Archive for June, 2010

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Outrageous decision by the RADA!

June 30, 2010

As my historic posts show, my biggest complaint about the current Ukrainian government has been the postponed local elections that were constitutionally supposed to take place in May this year.

President Yanukovych has called for the to take place in October, despite all party agreement to hold them in March next year.

Yesterday, however, when this was put to the RADA…….

Interfax-Ukraine

The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, has rejected all of the bills amending the Ukrainian law on the elections to local councils, as well as the election of the deputies of the Crimean Supreme Council, and the heads of villages, towns and cities.

An Interfax-Ukraine reporter said that one of the 12 bills proposed for consideration by parliament had been dropped from the agenda on Tuesday, while the remaining 11 bills had not received the required amount of votes (226).

Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense Bloc MP Yuriy Karmazin said at a parliament meeting that coalition members showed that they did not want to act democratically.

“You show that you don’t want to act democratically. You show that everything will be further usurped in our state,” he said.

However before OU-PSD Rada Member Karmazin gets too comfortable on his high horse, maybe he should be reminded that in fact, the bill to suspend the elections in the first place was submitted by MP Oksana Bilozir…….of the OU-PSD!

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A question of immunity (diplomatic and parliamentary)

June 30, 2010

Well dear readers, whilst plodding through my usual on-line reads…..I came across this……

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/protected-diplomats-committed-serious-offences-2012874.html

……which ties in nicely to local reports  of a US Embassy employee (US citizen) brawling in the Golden Gate bar in Kyiv prior to the USA football match in the World Cup they subsequently lost to Ghana.

(The result of the Golden Gate fight resulted in the (rather large apparently) US Embassy guy remaining and the other guy being dragged away by the police.  (The other guy a US citizen also…….(apparantly numerous complaints were to be filed with the US Embassy Kyiv yesterday but who knows if that happened.  In case you are wondering, eye witnesses state the violence was started by the US Embassy employee against a fellow citizen).

So the question of immunity arises……and not only with diplomats……also every Ukrainian serving MP has immunity from prosecution.

Now there simply has to be diplomatic immunity for foreign diplomats to stop harrasment in the occasional hostile nation.  There are things that a diplomat needs to carry with him on home trips that are “sensitive to nationl interests” and therefore searching diplomats and what they carry would compromise such actions.  Therefore to allow the international gaame to continue, nations recognise diplomatic immunity.

The question is, when a diplomat does something clearly wrong and clearly in contrevention to laws in a nation…….as mentioned in the link………whilst diplomatic immunity may save their a*se from the law, should it save their a*se from a career spanking from their own nation?

Morally of course, their home nation should give them a spanking for bringing their nation into disrepute…..however, there are some quite excellent diplomatic assets who have “quirky” or “non-conformist” character traits.

Other diplomats, are of course, there by “favour”, being related to royalty or the power base in their nation and really are on nothing more than a “jolly” in a nation……but even so, they are suffered in many cases, regardless of deeds in a host nation because expelling them would cause more headaches than their deeds.

Moving along a bit, what about the MPs of Ukraine who also enjoy absolute immunity (unless stripped by their fellows)?

Well, Ukraine is not alone with parliamentary immunity……it is the degree to which is is given that makes it unusual.

The UK has Parliamentary Privilage, which means an MP cannot be prosecuted for things under civil law (although criminally there is no such exemption as here).  Parliamentary priviage guarantees an MP can enjoy absolute freedom of speech when in the parliamentary building (amonsgt other things)…..meaning they can avoid prosecution from things like slander…….but they can be arrested any time, anywhere even for common assualt and prosecuted criminally.

So why do Ukrainian politicians need absolute immunity…….similar to foreign diplomats……in Ukraine?

Well of course, each and every one has more skeletons in their cupboards than the combined total in church crypts globally……and could be subject to “investigation” at any time should they fall out with those in power at any given time if they did not have all encompassing immunity.

It is of course quite wrong that MPs should enjoy 24/7 absolute immunity here, but understandable why they are exteremely unlikely to remove their get out of jail free cards, knowing, as they do, they have all committed acts in the past, that subject to investigation, will put them in a gulag.

This of course, does nothing to avoid the continuing corruption amongst MPs as they remain fire-proof.

They way forward could be, a continuence of immunity whilst in the RADA for words (and possibly deeds in the form of legislature) carried out there……but leave the building at the end of the working day and the immunity ends.

To accomplish this though, there would have to be an amnesty on all previous wrong-doings across the board for all MPs past or present……but not future (otherwise becoming an MP would be similar to a Presidential pardon).

The issue with this is that some MPs have been implicated in exceptionally violent acts and conspiracies to cause such acts.  It is one thing to have an amnesty on past frauds, thefts, laundering and “white colour” crimes in a drive to have MPs accountable from here on in……..but it is another to give absolution for just any past act.

Given that amnesty for past acts is really the only way MPs will remove their own absolute immunity, replacing it with something similar to parliamentary privilage, is this a price worth paying for the ability to prosectue them for any further “white collar” crimes…..of which the State (and therefore the people of Ukraine) are normally the injured party?

The cycle must be broken or the corruption will continue……..but how to break the cycle when only the MPs have the power to strip themselves of their own immunities?

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Not often Bloomberg has such a misleading headline – Ukraine

June 29, 2010

Well dear readers, the Ukrainian government is set to reduce its involvement in Ukrainian economics to 20 – 25%

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-06-28/ukraine-to-sell-state-assets-cut-role-in-economy-to-about-25-.html

Yeh – misleading isn’t it?

It plans to cut State owned assets to 20 – 25% only!  It does not plan to make cuts where it is really needed.

What is really needed is the cut of beaurocracy and therefore personnel in the State Organs……which would automatically reduce the corrupt practices here via less grabbing hands…….as most corruption is related to fighting (read bribing) your way through the mostly unnecessarily difficult administrictive hurdles.

Cutting 50% of the beaurocracy here may sound quite draconion…..and even a dangerous step towards lack over governmental oversight if you are to apply it to your home nation……..but here (as in Russia) an entire week can be spent going to 10 different locations around a city getting 10 different documents you need to…..get a document to allow you to do something that is completely unregulated anywhere in the West.

Generating those 10 documents (to get the 11th document you actually need) normally employs one State employee to give you the form, another (and different State employee) to check the form when you have completed it and a third (and again different State employee) to sign and stamp it. ……of course only 1 emplyee could do the whole job.

Further frustrating the process is if one is absent from work that day for whatever reason as nobody else can…..or will……do their job in their absense. 

If someone is absent at any stage during the obtaining of any of the 10 (or even 11th) documents then of course there is a delay until that person returns to work…….meaning it can take months to obtain a document…….unless you are prepared to pay a little “fee” for someone else to do their job as well.

Therefore, the best reduction in the econimics of Ukraine by the government would be removing 50% of the beaurocracy and simultaneously then, removing 50% of the petty corruption that goes with it.  Will this happen? – Not a chance…….at least as far as reduction in personnel.  I live in hope that this government will actually remove some of the beaurocracy though.   

Now of course Ukraine has been hit very hard by the crisis and I am not saying that sacking 50% of the governmental employees would be a socially acceptable thing…….however there is major scope for redeploying these staff to State organs that are particularly busy and never have enough staff from those that can have a dozen sat around doing nothing for days.

I am not a “privitistion is best” preacher necessarily although I do believe government should be as small as possible whereever possible.  There are some things that are better left in the control of Government and others that are not. 

What is essential is governmental oversight when talking about trasnportation, education, energy and anything else to which the public expect certain standards to be upheld or bettered whilst services are supposed to improve after privitisation.  After all it is the government that pays the price via elections if things get worse and not better.

Anyway, I have wandered………contrary to the Bloomberg headline, the Ukrainian government will not shrink its involvement in the economy to 20 – 25%……..it is only shrinking its assets in the economy to that level…….unfortunately.

Still, if anyone out there has an interest in any governmental assets that will go up for sale, let me know what you are looking for and if something meets you criteria, be prepared to submit an official Letter of Interest very quickly…….possibly with a BCL, depending upon how the government will carry out the privitissations.

I will know the mechanisms of registering interest soon enough…..and associated procedural steps their after.

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Quiz – How many Brits in Ukraine?

June 28, 2010

Well dear readers, according to Ukraine’s official figures there are 19,000 foreigners in Ukraine living, working and paying taxes officially.

Of this, 1.2% are British…….so about 228 of us.

The UK Embassy, as seen historically in my posts of the past, think there is 500 of us here……double the figure that Ukraine officially states.

I should point out though, Ukraine has no idea how many foreigners are in Ukraine illegally……and given the amount of TEFL/CELTA fly-by-night native tounged English teachers, many of whom are here illegally…….and of those here legally, most (probably in excess of 90%) are certainly working illegally and not paying any form of tax…….the UK Embassy estimate could be accurate (or even underestimating) the amount of British nationals in Ukraine if we are to count the “illegals”.

Meantime as one of the 228 that is 100% legal and above board, I guess that makes me a little bit “special”.  The question is, is that special as in “extraordinary” or special as in “special needs, window licking” type?

This question will be further magnified by the fact I live in Odessa and not Kyiv…..making me……probably……1 in 10?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Blk8FmnatHo

As the song goes……..”I am a 1 in 10, a number only………”

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The need for Constitutional changes

June 28, 2010

Well dear readers, following on from when I described the 2004 constitutional amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution as similar to a nation building plan written on the back of a cigarette packet yesterday…….I thought I should substantiate that position.

I am not alone in believing that the Ukrainian Consitution is in need of a massive and comprehensive overhaul however……..

President Viktor Yanukovych said on Friday, June 25, limits on the power of the presidency introduced in Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution” had produced a crisis of authority and urged a change in the constitution.

“The experience of state-building… shows that Ukraine’s constitution requires certain changes.”

Yes, of course, he would say that, he is in power……..but he is not alone.

What does his arch-rival have to say?

26th November 2009 – Tymoshenko said the root cause of the Ukraine’s political mess stems from a deal struck during the 2004 Orange Revolution between Yushchenko and former president Leonid Kuchma to change the constitution in a way that fractured powers and diluted presidential authority.

“This is the reason for the chaos in government and the complete collapse of the system of power. We have an absolutely ungovernable country on our hands,” Tymoshenko said.

But then she would say that, she was in power at the time.

So what of the other potential power politicians?

Yatseniuk is on record as stating the Ukrainian Consititution needs revision…….but has not stated whether it should be in favour of a parlimenatry power base or a presidential power base…….but the he is a technocrat by nature and not a politician to go blazing a trail of glory for others to follow…….so no commitment to either power base can be expected from him.

Tigipko has repeatedly stated the Urainian Constitution needs amendments…….but only when the constitution has provided hurdles to specific and topical direction that he has been involved in historically.  Nowhere has he said if he favours a parliamentary system (with ceremonial President) or full on Presidential rule.

What?  I didn’t say which system Tymoshenko and Yanukovych prefer?

Well, the swap from parliamentary to presidential and presidential to parliamentary…….depending on whether they are Prime Minister or President at the time……naturally.  Neither would get elected President and then cede power to Parliament……simply not in their personal interests to do so.

Errr, yes Tymoshenko was of a mind that a Presidential system would be best when she thought she was going to win the Presidency, whereas before, of course when both she and Yanukovych were holding the office of Prime Minister (at different times)…….parliamentary power was the way to go.

(Duplicity and flip-flopping I know…….but what do you expect?)

But what of Yushenko when he was president?  Of course, he also was frustrated by the consitutional amendments on the back of the cigarette packet that allowed a seamless move to President……and yes, he was a Presidential power base man…..of course.

So what is stopping the Ukrainian Constitution getting the overhaul it badly needs, thus removing the conflicts, overlaps and complete lack of (in some cases) definition of power responsibilies between parliament and president?

Aside from the impossibility of getting 300 of 450 MPs to vote in favour of any proposed constitutional change, such is the division and hostility between opposing factions, there is also a matter of a public referendum on any constitutional change after 300 MPs have voted for the changes.

Any proposed changes will always favour the power base of the proposer…….regardless of the national interest……such is the standard of politician in Ukraine…….thus there will never be 300 MPs vote in favour as their seat at the trough at any point in time could be severely effected.

It is completely clear that a semi Presidential/semi parliamentary system thoeoughly engulfed in blurred lines of responsibility is getting nowhere (well it is getting somewhere at the moment as parliament and president are singing from the same song sheet……but nothing lasts forever).

A fully Presidential or fully parliamentary system is really the only answer to potential stagnicity in the Ukrainian political system (as was witnessed under Yushenko and Tymoshenko).

Every major politician in Ukraine in the past 6 years has ignored the Constitution when the restrictions have got in their way…….Yushenko, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, all equally as culpable at different times.

Will there be any changes soon?  Unlikely unless the current majority can get a majority of 300 of course.

Anyone putting up any proposals relating to changes to the Constitution to the Venice Commision, Coucil of Europe, PACE, for independent review (regardless of whether they would actually get through)?  No.

Any completely new drafts (other than Yushenko’s exceptionally flawed submission a few days before he lost his Presidency in January this year)?  No.

Ukraine to hobble along with the Constitution it has for the next decade?  Seems likely, despite the fact it really is not fit for purpose……let alone good or very good.

A way forward?  Maybe two completely new Constitutions should be drafted, one fully Presidential, another fully parliamentary completely defining power bases and submitted to the Ukrainian public in a referendum and circumventing the 300 MP vote as required by the existing Constitution?

What?……That would be unconstitutional?  Well why not, as I have already said, all the top politicians have ignored it when it has suited them to one degree or another, why shouldn’t the public (just for once) have the option to ignore it as well?

It is the only way to break the cycle it seems.

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Ukrainian Justice System

June 27, 2010

Well dear readers, His Excellency Leigh Turner, UK Ambassador to Ukraine, paints a fairly accurate picture of the Ukrainian judicial system here……..

Problems with the operation of the courts and the judicial system are one of the biggest problems facing Ukraine today.
 

The judicial system has been criticised for its inefficiency (it can takes ages for courts to issue rulings), its lack of transparency (including allegations of corruption) and its lack of credibility (many court decisions are never enforced). The fact that the courts are not perceived as independent or unbiased is a deterrent to long-term political stability, inward investment and the development of the rule of law. So I’m pleased to have an opportunity to meet Oleksandr Lavrynovych, the Ukrainian Minister of Justice, and discuss with him the Ukrainian Government’s plans for judicial reform. I don’t comment on the substance of the proposed reforms, which are the subject of active political debate, but I do emphasise the importance which we attach to improving the system, including for Ukraine’s membership of the EU.

When I meet Mr Lavrynovych I also applaud the fact that the government has already been consulting the Venice Commision, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on legal and constitutional matters, on the proposed changes. It is important that this dialogue continues. The Venice Commission is justifiably regarded as an unrivalled and impartial source of knowledge and advice. It is therefore essential that the government makes full use of its expertise to help improve the functioning of Ukraine’s judicial system. Without such improvement, there is a risk that the judicial system will continue to act as a brake on Ukraine’s economic and political development.

.(Link to Leigh’s blog in my blog roll to the right)

Nothing in what Leigh says is untrue. 

However, there are further points to consider in the attempted rectification of this issue over the years.

The European Union (and member States bilaterally) have all been poushing Ukraine to reform its judicial system, which as Leigh indicates, is slow, politicised, open to corruption and opaque in many circumstances.

It is further hindered by a Constitution that every single Presidential Candidate in the Ukrainian elections (all 20 something of them in the first round) stated was in serious need of revision/re-writing as it is contradictory in many places, blurs lines of authority between President and Parliament and has gaps where it seems nobody is responsible in others.

Some, but not all, is a legacy of hastily written and passed amendments to the Constitution to allow Yushenko to “seamlessly” take over as President in 2005.  As we all know, very rarely does a document scrippled at speed on the back of a cigarette packet become a solid working document to base a power structure to run a nation upon work out without flaw.

Anyway, the collective EU, by way of grants, placements, exchanges, lectures et al ploughed Euro tens of millions into Ukrainian “rule of law” and “judicial reform”……achieveing, thus far…..very little that is visible to the average Ukrainian, over the past 5 or 6 years alone.

Let us not ask where th money went, as no doubt the EU will not have the faintest idea…..which is something of a schoolboy error when ploughing money into a scheme to fight, amongst other things, corruption, within the legal system.

Let us not ask, what, if anything, was learned by Ukrainian judges on their funded “jollies” to the EU to observe.  Ukrainian judges are quite well aware how an uncorruptable  judicial system should work after all.

Let us ask why, when the EU was ploughing in all this cash for “judicial reform” and “rule of law”, that PACE in 2007 wrote to then President Yushenko expressing its concern for his interference in the courts system…..but then continued to plough in money?  This is but one example.

We can also ask why, when the EU is ploughing in such large sums of money, that European Courts of Human Rights decisions are still unactioned to this day from judgements they made several years ago against Ukraine?

How soon will the Venice Commsion and Council of Europe provide feedback and suggestions to the current government regarding their proposed changes……considering Ukraine assumes the Presidency of the Council of Europe in 2011.

Surely it would be far more transparent to have the Venice Commision’s report on the proposed changes published well before Ukraine assumes the CoE Presidency to avoid any potential accusations by certain politicians in Ukraine that after assuming the Presidency of the CoE, Ukraine effectively recommended their own recommendations through fear, favour or influence…….regardless of whether it is possible or not…….it will surely be an inference they will spread through the media immediately undermining anything forthcoming from the Venice Commision. 

Has the EU, over the past 5 or 6 years, by continually ploughing tens of millions of Euro into a system that has not noticeably changed at all, simply been rewarding failure?

What has been gained from this money?  What results have been seen?

Like a smoker who wants to stop smoking, if Ukraine really wanted to reform its judicial system (and all the issues within) it would do so for its own benefit, without the need for financial carrots and despite the sickness and cravings of withdrawl.

Maybe financial carrots from the EU would assist more if they were given on accomplishment in a specific area…..for example 85% of all cases heard within 2 months…..or 80% of all rulings carried out (as accounted for and monitored by the EU and not Ukrainian statisticians) making speedy hearing and rulings being carried out the norm and failures the notable exceptions……instead of the other way around as it is now.

How best does the EU incentivise a Ukrainian judicial reform (from which the EU will ultimately benefit)?

For sure, their current course of action has produced very, very little by way of visible results and changes way down here amongst the hoy-poloy…….regardless of what they may have been told by those upon high over salmon sandwiches and a glass of Pimms.

Would following, for example, 200 randomly picked cases from across the whole of Ukraine (not just Kyiv) from start to finish and of varying importants push matters along far better?

Would “lay people” monitoring courts around the nation be the answer, similar to the lay person scheme of monitoring police stations in the UK make a difference?  I would happily volunteer as a neutral lay person to mintor the courts in Odessa for example.

Would videoing all trials and court sessions be appropriate and the videos chosen at random by the Vennice Commision or EU to view and see if “rule of law” is actually occuring on a daily basis (together with follow-up with the “victim” as to whether the ruling was carried out)?

Would individual court websites be the answer, publishing court lists and results on a daily basis for public scrutiny?

A jury system that actually finds a defendent guilty/not guilty instead of the judge, demoting the jury to nothing more than spectators maybe?

There is no need to ask why every contract I have been involved in has nominated London or Stockholm as the court of arbitration.  No Ukrainian would ever nominate a court in Ukraine for such a purpose.

Admittedly, judges in Ukraine are underpaid, like all people employed in the organs of the State administration but will giving them substantil pay raises stop them from taking a backhander…….or the tax inspoector…..or the Zhek official…….or the OVIR official……or the Customs official……or the police?  The answer is probably not unless there is also severe and substantial prison sentences to go along side them for those involved.

Unfortunately the nepotism in Ukrainian society would insure such sentences did not come about unless they too, were jailed for perverting the course of justice and/or conspiracy to do the same.

So, just how is this cycle broken and even if there is a way, is throwing EU money at it (without any accountability or staged payments for success) going to help?

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Personal Data Protection Ukraine, EU……and others

June 26, 2010
Interfax-Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed a law on the protection of personal data, his press service has reported.

The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, passed the law on June 1, 2010.

The law stipulates that enterprises, establishments and organizations of all forms of ownership, agencies of state government or the agencies of local government, private persons, and entrepreneurs that process personal data in line with the law can be owners or managers of databases of personal data.

According to the law, databases of personal data are liable to obligatory state registration through relevant recording a state register of personal data made by the authorized state agencies for the protection of personal data. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approves the regulations on the state register of databases of personal data and the procedure for their use.

Jolly good eh dear readers?  Personal data protection reaches Ukraine across the board…….just in time for……..

http://euobserver.com/

One has to wonder why, in this day and age, the EU cannot seperate a single transaction of interest to the USA from the bulk data.

Will this pass through the EU parliament?  Hopefully not (again).

Will there be legal challenges if passed?  Seems guaranteed as this will no doubt break numerous Sovereign member states own national laws……first cry’s of “foul”, I suspect will come from Germany, as it certainly breaks their privacy rules.

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