Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 147

On July 25, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma appointed state secretaries to thirteen of Ukraine’s sixteen government ministries, following up on his May 29 decree to this effect. Those to the Interior Ministry and the Fuel and Energy Ministry will be appointed no later than September. No secretary will be appointed to the Defense Ministry, which is to remain outside politics. All other ministries will be run by the duos of ministers-politicians and state secretaries-administrators.

The plan to introduce these new positions to the executive branch was publicized two months ago, when Kuchma appointed Anatoly Kinakh as prime minister (see the Monitor, June 6). It was criticized not only by Kuchma’s political opponents, but also by several in his camp. The naysayers argued that state secretaries would diminish the role of ministers and the prime minister and effectively put the cabinet of ministers under total control by the presidential office. It was difficult to refute this, given that in the May 29 decree Kuchma subordinated the future state secretaries directly to the presidential office and vested them with a suspiciously wide range of authority including management of ministerial finance and staff issues and liaison with the presidential office and the Verkhovna Rada. There was thus a real danger of the ministers becoming figureheads answering to presidential puppets.

A group of MPs appealed the decree in Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. Simultaneously, pro-presidential parties began to barter for the new positions. Kuchma, apparently aware that his move might prove a blunder, delayed in making any appointments to the newly created posts. Kinakh, loyal to Kuchma but understandably not enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming a head of government with curtailed authority, reportedly managed to persuade the presidential office to moderate the plan. On July 14, Kuchma signed a modified version of his original idea–the statute of ministerial state secretaries, according to which the state secretary is to report to and be subordinate to the relevant minister (rather than to the cabinet secretary and the presidential office, as the original plan had it). The revised decree also stipulates that it is the prime minister who will propose state secretary candidacies for appointment by the president, not the president who will simply select and appoint them.

In last week’s appointments, Kuchma seems to have preferred career bureaucrats to politicians. The only clear exception is the state secretary to the Justice Ministry, Oleksandr Lavrynovych, who is a key figure in the nationalist Rukh party. This appointment should abate somewhat the fears of those who had predicted that the oligarchs controlling major pro-presidential parties would install their people in the secretarial positions to dictate their will to the ministers. Yet the state secretaries are still to wield far more authority than their formal predecessors–the now-abolished first deputy ministers–in matters of organization and planning. This gives rise to a potential source of rivalry between ministers and state secretaries, and will in all likelihood prove detrimental to cabinet work.

Kinakh is aware of this danger. “Keep it in mind that it is inadmissible to form several centers of influence in an individual ministry,” said Kinakh, addressing newly appointed state secretaries on July 25. He also warned them against lobbying for individual political or financial interests. It is hard to say whether Kinakh will find levers sufficient to prevent the state secretaries from the temptation to steer ministries rather than to serve as first assistants to ministers. Institutionally they are close to independent, however, and it may prove a difficult task to restrain them. Appointed for five-year terms, they can be dismissed only by the president. Additionally, their terms are not tied to those of their respective ministers (Inter TV, July 14; Studio 1+1 TV, July 25; New Channel TV, Kommersant-Ukraina, July 26).