Archive for June, 2012

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PACE to send 41 election observers to Ukraine

June 30, 2012

You will recall I wrote about Ukraine’s invitation to external bodies to send election observers for the forthcoming elections back in March.

The Council of Europe/PACE has stated it will send 41 observers under the supervision of Andreas Gross of Switzerland.  Mr Gross has written two rather interesting papers over the past 4 years relating to democracy in Europe for those who may want to know more about him.

Undoubtedly 41 observers is the tip of the iceberg, as with observers from NGOs and other entities, you can anticipate about 2000 official monitors or more I suspect.

It is unclear whether they will be long term observers, studying media time in the run-up to the elections themselves, or short term observers monitoring the actual elections only.  Maybe a bit of both?

Anyway, it seems some readers have decided to monitor the media themselves, as I suggested back in March, to assess for themselves, free and fair media coverage of those partaking.

As a tweet from one such person two days ago states “So tired of Natalia Korolevska adverts at every match ( viewers only). I think that alone is reason to not vote for her. .”

I have also commented recently in several posts about the extremely aggressive and 24/7 media time Natalia Korolevska is getting.  Not that it is necessarily a bad thing that an opposition party leader and her party are getting so much air time, she is after all, fighting for her political life having effectively been excommunicated by Ms Tymoshenko and the BYuT despite being a loyal and high-flying supporter of Ms Tymoshenko for many, many years.

Needless to say, she will need to be very active to gain 5% of the national vote in October to remain in political life.

However, one wonders, should her relentless media machine continue to take the same amount of media time, just how much time will be left for other parties.  Of course it is impossible to guarantee the exact same amount of media time across so many channels and broadcasting stations, but for the elections to be deemed free and fair, that amount of media time should be fairly close for all parties and personalities in the race.

So far, not even the current government comes close to the media time Ms Korolevska is buying and this is before the official 90 day electioneering begins.  Will PACE or any other official observers take this into account?  Will they count only the media time within the official 90 day electioneering period and ignore what is seemingly a media war of attrition on voters by Ms Korolevska that has been underway for a month or more and shows no sign of abating?

Further, how do you monitor the “United Opposition” media time when it is made up of numerous parties, some of which are unwilling members of this coalition and have a different message to others in this unholy alliance that they wish to convey to the voting public?

Maybe it is better to simply stick to noting small election violations, such as political photographs or portraits on walls within voting centres that have no effect on elections (but are recorded quite properly as a violation) to those major violations such as vote rigging and vote buying as engaged in by all major parties historically that can change the course of an election, but long term observations are a necessity.

Can BYuT media time be counted as Front for Change time or CPP time all being in the “United Opposition?  Should they all be given the same amount(ish) of media time thus giving the United Opposition more time than other opposition and majority parties?

How to count the media time given?

Personally I will continue to count individual party time, particularly as there is no guarantee the “United Opposition” will hold together until the elections are over (although I think it probably will as things stand today).

Well, I will count individual party time if they ever get the chance to get on air.  For now, more and more  Korolevska seems to be what is ahead.

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Bananas, tanks, Ukraine and Sudan

June 29, 2012

What do bananas, tanks, Ukraine and Sudan have in common?

Actually nothing, but I attempt to make a case that they should have something in common – binding international treaties.

Anmesty International have just produced a report in which Ukraine is identified as a sinner for supplying at least 75 T72M1 (and many more T54/55’s) battle tanks to Sudan via nefarious routes through Kenya and Uganda, and the usual opaque shell companies normally associated with State companies of Ukraine to siphon off backhanders.

In this case, State owned Ukrinmash and two shell companies involved in the “shipping” of the tanks, UK registered Marine Energy Trading Company LLP and Isle of Man registered Ace Shipping.

The instances, it should be pointed out for the purposes of fairness, occurred between 2007 – 2009 and therefore are not transgressions that can be placed at the current governments door, but of the last one.  It should also be pointed out that Ukraine stopped this trade with Sudan after heavy pressure from the USA behind closed doors, with the Tymoshenko government denying any such trade until confronted with satellite photographs by the US.

Well that takes care of Tanks, Ukraine and Sudan, what about bananas?

Well here is an interesting and yet difficult to believe fact.

There are absolutely no global binding international treaties (yet) on the sale of conventional weapons and small arms (less any UN resolutions which are indeed rare events given the vested and normally opposing interests of the UNSC).  In fact the WTO goes out of its way to exclude such weapons from its scope.

Bananas on the other hand, are subject to 3 globally binding international trading treaties and a strictly adhered to voluntary codex as well.

Here is a list of those existing (or not in the case of small arms and conventional weaponry) international globally binding treaties.

The question then must be asked, where, behind my wife’s friend Svetlana, are all the tanks on the tracks at Odessa docks heading (which was taken only a few days ago)?

Somewhere transparent or another nefarious transaction?  We would certainly know if they were bananas!

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Are the words of the prophets written on the subway walls?

June 28, 2012

As is well known to all EU citizens (and some other nationalities), they do not need a Visa to enter Ukraine for up to 90 days in a 180 day period.  It has been this was since 2005/6 for most.

As is well known to all Ukrainians, the reciprocal approach has not yet been delivered, although an official roadmap to achieving this was given to Ukraine in October 2011 and through Ukraine’s own ineptitude, (or rather business squabbles over who will produce the necessary biometric passports required) matters have not progressed as far  and as quickly as they could have.

The issue of who will produce the passports was resolved last week and production of biometric passports will commence in December.  Thus there remains the matter of data protection of the biometric data to legislatively deal with at RADA level.

All jolly good except there is also the issue of several amendments to the initial  roadmap that need to be signed and ratified by certain EU entities.  Those entities namely the European Commission and European Council.  For those unaware of exactly who does what and how things work between the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council, I wrote a a very brief explanation back in February.

However, one wonders why MEPs are now calling on the European Commission and European Council to sign and ratify the amendments to the roadmap.

Firstly, European Commissioner for European Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policies, Stefan Fule, is consistently on the record stating that Visa-free is not an issue to be tied to any other political issues.  He continuously rattles off the policy line that Visa-free is about people to people contact and is not subject to any other political influences or policies other than the required statutory and technical obligations of those nations offered Visa-free with the EU.   A pure and wholesome policy motivator indeed, and a founding overarching principle from the conception of the EU itself.

Ergo, if the European Commission are to believe and act upon the words of one of their most prominent and public figures, let alone one of the EU’s own founding principles, there is absolutely no reason for the delay in the European Commission in signing and ratifying these amendments to a roadmap the Commission itself gave to Ukraine only last year.  By signing the amendments, they do not speed up the readiness of Ukraine to meet the legal and technical requirements or decrease the evaluation time to see these legal and technical changes work, which is likely to be a year or two.

What possible reason can the European Commission give for delaying the signing and ratifying of the amendments to their own roadmap that does not make Stefan Fule seem a liar, namely political strings that he regularly states are not attached?  Does he speak for the EU Commission or not?  Is Visa-free really about people to people contact without any other political influences as he so often states, or is it to become a political lever to use against the current Ukrainian government over unrelated issues the EU has concerns about, in complete and utter contradiction to what Stefan Fule says on behalf of the European Commission?

Next we have the European Council who also have yet to sign and ratify the amendments.  Quite possibly a more tricky proposition given it is compromised of 27 sovereign national representatives each with their own position and thus consensus must be reached.  However, consensus must have been reached for the initial roadmap to be given to Ukraine in the first place and the pending amendments negotiated either with or in the full knowledge of the European Council are unlikely to be much of a hurdle if at all.

This becomes even more difficult to explain when only this week, the European Council penned and passed very quickly, a roadmap for Visa-free with Turkey.  That would be Turkey with a worse reputation for human rights abuses than Ukraine, Turkey with a far worse reputation for media control but also Turkey who will be very useful regarding Syria right now, not to mention a booming economy and a key reliable energy producing and transportation route for the EU.  A carrot for Turkey of course, but a carrot tainted with politics in contradiction to the people to people ideology the EU claims is the pure and only motivator behind Visa-free agreements.

That is not to say Turkey will get Visa-free any faster than Ukraine, but it serves as an example of just how quickly the EU institutions can act with a third nation if it suits their interests.

It has become quite apparent from the Turkish opinion polls that the Turkish public have less and less time for the EU (much like the public of the EU nations to be fair) and now in Ukraine, anti EU graffiti stating “Stop EU” is starting to appear (above the red scrawl in the below photograph) where once it was never seen, despite all major political parties claiming to be pro-EU.

For the EU to loose the public goodwill of the Turkish is careless, to loose that of Ukraine as well is shear stupidity.  The writing, as we can see, is now starting to appear on the wall.  That said, both Turkish and Ukrainian public are very well aware of what Stefan Fule says relating to Visa-fee and also quite aware of the actions of the EU which do not seem to add real substance to his words, all to often seeming to contradict them in fact.

This is also something reflected in comments by some of the greatest friends the EU has in Russia who continually appeal publicly for the EU to do as it says and not spout empty promises and rhetoric in various policy areas.

It seems generally amongst the citizens of the nations in the EU neighbourhood, they are getting very tired of hearing “Yes” when it really means “No”, and are getting rather bored of waiting for the EU to actually walk its own  talk.  The people of the surrounding nations, maybe unsurprisingly, are becoming rather dismissive of EU plans, strategies and promises meant to engage them.

That said, the EU is rapidly becoming perceived as an irrelevance when it comes to influence, even amongst its most ardent supporters, so maybe the dismissive attitude of the people outside the political classes on its borders  has some merit.

Meanwhile, let’s see what happens with the signing and ratification of amendments to the EU Visa-free roadmap.  In all honestly, even if signed and ratified tomorrow, Ukraine is unlikely to be in a position to push for the implementation of Visa-free for 3 or 4 years due to its own ineptitude.

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Ukrainian officials should be treated in Ukrainian hospitals – Tomenko

June 27, 2012

When one considers the shear scale of reforms and improvements necessary for Ukraine to close the social, legal and democratic gaps with its neighbours, it is quite an awesome task for any leadership.  That said, with regards to democracy, if Ukraine treads water long enough there is a real possibility that its neighbours will regress to where Ukraine is.  Particularly in the case of the EU institutions themselves as is becoming more and more apparent to the citizens of the EU.

However, amongst the massive amount of internal issues for Ukraine is the recovery of its health system which, certainly since independence, has been allowed to rot on a national scale if we disregard the private health care services which meet (and occasionally surpass) western standards and value for money.

That is not to say the standards of the doctors or medical staff in Ukraine is poor.  The conditions they work in and salaries they receive in the State system however are far below the expected standards of western Europeans.  My brother-in-law, for example, is a well regarded brain surgeon who on 4 occasions has been approached by the USA to relocate and work there.  He has, needless to say, refused all attempts to head-hunt him and continues to work in a State hospital in Odessa.  Not only is he a man who takes his Hippocratic oath very seriously but he is also very passionately patriotic to Ukraine.  Bravo!

Indeed, so well is he regarded that he is flown across Ukraine and Russia on occasion in order for his expertise to be practiced on the more affluent members of the Slavic society over and above his daily work with us common folk.

That brings me rather neatly to a recent bill submitted to the RADA by Tymoshenko’s top ranking RADA man, Mykola Tomenko, Deputy Chairman of the RADA.  He has issues with the top politicians seeking medical treatment outside Ukraine, something which he considers undermines and stunts the development of the national health system in Ukraine.

Naturally, we can pass a cynical eye over the timing of this, not only with an election on the very near horizon, but we can also ponder why it was not submitted when his political leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, was doing all she could to get treatment in Germany for so many months, instead of in Ukraine.

Now it has become clear such treatment will not be forthcoming in Germany for her, all of a sudden, a bill stating all  politicians should be treated in Ukraine is forthcoming. – Hmmm!

Notwithstanding this particular issue, it is commonplace for politicians who are about to be held accountable for their actions, disappear and suddenly reappear in foreign hospitals with apparently serious conditions.  Just not serious enough to have ever stopped their nefarious acts prior to any investigation of course.

Now he does have a point, more famous/infamous/affluent public figures attending Ukrainian hospitals, who would most certainly subsequently complain loudly and publicly about the conditions within State hospitals would not be a bad thing.  However, everybody in Ukraine is quite well aware of the condition of Ukrainian State maintained and State run hospitals.  That is the reason why the famous/infamous/affluent choose to seek medical treatment abroad in the first place.  It is not news to anybody.

We should also not turn a blind eye to the fact that when Mr Tomenko was in power and holding a very senior position within Ms Tymoshenko’s party,  they actually did nothing to remedy the issues of State provided medical care and the conditions Ukrainian doctors have to work within.

In fact the only major stories I recall health related during the time he and his party were in power concern a multi-million US$ planned hospital by ex-President Yushenko’s wife that never appeared (but the money disappeared), and Ms Tymoshenko  jerking her knee over a flu pandemic that never came and paying well over the odds for vaccines that were never used.  There was also an issue of buying numerous new ambulances at inflated costs via a protracted and opaque procurement prior to the Presidential election in 2009/10 and slapping “Vote Yulia” stickers all over them, but that is about it.

Anyway, returning to this bill submitted by Tomenko, it does raise questions about free choice, free markets and personal liberties.  I have a close friend who owns a very well known restaurant in central Odessa who has problems with one of his legs.  He regularly goes to Germany for treatment.  3 or 4 times a year in fact.

Now he could go to a hospital like Into-Sana in Odessa (which is accepted by all major US medical insurers and is outstanding I will add) but he likes to visit Germany and wander about whilst there when not being treated.

Why should he be allowed to freely go to Germany for treatment and yet any Ukrainian politician or senior official be prevented from doing so because of the office they hold?  Why should their rights to seek treatment where ever they choose be curtailed?

Heaven forbid Mr Tomeko has a very serious health issue, but if he does, is he, despite his wealth and considerable influence, going to stay in Ukraine in a standard State run hospital?  At the very least one suspects he will go to a private Ukrainian hospital which is financially just as far out of the reach of many Ukrainians as being treated abroad.

Normally I have time for Mr Tomenko as he is one of the better and more considered politicians within the BYuT camp, however, this is the second time this year I find myself at odds with his policies or public statements regarding personal freedoms and liberties.

Quite simply, any Ukrainian citizen, regardless of office or public persona, should have the right to freely choose where they will be treated for whatever ailments they have if they can afford to do so.

What Mr Tomeko should be thinking about, should he be returned to the governing powers after the October elections, is how to repair and maintain the existing hospitals Ukraine has, how to increase the wages of the health staff employed by the State, and how to effectively implement those upgrades without the budget being pocketed by corrupt and nefarious central government and regional officials.

That would do far more for the development of the State health services than attempting to force MPs to be treated in Ukrainian hospitals.

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United Opposition adds another party to its cause

June 26, 2012

Whether or not you agree with the changes to the electoral laws that passed through the RADA at the end of last year, you will recall that both the current ruling PoR party and the biggest opposition party, BYuT, voted for the changes.  As I wrote at the time, it was the death of the small parties.

And so it comes to pass that the Civil Position Party, headed by a very capable Anatoliy Hrytsenko, has been forced to join the United Opposition coalition, recognising that failing to do so will lead to political oblivion because the CPP is unlikely to gain the required 5% or more threshold of national votes under the new laws.

A scenario no doubt envisaged when the BYuT voted the new laws through with their arch rivals PoR.  Indeed, for the BYuT, which calls itself the leaders of the “democratic forces”, the forced partnerships the bill they voted for will create is somewhat less than democratic and will eventually lead to borg-like assimilation of the smaller parties in the years ahead, ultimately reducing voter choice.

It is quite clear from Hrytsenko’s statements on Kanal 5, that joining the “United Opposition” was not something he or his party wanted to do, but with only 1 million or so dependable voters and small financial backing, the survival of the party came first.  That said he remained highly critical of the “United Opposition” (and ruling PoR naturally).

Once again, the “United Opposition”, just as when they were in power only a few years ago, seems to be forming from  a coalition of pressed men rather than volunteers.  As the saying rightly goes, 1 volunteer is better than 10 pressed men, and the last time the pressed men of the now opposition ran the country, there was nothing but in-fighting and political stagnancy.

Even if the “United Opposition” manage to hold themselves together long enough to get through the elections, should they win,  one wonders just how long these pressed men can stay together before the internal fault lines reappear and this coalition falls apart – again.

Pressed men have a tendency to resent their situation and occasionally mutiny.  Don’t be surprised to see this happen sooner or later amongst this begrudging coalition.

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RADA holidays to be delayed?

June 25, 2012

Friday 6th July will have been a date circled in chunky red crayon by all the members of the RADA, be they majority or opposition, since the beginning of the parliamentary year, as it is the last working day before their summer holidays.

The days to strike off prior to 6th July are becoming few on each and every “chuffed chart” belonging to each and every RADA member.

However, according to Oleksandr Yefremov, leader of the PoR there is every chance they will push through an extension of this sitting for another week to get 30 urgent bills through in this session.  That would mean the session ends, maybe somewhat appropriately depending upon how you view this lawmaking session,  on Friday 13th!

Thus the questions is, if there are 30 urgent bills to get through the RADA before MPs go off on their holidays, will the opposition block the RADA in response to any of them insuring the session is extended from 6th to 13th July, or will those pre-booked holidays in exotic countries take precedence allowing everything outstanding to sail through the RADA unchallenged?

Tough decisions eh?

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Ex Environment Minister released from prison by Kyiv Court of Appeal

June 24, 2012

Slow down!  Don’t get too excited about a change of policy by the current Ukrainian government over ministers from the last one.

It seems Heorhiy Flipchuk has had his 3 year prison sentence commuted to a 2 year suspended sentence having paid financial reparations for his alleged losses to the State budget.

Justice or coercion?  That is the question.

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Ukraine – Social Media and Anti-Corruption

June 23, 2012

Whilst on Dnipropetrovsk 24 TV, a local channel, Prime Minister Azarov, a very frequent Facebook user, suggested that whilst he encourages anybody to inform authorities of corruption within their ranks, should they wish to do so, he encourages them to inform him personally via Facebook.

This idea was then given a national broadcast via the government website.

A waste of time many will immediately think, considering many consider the government corrupt as well, which indeed it is, as were all previous governments.

However, one has to suspect that this is not aimed at top level government corruption amongst the elite of the elite but at the regional fiefdoms and regional administrations that have the most direct and obvious interference and coercion in peoples lives via daily bureaucracy.

As I have written more times than I can remember here, when it comes to stifling reforms and robustly obstructing anything decreed by Kyiv that will interfere with regional administrations and regional agency graft, no Ukrainian government has ever come close to combating this problem.

All mightily fail where policy implementation is concerned if the regional patriarchy and administrations feel their corrupt practices are threatened by a diktat from those in Kyiv.  So entwined are the regional patriarchy, administration and State agencies, creating a problem for one can lead to severe consequences and retaliation via others seemingly completely unrelated for the vast majority of the citizenry.

Needless to say, formal complaints about corruption are made only by the very principled, quasi-powerful who have friends higher up the patriarchal chain, or who have simply nothing to lose and therefore nothing much to fear.

Complaining of local corruption to local officials about a specific local official or incident is therefore not normally something that is done and also reinforces the perception that all people within the local administrations are corrupt.

That perception is in fact false.  Not all local officials are corrupt.  There are those that will in any conversation, warn that attempting to bribe them is a crime and that they will not be bribed.  I have met many such people in such positions in Odessa and have have that very lecture myself on numerous occasions.

The media, like all media, are good for headlines for a day or two, but in a world of 24 hour news, they soon move on to the next scandal.

Anyway, returning to Prime Minister Azarov and what seems to be an attempt not only to show transparency and taking local corruption seriously in the run up to an election, it brings about a broader point of who to use social media and the Internet to combat corruption.

There are pros and cons to this naturally.  Allegations and the besmirching of character when there is indeed nothing untoward is a distinct possibility.  For administrative or regional agency entities who want to rid themselves of an overly principled individual, a social media campaign by minions of a patriarchal system wanting favours can easily create a storm from nowhere made of numerous groundless accusations.

Reliance on libel or defamation laws in an opaque and crooked legal system is not necessarily a place of redress.  Even if redress is found there, the damage to reputation has already been done.   This is but one example of the possible negative influences of the social media and Ukrainian media in general, who it has to be said, are not always as diligent in their fact checking or corroboration as they could and should be before going to print.

On the positive side, it would serve to draw the attention of more senior government to the actions of specific regional minions and specific allegations of corruption which could then be investigated giving the appearance of, and possibly actually taking on, the regional graft endemic in Ukraine.

If the regional corruption was successfully tackled it would probably remove 95% of all corruption faced directly by the average Ukrainian citizen.  Let’s be honest, there are not that many Ukrainians who play in the corrupt pool of the elite for big stakes and whilst the indirect corruption rife within the senior government naturally has an effect on all Ukrainians, it is not done on a face to face basis as it is with a local pencil pusher in an obscure administrative agency.

One possibility that comes to mind is those who have dealings with the local authorities as contractors and sub-contracts, make public their arrangements with the local authorities, at least as far as the value of those contracts goes.  They are then easily comparable to the figures city hall submit to Kyiv and any large divergence would be spotted quite simply.

The problem is not only clauses of non-disclosure, but also competitive edge when tenders are due in the future.  Any competition will undoubtedly have a keen interest in the value of a contract with the authorities should it be made public to aid transparency against corruption.

The question of anonymous  tip-offs or anonymous whistle blowers is of dubious use.  If the only evidence is an anonymous tip and none other is found, there is no chance of any action against a corrupt official with no witness prepared to given sworn evidence.  On the other hand, it may well cause the eyes of investigators to find enough to take action was their attention is drawn to a certain individual in the regional set up.

For sure, sting operations are a regular event with undercover police paying bribed to nefarious regional people in power.   Unfortunately, all to often they have not had any action taken against them, but the nefarious act has been held over them to make them subservient to those in power in Kyiv.

This I know for an absolute fact has occurred with a city mayor (not Odessa) accepting $2 million in cash in marked money and caught on camera hidden within a womans handbag who handed over the money, and also the director of a private Jewish school taking several thousand US$ to miraculously find a place for a child for the following school year when previously there were no spaces, captured doing the deed in the very same way.

Both caught red-handed, both had no criminal action taken against them, but both became far closer to the then government than they were before.  There is no reason to suspect the police modus operandi has changed any since the new government came in, or that the outcome has been any different when such successes in capturing corrupt officials with marked money and on camera occurs.

Where social media is different, is that such a thing caught on camera can be on You Tube within seconds and viral within a minute, making it far harder to avoid the courts and to use such incriminating evidence to the benefit of any sitting government (whilst leaving a now compliant corrupt official in place).

Already there are dedicated social media groups targeting the traffic police and bribe taking (quite rightly).  As yet none have taken to sting operations against officials who sit behind a desk.

Maybe that will come in due time.

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