Quality must trump quantity in any effective performance evaluation system for Ukraine

December 17, 2018

Recent public survey results show that the levels of public trust in Ukraine’s main criminal-justice players – police, prosecutors, judges – have not improved, and actually decreased, since Maidan. The hopes raised then have not been fulfilled, and understandably, people are frustrated.

Change of any description is never easy, and systemic change can seem impossible. It reminds me of the situation in my home country, Lithuania, during the 1990s. We faced a very similar set of circumstances, but because of the demands placed by EU alignment ahead of membership in 2004, we were compelled to make some radical changes to the way we worked. I was a senior police officer in Lithuania, so I understand how the police – so visible day to day on our streets – can be a target for people’s frustration.

To take police as an example, the issues that actually matter to people are that police respond to accidents and crime in adequate time, that they are visible on the streets, that they follow procedures in a professional manner, that they are proactive in trying to solve problems, and that the provision of service and security to citizens is their overriding concern. People on the street might not immediately relate to this, but an effective performance evaluation system is crucial to the reform of police, prosecutors and the judicial system, because this is what ultimately changes culture and raises standards. I can assure you that without the introduction of performance evaluation in Lithuania, real change would never have taken place.

In a nutshell, performance evaluation is a method to examine institutional and individual performance, to ensure uniform standards are enforced and adhered to within and across all civil-service institutions. An effective performance evaluation of State institutions should address systemic issues that compromise service to citizens. Meanwhile, an effective performance evaluation of the staff that work for these institutions should reduce underperformance and enhance personal motivation and development. Conversely, a lack of such standards slows the entire reform process. At present, the institutions that the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) works with in Ukraine operate without effective performance evaluation systems at either the individual or organisational level.

In measuring the performance of police, prosecutors and judges, quality must always trump quantity. In fact, this is the philosophy of the Venice Commission, which is the instrument used by the European Union and Council of Europe to measure basic standards in rule of law institutions – standards that Ukraine should aspire to if it hopes to continue its EU alignment process. The problem I see facing Ukraine is that the current methods of evaluating performance are bureaucratic and rely too much on statistics.

Allow me to give you a couple of examples, because numbers can be deceiving. Several police officers might spend several hours at the side of the street attending to a car accident, writing down extensive details and filling out multiple forms. We see this every day on the streets of Kyiv. This might be quantitatively impressive, but viewed in a qualitative sense, this is an inefficient use of resources for a relatively minor case – resources that might be better devoted to more serious crime.

An example of more serious crime is domestic violence, which studies show is prevalent in Ukraine. This is something that demands urgent response, because victims of domestic violence can’t afford to wait for the police. Good police work means not just service to citizens, but service delivered in an efficient way – therefore each response must fit each specific situation. Meanwhile, businesses in Ukraine, which are at the heart of the economy, have unfortunately suffered illegitimate raids on their livelihoods. Whether or not such businesses are protected is the true measure of the performance of law-enforcement officers.

Prosecutors deal with a huge number of criminal cases at any one time, and therefore manage large case files, filled with a large number of documents. However, it is precisely for this reason that some of those cases get stuck – the quantity comes at the expense of quality. Cases are presented in court lacking evidence, proper reasoning, justification or explanations, and judges dismiss such cases due to these shortfalls. In other words, a qualitative failure.  

The criminal-justice process is a delicate one that requires a high degree of professionalism all the way through from preliminary investigation to conviction, where the case is legally sound. At the moment, some cases end up getting thrown out because of this quality deficit, but an effective performance evaluation system would help to address this.

At EUAM, we have been working tirelessly to assist our partners introduce performance evaluation systems. In the near future, we will begin a performance evaluation pilot project for the prosecutors’ offices in three regions (Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa) that will run initially for three months. We hope that through this trial, we can demonstrate the intrinsic long-term value of performance evaluation for prosecutors. Meanwhile, we are also advising the National Police of Ukraine on the introduction of a performance evaluation system that we hope will be in place by May 2019. Different institutions and different units within institutions, of course, require different criteria and methodology to measure performance, and EUAM thankfully has the expertise to advise all of our partners accordingly, again using the Venice Commission as the primary reference point.

Performance evaluation ideally leads to an overhaul of standards and structures. This also depends on a reformed institutional culture, and clearly, such a transformation is not easy. From my point of view – and again I refer to my experience in Lithuania’s reform – we will know that standards have been raised when police act as service providers to the communities they serve, and when citizens’ trust in the police, prosecutors, and judges is restored. Note again, that “connecting” and “trusting” are matters of quality, not of quantity.

There are so many variables when it comes to effecting change. We are talking about a cultural shift that depends on the quality of education and training, good leadership and management, and institutionalizing of positive core values. Performance evaluation is a concept that people might consider an ‘internal’ matter for rule of law institutions, but the truth is that it has a huge influence on external impact and ultimately on whether citizens receive justice or not. The changes are difficult, but not impossible. Trust me – in Lithuania, I saw these changes occur with my own eyes. There is no reason why Ukraine cannot follow the same path.