A “Switzerland” 40 kilometers from KyivThe Day visited Ukraine’s first town that dared “tame” information technologies
Finding the schedule of lessons, checking the weather, reading the news, making an appointment with the doctor… The residents of a small town near Kyiv, lovingly named Ukrainka, do all this… at the town hall. This town, with a population of 15,000, is now a showcase of well-thought-out reforms. The transformations this tiny district-level town has undergone in the past 10 years prove that Europe can be built in Ukraine. And neither the crisis nor the unwise top authorities are an obstacle to this.
Ten years ago, Ukrainka was a typical small depressive mono-town that almost totally depended on the Trypillia thermal power plant. Buildings, public utility networks, and the entire infrastructure totally belonged to the “parent enterprise.”
“The thermal power plant accounted for almost 80 percent of the then 1.7-million-hryvnia budget,” says Pavlo Kozyriev, 43, looking back on his early days as mayor of Ukrainka. He began to work in Ukrainka at a time when the infrastructure of satellite towns was being made part of communal property. The system, when housing, public utility facilities, and municipal infrastructure are on the balance sheet of an enterprise, had exhausted itself.
It took Ukrainka about a year to make property communally owned, the mayor says to The Day. But when the town “set sail on its own,” problems began. First of all, it was the question of funding the town’s vital services. There was a bad need of funds and, hence, new approaches to economic management.
“We have managed to achieve an almost 15-fold increase of the budget in the past 10 years. It is 23.5 million hryvnias now [a simple arithmetic calculation shows that it is 1,567 hryvnias per resident. – Ed.],” Kozyriev says proudly and emphasizes: “The power plant accounts for not more than 15 percent of this money.” The town gets the remaining 85 percent at the expense of small- and medium-scale business and land lease payments. (Incidentally, land in Ukrainka is now worth its weight in gold, owing to a long distance from the capital and closeness to Koncha-Zaspa.) Besides, good investors have come to the town in the past 10 years and helped build a furniture factory, a container-making facility, etc.
The main attraction, which distinguishes Ukrainka from other cities, is introduction of the Electronic City innovational program. “We studied the experience of various European countries in applying Electronic City,” the mayor says, telling about the history of the project. “The program fits in very well with our favorable conditions: there are over 50 compactly-built buildings and almost no rural-type houses, and all the public utility facilities are situated very close to one another.” Incidentally, the project specifications and estimates cost the town half a million hryvnias.
According to Kozyriev, the main idea was to build a local optic-fiber network to every apartment, which could perform all the functions of a modern electronic city. In 2004 Ukrainka won a state-sponsored competition that envisaged 13.7-million-hryvnia subventions for socioeconomic development. But there was a long delay in funding. “It was the end of the budgetary year, and the money was just returned to the budget,” Kozyriev recalls. “In other words, we are in fact finalizing the electronic city project with our own resources.” Now, in his words, the project has been carried out by a mere 10-20 percent. There is an optic-fiber network at the hospital but not in the city as a whole. “We expect local cable operators to help us establish this network,” the mayor says.
♦ FIRST STEP
ElectronicCityis a mechanism that consists of three mandatory parts. The first is electronic circulation of documents. The second is payment of utility charges through electronic terminals. And, finally, the third is the rendering of some services by means of an optic-fiber network.
First of all, to set the wheel of an innovative reform into motion, Ukrainka introduced electronic circulation of documents. Kateryna Protsenko, executive secretary at the Ukrainka executive committee, told The Day that this technology allowed reducing the time of handling residents’ queries by 15-20 percent. “We economize on paper and the time for other work,” the official emphasizes, showing us how electronic circulation of documents works.
The process is as follows: all the produced documents are immediately scanned and fed into the system. Every “piece of paper” has a card that bears such data as incoming or outgoing number, permission for public access, number of an executive committee resolution, and the level of access to this document. The mayor and his deputies can see all the documents, while other specialists have restrictions depending on the range of their duties. Every resident or entrepreneur can come to the town hall and ask any document to be shown or photocopied.
Pushing several buttons on the keyboard, the executive secretary shows that you can trace the itinerary of every document and find out who and when saw it. “Deception is next to impossible. If a deputy [mayor] holds a document too long, this means he wants something,” Protsenko says, explaining the advantages of this know-how.
In addition, electronic circulation of documents simplifies a search in the archives. Earlier, to find an old document, one had to sift through tons of archival materials, but now all you have to do is type a few key words in the browser and you will get in a minute’s time the resolution or the order you are looking for. If there is open access to a document, every town resident can see it in the town’s official Internet portal or on the infoboxes in the town hall lounge. These are in fact two simple computers hooked up with the Internet. The reception, who sits next to them, will help you if necessary.
“There is a reference book here, where you can find the addresses and phone numbers of all the city’s organizations. Some come here just to check the weather or the news. We are planning to integrate as much information on the town’s life as possible into this system for example, the schedule of lessons in Class 5 or doctors’ working hours in the outpatient hospital. One will be able to use this service very soon to make an appointment with a doctor, pay public utility charges, or invite a plumber,” administrator Halyna Sherstiuk says.
Incidentally, centers of this kind successfully function in Cherkasy, Vinnytsia, and Khmelnytsky, but we are the first instance among small cities. Running ahead of time, the Ukrainka municipal council uses this center to render its residents a number of important services in a centralized manner. “There is a new law which, however, needs to be modified because the register of administrative services is yet to be drawn up,” Protsenko says. “But we are still working, for we are one of the few cities of Ukraine, which have Certificate ISO 9001 which authorizes us to this job.” Over the past year, the municipal council, with a staff of fewer than 30, has handled more than 10,000 queries from individuals.”
♦ PROMPTNESS, SAFETY, THRIFT
There is a round-the-clock call center at the town hall, which has been working for two years. An Ukrainka resident can phone or email at any time about a burst faucet, a fire, a breach of the peace; ask for medical aid, or just seek advice. The operator, who works in a small two-seat room, will give you some advice and forward your query to the right place: she will call the emergency service, radio to a medical institution or to Hroza (“thunderstorm”), a law-and-order unit.
Every application is immediately recorded in the data base. Some time later, the operator will call the person who sent a query to make sure if his or her request was honored.
Olena, a call center employee, says that it may happen that an individual remains dissatisfied after the visit of a public utility worker who, say, fixed their faucet. “In this case the request continues to be handled and the public utilities service must correct its mistakes,” the call center operator says. Weekly conferences, presided over by the mayor, discuss all the unfulfilled requests. Incidentally, 96 percent of the last year’s 3,710 complaints were responded to. Only the requests that involve large amounts of money remained unfulfilled.
A no less interesting know-how of Ukrainka is the Hroza law-and-order unit. About six years ago, being aware that state-run institutions were unable to ensure full-fledged protection of public order, the town took the law into its own hands.
According to Kozyriev, two people patrol the town at the daytime, four in the evening and at night, and in the summer one more patrol keeps the peace on the Dnipro waterfront. Hroza makes more than 300 arrests and draws up more than 500 law infraction reports in a year. They apprehend people who shout at night or pick up a fight. Instead of being held at the police station all night long, these people usually hear a correctional lecture and are freed 15 minutes later.
“The most important thing is that there is a unit which local residents call ‘good force,’ to which you can apply if, say, a child got lost or an elderly person left their home in an unknown direction,” the mayor explains.
The municipal authorities also attach great importance to energy saving. By installing LED street lamps, the town managed to cut illumination expense by two thirds. And thanks to modernization of the waterworks, the saved money was included into water consumption charges as water meters checkup. “It is important for our town because 99 percent of apartments are equipped with hot and cold water meters, and somebody should periodically come and check them,” the mayor says.
It is only the beginning, Koryriev promises. “When I was in Switzerland, we were taken to the waterworks of a town the size of Ukrainka, where only three persons worked. There was a control room with nobody inside. If they need some repairs to be done, they hire a private company. This is what we are striving for,” the city father confesses.
♦ TO BE CONTINUED…
But there are still enough problems. The first and foremost one is garbage disposal. “We welded down all garbage chutes long ago and installed waste sorting bins in courtyards. But the landfill, which the town has been using for 30 years, is said to have been set up contrary to the rules and is under a constant threat of being closed. As chairman of the Small Cities Association, I must say it is a typical situation in many cities. There are almost 4,500 garbage dumps in Ukraine, with almost a third of them having no documents. So we, in Ukrainka, are studying the possibility of establishing a waste sorting and recycling plant on our territory. And incineration is out of the question,” the mayor emphasizes.
Another environmental problem of the town is, paradoxically enough, the Trypillia thermal power plant, to which the town in fact owes its life. The mayor claims that the plant accounts for 50 percent of total emissions in Kyiv oblast. “Once the new budgetary code comes into force next year, the budgets of communes will hold back a half of the money enterprises pay for pollution, Kozyriev says. “This means an annual 15-17 million hryvnias for Ukraine. So we would like to use a part of these funds for fitting power plant smokestacks with filters.”
Also in the plans is the construction of a new school, reconstruction of all public utility networks, and waterfront development.
Many cities all over Ukraine and in some neighboring states follow the example of Ukrainka. And the more examples of this kind we have, the more affluent this country will be.