in the Formation and Implementation of National Policy”.
This resolution was adopted during the administration of Mykola Azarov for the first time having been quite declarative in nature. It did not envisage many rights of the public council, and the mechanism for electing its members was bureaucratic and non-transparent. And most importantly, the resolution did not prohibit the authorities from “participating” in the formation of the public council.
The situation changed in 2019, when the resolution was amended. Choosing members of councils has become more transparent and independent. What exactly has changed, coming up.
What does the public council do?
- Draws up a plan for conducting public consultations;
- submits proposals, conclusions, as well as analytical materials on resolving issues in the relevant field, preparing draft regulatory legal acts, and improving the work of the body;
- performs public supervision and monitoring to ensure transparency and openness of its activities, as well as compliance with the law;
- informs the public about its activity, decisions made, and the status of their implementation;
- collects, summarizes and submits proposals to the public on solving important issues;
- reports on its activity.
It is worth noting that the regulations on the activity of public councils are adopted locally, that is, in each body under which the public council is formed.
To join any council, one must be a member of registered public associations, religious or charitable organizations, creative or trade unions, associations, and media. The updated resolution now states that potential candidates for the public council must engage in activities similar in topic or tasks to the community over the previous six months. This policy significantly tightens control over the selection of candidates to avoid pseudo-activists or pseudo-organizations and lobbying self-interest.
How to self-organize?
To create a public council and advocate for your proposals, it is not enough just to come to the premises of the executive authorities. For this purpose, the resolution regulates a clear mechanism for creating public councils.
- Creating an initiative group for the preparation of the constituent meeting with the participation of civil society institutions and representatives of state bodies. It is on it that the quality of the meeting at which the public council will be formed depends. Timing is also important here — the work of the initiative group should start 60 days before the meeting. At the first meeting, the chairman and responsible for maintaining the minutes of meetings are elected. The protocols are then published on the official website of the executive authorities.
- Publishing the details of the constituent assembly (based on the results of the meetings of the initiative group).
- Collecting applications and other necessary additional documents or data from all interested representatives of public institutions to take part in the constituent meeting.
- Then, it’s the authorities’ turn. They need to publish all the detailed information about the Constituent Meeting and candidates for the public council on their official websites.
- Selecting members of the counting board, the chairman of the meeting, and the secretary.
- Voting and choosing the quantitative composition of the council. The rating electronic voting takes place within the period determined by the executive authority through the official website.
- Issuing an order of the head of the executive authority on approval of the composition of the public council based on the minutes of the constituent meeting. It should be public.
- Holding the first meeting of the newly elected public council and electing its governing bodies.
- Adopting the provision on the Public Council and its approval with the executive authority.
The public council is formed. For how long? The composition of the public council is adopted for 2 years. And then back to point 1. By the way, the activity of members of public councils is not paid, and the composition of public councils should not exceed 35 people.
Acting with an understanding of Ukrainian cases
There are many public councils in Ukraine. They can be divided into groups according to their institutions.
- Regional state administrations
They are formed under every regional executive body. The official websites of the regional state administration do contain a lot of minutes of the constituent meetings, including the online ones.
For example, on the website of the Ternopil Regional State Administration, one can see both reports of the public council and announcements about a new electronic format for submitting applications to the council in connection with coronavirus infection. The internal provision on the public council under the Departments of the Lviv City Council does not define the period of its activity at all, although the model provision in the resolution specifies a period of 2 years.
On the website of the public council of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the latest protocol on the description of surprise (yes, this is exactly the word!) was published on the initiation of criminal proceedings against Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Vasyl Bodnar and the concerns of representatives of the council regarding the protection of the country’s national interests. However, the protocol under the Ministry of Education and Science regulated the delegation of the representative of the public council under the commission for setting the threshold score of the EIE pass/fail. The latest protocol of the public council of the Ministry of Justice consists of a description of the agenda for as many as 17 points.
- Anti-corruption and other bodies
Central executive bodies, various public services and agencies also have public councils. Public councils under anti-corruption bodies, such as the NABU, receive special attention when being created. They have their own features, for example, internal clear requirements for candidates of this public council.
The NABU has a Public Control Council, which was created to ensure transparency of the work and for the public monitor the body’s activity. The election mechanism is different: online voting is held every year.
The State Bureau of Investigation has a similar principle and goal: the Public Control Council is also elected by online voting.
We will dwell on public councils of anti-corruption institutions in more detail in the next article.
Stage 4.0 Making a decision
The effectiveness of the institution of public councils should be evaluated by their results. You can best understand this from the reports of these formations that are published on the websites of public councils or on the websites of the bodies under which they operate.
Interestingly, Ukraine is the only country in Europe that has public councils. The EU has similar advisory bodies, but they differ significantly from our definition of public councils.
With proper use, public councils can indeed help and become an effective/successful tool for public influence on the executive branch. However, to achieve this, their activity should not be declarative in nature. The legal field gives us a green light, which means that it is a matter of effort and desire of concerned citizens.