Archive for October, 2011

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Tempus Fugit – Clock change…..and the WTO

October 31, 2011

Well, the clocks changed in Ukraine yesterday as they did over most of the contenent of Europe, except in nations like Russia and Belarus where they have decided to stop tinkering with the clocks twice a year.

Going to have to remember that when calling the lad at college in Moscow.

I am bound to get confused being a bit of a thicky-twin!

Meanwhile it seems Russian WTO entry is about to become a reality as Georgia will no longer block Russian entry.  (Well done the Swiss negotiating team).

Membership of the Eurasion Customs Union soon becomes much more of a possibility for Ukraine as the lack of Russian WTO membership was a major political stumbling block in Kyiv.  It didn’t stop an FTA with the CIS nations however, already signed sealed and delivered.

Meanwhile the EU slumbers on as both key nations East (Ukraine) and South (Turkey) begin to look away.

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“Greening” Odessa

October 30, 2011

Now the issues of environmental and ecological impact on our surroundings is not to be taken likely.  I say that as somebody who has written and enforced numerous ISO14001 environmental policies, environmental audit procedures and emergency environmental response plans both for major companies, major projects and town councils.

It is therefore exceptionally pleasing to so see Odessa City Council generating competitions to promote environmental awareness, environmental planning and generally pushing “greening” to the top of its agenda (or at least near the top of the City Website for the moment).

However, if you are interested in entering and the chance of winning awards, you need to get your finger out as 15th December is judgement and presentation day.  A close read of the text would inform the reader that the awwards are for projects from 2009 – 2011, meaning some will have almost a two year head start and have implemented their projects thus being able to provide some form of quantitative empirical results whilst you are currently rushing for you pencil and pad, rapidly creating your green masterpiece.

A little more lead-in time by way of earlier announcement of the competition would have been somewhat beneficial maybe?

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Open bodies and the Ministry of Health – Ukraine

October 29, 2011

No this is not some scandalous tale of Ukrainian medical malpractice!

It is about governmental transparency as well as a curious use of English by the Ukrainian NGO named the Regional Press Development Institute that exists to promote and monitor transparency in governmental information amongst other press related issues in Ukraine.

In a recent survey the RPDI has identified the Ministry of Health as the “most open body of government“, to employ their description.

Not much of a story, I just found it a particularly unfortunate phrase to describe the transparency and accessibility to the Ministry of Health.

Well, when you read a headline like the one I have used, it does conjure up the most unfortunate and disturbing images doesn’t it?

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Female representation in the RADA

October 28, 2011

The Ukrainian RADA comprises of 450 people of which 8% are women.

Not good enough according to the EU, where 30% are female in the pillar of politics.  The EU is citing the global average of 20% of women in political positions.

Hmmm.  Now one could argue that this is due to a lack of female interest in politics but that is certainly not true.  As you head further down the political food chain in Ukraine there are numerous females in regional and local government, so why do so few take the step onto the national political stage?

Is it through lack of opportunity?  Hardly.  In 2007/8 my good lady was offered a seat in the RADA and she could choose her party, Yushenko’s, Tymoshenko’s or Yanukovych’s.  The party was irrelevant, the fee for this position of power and absolute immunity from the law, a paltry $5 million.

Upon payment, RADA deputy status and seat would appear within 10 days. – Blimey!  If she didn’t want the national seat, for a reduced fee of $100,ooo, she could have regional party membership and ID with enough clout to give at the very least regional immunity for any nefarious regional deeds and national immunity from those pesky things like traffic laws or tax.

The offer, in case you are interested, came via a BYuT deputy but as stated was not made along party allegiance lines.

My good woman has little interest in politics to be honest, at least as far as parties or personalities go and declined both offers after some consideration.  Quite simply we don’t do anything nefarious to require immunity and generally don’t have the business interests or murky past that would require being members of the most elite business networking club in Ukraine (the RADA).

Is it more likely then that the reason there is only 8% female representation in the RADA due to the fact that there are not as many female millionaires that emerged from the Wild East during the collapse of the USSR?  Undoubtedly this is a factor as a swift glance through the who’s who of the oligarchy would display less than 8% are female (discounting wives, lovers, mistresses and female children).

Maybe there are far more women willing to part with only $100,000 to be a local big-wig.

So of the 8% of females in the RADA and Presidential Administration  make-up, are they all oligarchy, relatives of oligarchy employing the family patronage system or those that came through the old Soviet ranks with enough dirt on the male representatives to insure their continued presence in the seat of Ukrainian power?

In short, are there any that are there through ability with a genuine philosophy to act for the national good?

To be honest, most of the RADA deputies male and female are intellectual pygmies at varying degrees of rottenness with regards to self-interest, vested interest and corruption.  There few RADA deputies regardless of gender who know their arse from their elbow or who are even bothered about knowing the difference.

Of the females in power past or present, there is really only Irina Akimova who stands out as competent, educated, considered and able to hold a respectable conversation with the electorate on a two-way adult to adult level.  The rest, like 99% of the male politicians are woefully inadequate.

Now the EU cannot be blind to the patronage system of power that grants RADA seats (at $5 million a time).  Given the amount of recent interaction, it cannot be blind to the ineptitude of the majority of Ukrainian politicians it meets during the thousands of committees formed over innumerable policy issues.

It will be also be aware that because of the closed voting lists whereby any election for parliament results in voting for a party and not individual from that party in a specific electoral region, that the RADA could be 99% female in 2012 if the parties decided to make it so without a by-your-leave to the Ukrainian public.

However in a testosterone led society, with open lists it is unlikely that there would be an increase in female representation unless there was positive discrimination to make most candidates female on a national basis.  Ukraine is not a politically correct society, which in my view is a bonus more than a hindrance much of the time.  It is openly calls a spade a spade at all levels of society, an honesty long lost in the western political correctness perversity.

The EU is surely aware of this as well.

Surely the EU would be better served at pushing for a higher caliber of politician, regardless of sex, than simply a higher percentage of woefully inadequate women on the basis that whilst woefully inadequate, they are at least women.

Ukraine is overflowing with very well educated and very bright people, both male and female, but who are denied the chance to shape the nation at governmental level as they are not part of the patronage system.  This must surely be the key area for EU pressure rather than simply pushing for more substandard females from a very small pool of the corrupt elite.  Female family members or relations of business partners gaining from the patronage system despite their inability and absolute uselessness in political office is hardly beneficial to Ukraine unless you consider image more important than substance.

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. –  Aristotle

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Corruption – The Puppet Masters

October 27, 2011

Anybody who has put deals together in Ukraine involving commodities either domestically or for import/export will have come across smoke and mirrors, shell companies, umbrella companies, kick-backs, rebates to seemingly uninvolved foreign registered companies, intermediaries and business associates closely connected to decision makers etc.

The bigger the numbers involved, the further up the slippery pole the puppet masters sit.

Only this morning I had an inquiry from a corporation external to Ukraine seeking a rolling commodity contract and requesting introduction to a person of influence.  Introduction duly made of course.  Does that make me an intermediary or an advocate for their cause?  One man’s lobbying is another man’s advocacy after all.  The difference is transparency.

That is not to single Ukraine out from the rest of the international community of course.  Personal relationships count for a great deal, particularly the higher up the greasy pole you climb.  Whilst I no longer climb any poles or even hang from them, just like any alumni system, getting access or being accessed yourself never completely disappears.  Such is the web of patronage or loyalty within certain  movements in any society, Ukrainian or otherwise.

Anyway, for those of you who really want an insight into the shenanigans of legal manipulation, corruption and smoke and mirrors at the highest levels, this report from the World Bank called Puppet Masters is extremely accurate and terribly interesting, albeit giving the clueless a clue regarding how to go about it.

A long and somewhat technical read in places, it certainly does not miss the mark.

In most cases around the globe, it can be metaphorically stated that the fish rots from the head down, although that is not necessarily always the case.  Occasionally the fish maybe rotting unbeknown to the head of the fish.

The question therefore arises, if the police who police the police are corrupt, who polices the police police?

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Freedom of the press – Important Articles

October 26, 2011

After spending a worthwhile 2 hours with the Ukrainian tax man yesterday I bumped into a journalist friend who works for one of the local newspapers.

Working hard like all Ukrainian journalists, he had time to go for a coffee and sit and chat.  Inevitably the subject of freedom of the press arose as did the right to privacy.

In effect, Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention vis a vis Article 8.

Article 10 basically provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas, but allows restrictions for the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety,  prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health or morals, protection of the reputation or the rights of others, preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence and maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

In a nutshell this Article protects the freedom of the press to report.

Article 8 provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence”, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”.  It is under this Article that the right to permanent residency in Ukraine through marriage, parenthood etc is founded.

The issue debated between us was “the right to freedom of expression with the  protection of the reputation or the rights of others” within Article 10 and  “the right to a private and family life, his home and his correspondence” provided under Article 8.

The grey area of what is interesting to the public verses what is in the public interest.  Where does a public figure’s life become absolutely private?  Only within their four walls?  Or does what happen within their four walls also fall within Article 10’s freedom of expression if a public figure is having wild romps with $1000 per hour escorts in a bath full of lukewarm baked beans to get their jollies?

Personally I really don’t care if a public figure is having an affair or not.  I do not care if they are getting their jollies in a bath full of lukewarm baked beans either.  All I care about is if that are on my tax-paying clock they do that job to the best of their ability during working hours or if they are a performer, I come away from their show feeling I got my money’s worth.

I really don’t see what they do in their private life, not matter how bizarre as long as it is legal, is newsworthy or interesting.  What they do whilst being paid with my money in their professional working hours and public figure capacity is.

Too liberal on my part?  Should I care more that “political X” frolics with highly paid escorts in a bath of baked beans funded by his or her own money (not mine), or should I care that the same politician X pulls off a wonderful piece of statesmanship that supports my interests before or after enjoying the bizarreness of a lukewarm bath of baked beans with a buxom nymphomaniac?

Should there be a presumption that Article 8 trumps Article 10 or that Article 10 trumps Article 8?  Is this a judgement for the editor or the courts, or both if the editors decision is subsequently challenged, despite a possible wrong having already been done by publishing.

Even if, and sadly it is not always the case, it happens to be true and the facts are checked and corroborated by the press, that public figure X enjoys a bath of lukewarm baked beans with hired partners,  if it happens in their own home and no laws are broken, should this be front page news?

Although it wouldn’t be interesting to me, to others it would be interesting.  But interesting to the public is not the same the as in the public interest.  There are enough nefarious and opaque dealings far more interesting and quite probably of public interest that occur in the corridors of power that never see the light of day let alone the front page of a newspaper.

So a question for you dear readers, should Article 10 take precedence over Article 8 or vice versa?

I tend to think it is a case by case or story by story judgement but if the wrong decision is made by an editor either a  somebody’s character is besmirched unnecessarily or a genuine story with good cause for publication is squashed.

Difficult eh?

How do you stop an anonymous blogger like me, quite possibly hiding their IP address as well, writing what they like anyway?  My host and server have no idea who I am or where to find me, so going after them to track me down would be pointless.

Even more of a conundrum now?

 

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Tax of the Ukrainian kind

October 25, 2011

Just a very quick post today.  Hopefully tomorrow normal service will resume with something more worthy of your attention.

Suffice to say, having engaged and emerged victorious with HMRC, the UK tax man last month as you dear readers are awware, I now go into battle with the Ukrainian tax man today.

They say these things come in 3’s, so I suppose I will have a letter from the Russian Federation’s tax man next.

That said, the Ukrainian issue is not a major issue and related to tax due on selling assets here.  As the law is actually quite accommodating in this particular case, if I can delay the completion date of an asset sale until 1 January 2012 or thereafter (so 3 January seems like a reasonable completion date) I should avoid an unneccessary $7000 in tax…….assuming I understand the law correctly.

Today I will see if I do……..or not!

Meanwhile Ukraine has announced direct flights to Sri Lanka and Cuba, two of my favourite holiday locations, so if I am right that $7000 will quickly be spent in either Gala or Havannah by the good woman undoubtedly.

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