11 April 2023, 13:00
Between Security and Transparency: The Course of Ukrainian Cities

The Transparent Cities program presented an adapted study of the work of city councils during the war. This is not a linear continuation of traditional Transparency Rankings — this year, the team assessed only 70 cities out of the usual 100 according to the updated criteria. Instead of the usual points and ranking, we now consider the status of the city (“transparent,” “partially transparent,” and “non-transparent”) and the level of indicator implementation. 

“Transparent” cities are Dnipro, Lviv, and Mukachevo. Another 10 cities received the status of “partially transparent” — Vinnytsia, Volodymyr, Zhytomyr, Kamianske, Kyiv, Kropyvnytskyi, Lutsk, Ternopil, Uzhhorod, Chernivtsi. The remaining 57 cities, unfortunately, are “non-transparent.”

However, the results can only be interpreted in context. During the year of a confrontation with the enemy, we all mostly tried to survive and postponed important things that seemed to be of no priority in the struggle for existence. After all, some information can be used by the enemy against Ukrainians. 

Cities face a difficult task: on the one hand, it is necessary to protect people, and on the other — to preserve the transparency of work. 

The life and health of citizens, of course, outweighed everything else. But gradually, cities began to restore the tools that help ensure openness and transparency to the public, adapted them to military realities, created new ones. However, as we can see from the results of the study, a significant imbalance persists.

It is important to understand that the low level of transparency of individual cities does not always indicate a lack of integrity or corruption of their authorities. Such a result can be objectively influenced by the limitations of wartime. For example, the Open Data Portal is unavailable.

But at the same time, some dishonest managers skillfully take advantage of these restrictions. One by one, stories began to emerge about the non-admission of journalists to meetings, fraud with humanitarian aid, the misappropriation of land plots behind closed doors.

Therefore, in the study, we did not compare cities or individual authorities with each other, but focused on the main problems, the search for solutions and, most importantly, the balance between security and transparency.

In times of a great storm, it is extremely difficult to sail on a ship that is significantly leaning in one direction. It is very difficult, unproductive, and generally dangerous. And it depends solely on us whether we balance our gravity centers, how we survive the storm, and where we find ourselves later. The great reconstruction and future European integration are looming on the horizon, and we can't do without a transparent government.  

Therefore, the main questions remain unanswered: what to do, how to find balance during the war and at the same time not to lose course? We'll cover it in the text.

What do the results of the study indicate?

Decentralization reform has made cities more resilient to war. Thanks to the independence of local authorities and the ability to quickly adopt decisions, most of the rear cities have withstood and adapted to the current conditions. Local authorities have published and continue to update relevant information for internally displaced persons, lists of shelters, opportunities for business relocation. 

But with the beginning of the full-scale war, citizens actually cannot participate in urban processes and influence the decisions of the authorities in general. After all, the restriction of access to information has become massive — meetings are held in a closed format, they are not announced, the work of official portals has been suspended. The argument is not to harm the interests of national security. This is a correct decision, but it should be a justified exception, not a general rule. Unfortunately, this always happens. 

If we talk about broadcasting, in March-December 2022, only 6 cities broadcasted meetings of the city council, executive committee, and standing commissions. This was done by Lviv, Lutsk, Chernivtsi, Zviahel, Dnipro, and Mukachevo. 

For citizens, broadcasting of meetings is an opportunity to influence the living conditions in their city. This is especially important when it is not possible to attend the meeting in person due to air raid alert, missile attacks, and other terrorist acts of russia. Therefore, these restrictions effectively tie the hands of the public in efficient control over the activities of the authorities. They also often become the cause of corruption decisions taken in secret on the illegal distribution of budget funds or land, or the transfer of municipal property for rent to “close” people.

However, among other things, there are successful examples — Dnipro has earned its status as a transparent city, despite the fact that it is close to the front line and is systematically shelled by the invaders. 

Lviv has been able to maintain transparency despite an unprecedented strain on urban systems, with nearly 5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) traversing the city in more than a year of war. 

And in Mukachevo, to cope with the flow of new citizens, administrative services centers and the social protection department worked seven days a week, and this city is among the three transparent ones.

The “transparent” status of the city does not mean that it is completely free of corruption and abuse. This means that such cities publish more information and use various tools to inform the public about the decisions of the authorities. Thus, their activities become more transparent, and this in turn reduces corruption risks. 

What else is positive?  

  • In all 70 cities, you can submit an electronic request for public information. 
  • 58 cities published the decisions of the city council and the executive committee on the official website.
  • 63 cities provided information on shelters, 49 of them updated this data at least once every six months.

These examples show that even in wartime conditions, city authorities can work in a coordinated, transparent, and accountable manner. All that is needed is the desire and the political will.

How to keep the course on transparency in wartime conditions?

Transparency is not an ephemeral concept. This is about specific things: a comfortable and accessible urban environment, opportunities for everyone to influence the life of the city, to realize their own potential, to ensure a decent future for children. It is also about convenient electronic services, inclusiveness, human-centeredness of local authorities in all its manifestations.

And to successfully implement all this, in particular, during the war, our Transparent Cities program has developed a number of recommendations for local governments.

  • Create services that most contribute to the adaptation of the population to the wartime challenges:
  • publish the list of residential premises owned by the communities;
  • create services and information pages for internally displaced persons;
  • create electronic services for housing registration;
  • implement services for online registration for social services;
  • publish lists of shelters in a convenient format (map) and update them in a timely manner.
  • Ensure the most transparent accounting and distribution of humanitarian aid.
  • Restore the work of local open data portals and geoportals, publish open data.
  • Ensure access to and participation of residents in management decisions.

We also compiled a list of best practices developed during the war so that Ukrainian cities could adopt each other's best practices. Here is a brief summary of what our cities have already implemented: interactive submission of shelter information (using Google Maps, individual applications, and other tools) and information for IDPs (individual services and Telegram channels), electronic submission of housing applications, residents' online appeals through special city services (where you can track the responsible person and the status of the application), support for relocated businesses, reporting on distributed humanitarian assistance, etc. 

Just think about it: all this works in super-complex conditions during the full-scale war! 

The real change is in our hands. Reconstructed walls will not be enough to bring back millions of Ukrainians who went abroad. Ukrainian cities will compete for people, not only among themselves, but also with Polish, Lithuanian, German, and dozens of others.

Of course, it is not an easy task to solve urgent issues under the sound of missiles and the roar of explosions and establish hundreds of processes urgently.

The attention of the whole world is focused on Ukraine, we have an unprecedented level of support from the international community, our partners, businesses, and specialists. This is the very necessary fair wind that will spread our sails and give us a crazy boost — financial, personnel, technological — to launch the best services. We have a unique opportunity here and now — only a narrow fairway between security and transparency separates us from it. To finally pass it, we just need to keep the balance.

Source: Главком.