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11 March, 2021
Hodges: visiting the front line is a key element of parliamentary oversight

March 11, 2021, marked the third day of the Week of Parliamentary Oversight in the Security and Defence Sector, initiated by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defence, and Intelligence with the support of the British Embassy. The Independent Anti-Corruption Committee on Defence (NAKO) organised an online discussion, during which the Parliament of Ukraine exchanged experience of parliamentary oversight and understanding of ethics, trust, and mutual responsibility between military personnel and politicians.

Please follow the link to watch the event recording.

Kate Davenport, Political Counsellor, Embassy of the United Kingdom in Ukraine, made a welcoming speech. “We are very pleased that NAKO is organizing such an important event, promoting transparency and focusing on parliamentary oversight,” she said. Davenport added that parliamentary oversight is a key component for any democratic process, and the Parliament plays an important role in ensuring accountability.

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Member of Parliament (MP), Chair of the Committee on Ukraine’s Integration into the European Union (EU), noted that parliamentary oversight and control of the security and defence sector are key to security sector reform in Ukraine. It is necessary in order to have Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies that function effectively. She pointed out that the main dilemma is still how to move from regulatory adoption of oversight documents into their effective use via instruments of parliamentary oversight.

Volodymyr Kabachenko, MP, Secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy, noted that the most effective mechanism in this regard is the public activity of parliamentarians and civil society. He raised the issue of blocked implementation of the Law “On Defence Procurement.” Kabachenko said that if a bill drafted and passed by the Parliament is not fully implemented, if its terms are changed by other regulations or legal acts developed by the executive branch of government, then parliamentary oversight should be used as an opportunity to intervene to ensure that these legal acts comply with the law itself. He emphasized the need to exercise parliamentary oversight in order to ensure that secondary legislation implements the Law. Particularly, Kabachenko proposed the Committees for Anti-corruption Policy, National Security, Economic Activity and Euro-integration initiate a joint hearing and invite the executive branch representatives who are responsible for implementation to report on the current situation.

Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies, Center for European Policy Analysis, and former commander of both the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) and the NATO Allied Land Command (2011-2017), spoke on the importance of Parliament interacting with representatives of defence agencies, visiting the front line, and communicating directly with the military. “And when members of Congress came to us in Iraq or Afghanistan and saw the situation with their own eyes, we had the opportunity to say what we were doing and get budget support. This part of the relationship is building trust and it is key to building effective cooperation between all parties,” said Hodges.

Oksana Syroid, Professor, Kyiv School of Economics, MP of Ukraine of the 8th convocation (Samopomich party), spoke about her own experience of building trust between parliamentarians and the military. “After visiting the front line in 2015, I made a special report on the results of the visits. My main goal was not to devalue the Ukrainian army, but rather to jointly find solutions to overcome the gaps we saw in Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Since then, it has become much easier for us to communicate with the General Staff and the Ministry of Defence and to have joint exercises, talks, and discussions of bills.”

She added that today, Ukraine’s MPs cannot fully and completely perform the function of parliamentary oversight, as the executive authorities evade their responsibility. “Parliamentary oversight cannot be earned; it cannot be enshrined in the Constitution or a separate law. It must be won, and first of all, within the security and defence sector.”

In response to questions from experts about the ‘hiding and silencing culture’ regarding the real state of affairs in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oksana Syroid said that such a “culture” had been forming for decades, and it truly started to be acknowledged only in 2014. In order for the path of change to continue, the Ukrainian public, and especially parliamentarians, need to learn to empathize with the pain and needs of the Ukrainian military.

The Week of Parliamentary Oversight within the Security and Defence Sector is part of a project to strengthen the capacity of Verkhovna Rada committees, with the financial support of the British Embassy in Ukraine and the organizational support of the Lithuanian Embassy in Ukraine, the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Norwegian Parliament, and the Norwegian Ministry of Defence.