On May 29, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a decree assigning the position of state secretaries to government ministries. If not banned by the Constitutional Court, this will boost presidential control over the cabinet of ministers and effectively make ministers puppets of the presidential office. The cabinet will be de facto managed by Kuchma via these secretaries, while Premier Anatoly Kinakh, approved by the Verkhovna Rada last week, will be the weakest of all Ukrainian prime ministers thus far.
Officially, ministerial state secretaries are to replace the numerous deputy ministers–whose positions will be abolished. But in fact the secretaries will have far more authority. According to the decree, ministerial state secretaries are to liaise with the Rada, the presidential office and regional power bodies, run the ministries’ finances, organize ministry work and supervise ministerial staff. They will be appointed by the president for the time of his term in office, and can be dismissed by him only. They will operate independently of their respective ministers and will remain even if the cabinet falls. In Kuchma’s view, this should ensure stability and continuity of government. It is not clear how the government ministers will function under this system. The decree prescribes them to be “political figures.” This definition is perhaps deliberately vague. Most of the ministers so far appointed to serve under Kinakh are not affiliated with any political party.
State secretaries will apparently report neither to respective ministers nor to the prime minister, but instead to the state secretary to the cabinet of ministers, who is to directly liaise with the presidential office. This may encourage the secretaries to ignore ministerial opinion. Kuchma appointed Volodymyr Yatsuba to serve as state secretary to the cabinet. The two have worked together since the mid-1980s, when Yatsuba headed the Dnipropetrovsk Communist Party branch, and Kuchma managed the Dnipropetrovsk-based Yuzhmash missile manufacturer. Yatsuba has worked in Kuchma’s office since 1995.
“Practically all the levers of influence will be concentrated in the hands of ministerial state secretaries,” said one of the architects of this government reform, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who heads Kuchma’s office. Through the secretaries, Kuchma will deprive ministers of even that minimum of liberty of action they had under the Ukrainian prime ministers until now. The executive branch will be completely under presidential control.
Domestic reaction to Kuchma’s revolution within the government has been almost unanimous. The idea of separating the political and administrative components of work within the ministries is regarded, for the most part, favorably. But subordinating the secretaries to the president rather than the prime minister, making them independent of the ministers who are formally their superiors, and giving them almost limitless authority may damage the fledgling Ukrainian democracy. It is doubtful whether the concept is in line with the constitution. With such state secretaries, Ukraine will de facto become a presidential republic rather than the presidential-parliamentary democracy its constitution proclaims it to be.
The right-wing, antipresidential parliamentary faction, Reforms and Order, is planning to appeal the decree in the Constitutional Court. The faction’s leaders, Viktor Pynzenyk and Serhy Terokhin, argue that the court should rule the decree unconstitutional, as it contradicts the constitution and several laws on the government. Another right-wing leader, Serhy Holovaty, believes that the decree does not violate the constitution, but does mean usurpation of power by the president. “Prime minister and ministers will be redundant,” he warned. Kuchma reacted with some sarcasm to those objections. “Those people used to appeal to foreign opinion,” he said. “They have now discovered that there is a Constitutional Court in this country.”
The introduction of state secretaries, as well as last week’s smooth entry of Kuchma’s nominee for premier, Kinakh, prove that Kuchma thinks that he has fully recovered from the yet-unresolved tape scandal that erupted last December. He feels strong enough to disregard dissenting opinion and step up his presidential authority (Kievskie Vedomosti, June 1; Strana.ru, Ukrainska Pravda, May 31; UNIAN, May 29; see the Monitor, June 1).
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