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Institution of Prefects or French-style Constitution


Dmytro Shemelin, Lawyer at Ilyashev & Partners Law Firm
Source: Ukrainska pravda

Institution of Prefects is an interesting novelty probably inspired by the French “Napoleonic” system of local self-government.

It is interesting that in France the system of local self-government was built in reverse order: at first, in 1800 Napoleon appointed Prefects with the widest authorities and later, approximately in the course of 180 years, their powers were gradually limited until the moment when in 1982 their main responsibilities were finally transferred to the local councils.

In France Prefect is the state high-ranking official appointed under professional (and staff), but not political grounds.

Prefect’s main function is representation and protection of interests of the central government in the region. That is why Prefects are not tied to a particular territory and are shuffled between the departments once in several years.

Prefects are formally included into the structure of the Ministry of internal affairs and perform a whole number of quite transparent functions such as issue of drivers’ licenses and registration of migrants. However, at the same time Prefects have the right to appeal the decisions of local self-governing authorities in order to examine such decisions for lawfulness and in a critical situation may suspend the meetings of a local council for the period of up to one year.

One of the important functions of Prefect also includes coordination of activities of the police and gendarmerie which, in essence, means coordination of all security matters in a corresponding region. Finally, Prefect, being almost always a “person from outside” in the region, is well suited for the role of an arbitrator in disputes between various local authorities and interests.

How successful the matters with Prefects will be in Ukraine is unknown. Unfortunately, in practice the Ukrainian constitution rarely performs its function of the “regulation of the direct action” and a lot depends on the laws and real practices of their application.

The idea of changes is apparently directed at transferring real powers at the local level to local councils and executive authorities elected by such councils and leaving Prefects as a certain regulatory body as a remote analogue of the prosecutor’s office existing prior to the most recent reform.

Indeed, in such case Prefecture will not request for a large number of employees and the main levers of administration powers will be exercised by local councils.

The idea in itself quite positively reflects the decentralization concept as regarding the powers of local bodies, as well as regarding such an important matter as management of financial flows.

Unfortunately, a whole number of various difficult matters will have to be resolved to turn the idea into reality.

Firstly, a local self-government must be able to ensure effective and lawful decision-making procedures according to their competence, i.e. it is required for a local council or its executive body to uphold professional decisions at the level not lower than the level of Prefects.

While in big cities it will not pose any problem it will be quite difficult to form a high-skilled professional local governments in the regions. Accordingly, Prefects will get more room for maneuver and real administration.

Secondly, it will be necessary to clearly define the procedure of Prefects’ control over decisions upheld by local self-governing authorities, i.e. a possibility to directly annul (impose veto) or cancel them via administrative court.

In France such problem was gradually resolved for a long period of time and now Prefects are not authorized to directly cancel decision upheld by local authorities, but have the right to go to court within a certain fixed term.

It is worthwhile discussing how such time-consuming procedure will be of relevance in the war-torn country and whether it will be better to vest Ukrainian Prefects with more direct and serious powers.

Thirdly, the position of Prefect with such limited powers requires a high level of professionalism in exercising of his administrative managerial functions.

In France a major part of Prefects complete training at Ecole Nationale d’Adiministration – the highest school of administration – and command high-level respect in the society.

For example, Baron Haussmann – author of Paris’s modern architectural planning and world-famous web of boulevards – was one of the French Prefects.

The position of Prefect was also occupied by Louis Lépine – a person who modernized French police forces.

Only time will show if our Prefects will be able to keep up with this level of competence and qualification.

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