Archive for June, 2012

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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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TEDx Event – Odessa

June 22, 2012

No, I’m not joking!

TEDx, for those thinkers amongst you who are prepared to entertain viewing the world through a different lens and contemplating how it could be, have brought some truly memorable presentations to us all:

There are TEDx presentations by people I know such as Charles Crawford, part of whose empire I have written about previously:

Well, TEDx is coming to Odessa on 24th June, again with speakers who I know, talking on the theme of how to combine tradition and technology for development.  Blimey!

The event will be held in the White Acacia conference room at 59 Fransuski Boulevard.

For those visiting Odessa who may wonder what the point would be in attending, as it will all be in a foreign language, I can assure you that at least part of it will be in English, as there is certainly one speaker, who despite many years working in Russia and Ukraine, will present in English as he hasn’t really bothered to learn the local lingo!

Anyway, full details and rouges gallery of speakers can be found here.

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New EU Human Trafficking Strategy 2012 – 2016 (& Ukraine)

June 21, 2012

Here is a fairly long read.  The EU Human Trafficking Strategy 2012 – 2016, as published on 19th June.

It is also, to be fair, a very ambitious document and quite right too.  As it is my pet human rights subject that draws my ire, for me the bar cannot be set high enough even if in setting the bar so high the EU Member States will fall slightly short of it.  There is no point in having something that is all too easily attainable, a tick in the box is given, and the issue filed under “Done”.

Whilst the majority of the responsibility to combat human trafficking naturally lays with the Member States and their domestic agencies, encouraging the mentioned “third countries”, which presumably will be nations such as Turkey and Ukraine as transit routes (extract from the US State Dept Trafficking in Humans Report 2012 released the same day as the EU strategy document), notwithstanding the nations from which the victims are trafficked, will take the collective mass of the EU and EU liaison entities to be as effective as possible.

It remains to be seen just how sincere this strategy will be by placing the victims first and foremost though.

Relying on a readmission to simply dump those trafficked via Ukraine back in Ukraine, or Turkey back in Turkey, and washing EU hands of them thereafter, other than to bemoan the human rights of those returned by the EU to the maladministration of the transit nations hardly seems to sit well with the spirit this strategy wants to convey of prioritising the victim.

Let’s see how this develops over the next few years, not only against the timetable in the document, but also in just how the EU and the Member States deal with the trafficked victims once they are discovered.

After all, the same victims being trafficked, discovered, removed and trafficked once more is not that uncommon and that hardly puts the victims first as this strategy suggests.

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Stray dogs

June 20, 2012

Over a year ago, I wrote rather tongue in cheek, about the issue of stray dogs in Ukraine.

This subject raised its head again prior to the Euro 2012 football tournament commencing when authorities made attempts to remove the stray dog issue prior to fans and tourists descending in the hundreds of thousands to be met by packs of strays running around.

If of an Eastern European heritage, tourists and fans alike would not give the matter a second thought.  It is not only an issue for Ukraine but all the former communist nations both east and west of Ukraine.

There is a neutering programme in some cities, Odessa for instance, but it simply cannot keep up with the reproductive numbers of the strays.  Not only is the neutering programme expensive, it also faces the task of thousands of dogs to neuter, and once neutered, the dogs are released back onto the streets, (identidfied by a red collar as being neutered in Odessa), thus not providing any form of immediate remedy to the issue of today.

In fact given the scale of the issue when the neutering programme started and multiply that by the reproduction of so many dogs not yet neutered, it is easy to see a somewhat King Canute scenario of trying to turn back the tide, in so much as the time it takes to neuter a dog, a lot more have been born somewhere in the region.

Recognising that, Odessa then started a Stalin-esque deportation programme of strays.  They are rounded up in ad hoc purges and taken out into the middle of nowhere and released.  Naturally that is not necessarily the answer either.  If there is no food where they are released they will roam until they find it.  The food trail and good-willed people who feed the strays scraps on a daily basis, naturally leads back to the cities.

Other cities, and this did get media and civil society attention in the prelude to the EURO 2012 tournament, went on a culling spree.  At least until the animal rights and more humane minded citizens found out and caused this solution to stop.

Needless to say, Ukrainian authorities were vilified by such people despite the fact they too have no answers to the immediate problem.  Aside from culling these animals, of course, there is no immediate solution, all other options are long term or hit and miss.  As I say, very much an attempt to turn back the tide that is destined to fail due to the sheer scale of the ever reproducing problem.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, which has a very similar problem (and it is not alone in the former communist nations now within the EU), society has recognised the fact that the authorities simply cannot cope and have taken matters into their own hands.

Yes indeed, the citizens of Izgrev and Istok regions in Sofia have now taken to simply poisoning the dogs in the streets of Sofia, and one presumes, leaving the authorities with the easier task of simply disposing of the carcasses.

If the Ukrainian authorities or Ukrainian public did that, the European media would be writing graphic stories of how un-European Ukraine and Ukrainians are.

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A description of a democratic EU

June 19, 2012

Not exactly anything to do with Ukraine, unless you want to compare democratic deficits which as I have previously written is just political fluff to divert attention from issues closer to home when politicians do so, here is Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament,  outlining a 10 point plan to make the EU democratic.

As this 10 point plan contains absolutely nothing new or groundbreaking when it comes to democracy as most people would understand it, you have to ask just how the EU institutions ever wandered so far from a democratic path (whilst preaching democracy).

It is little wonder than the EU’s friends in Russia and Ukraine are pleading with it to practice what it preaches if it wants any credence when pointing the finger at Yanukovych and Putin etc.

I don’t really think I need to write any more than that!

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Nobel Prize speech – Aung San Suu Kyi

June 18, 2012

Now I, like most people, have listened to many, many speeches.  Like some, I have even given a few, normally penned by myself, so apologies to those who have ever sat through one, small though your number be.

(If, for some reason your are seeking at top drawer speech, do contact Charles Crawford, a man who has written some very famous speeches indeed.)

Anyway, with an interest in human rights, human rights campaigners and thus Aung San Suu Kyi, I listened into her very belated acceptance speech for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize a few days ago.  Very well delivered and quite captivating when all is said and done.

One wonders, if Ms Tymoshenko wins the Nobel Peace Prize that she is nominated for, could deliver such a speech.  Thus far, aside from the obvious plagerism of Vaclav Havel in her Christmas message from her cell, she has yet to come close to such a balanced speech – ever.

That said, she has yet to win it and there are certainly more worthy potential winners, even as close to home as Belarus to my mind, before looking globally.

Nevertheless, a very good speech by Aung San Suu Kyi, which is the entire reason for this post.

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New Economy, New Country – Natalia Korolevska

June 17, 2012

New economy, new country?

As many of you readers will know, since this blog began years ago, when talking of political personalities,  the likes of Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have long been seen as an anchor to the recycled Soviet machinery, so mired in their opaque and murky past that they cannot escape it – and neither should they.

Since 2010 Yatsenuik, Tigipko and now since her falling out with Tymoshenko, Natalia Korolevska are three faces that are likely to become “the” political faces of Ukraine in the next decade when the Ukrainian public eventually consign the corrupt hangover of Tymoshenko/Yanukovych and their ilk to the political leadership rubbish bin.

There are one or two others as well, and as and when, they will be written about.

Of note, for any election monitors looking at media coverage ahead of October’s parliamentary elections, Natalia Korolevska is hardly ever off my screen at the moment in Odessa.  Whether she thinks Odessa is there for the taking, I’m not sure.  Yatseniuk who has history with Odessa, has a far better chance of taking it from the PoR than she does in all truthfulness.

Anyway, on 15th June, Ms Korolevska turned up in Odessa to present and talk about her draft  programme “New economy, new country”.  I am keen to say something positive as amongst the younger generation of Ukrainian politicians, she will become a leading light in my opinion, despite the fact she has made hundreds of millions of US$  by allegedly nefariously navigating the “old economy, old country” in order to buy her way into the RADA in 2006 and dodgy dealing within that elite business cesspit ever since, vastly increasing her personal wealth (although now her business interests have been transfered to her husband’s name I’m led to believe in some vein effort to distance herself from them.)

Unfortunately, finding something positive to say is not that easy when it comes to her “New economy, new country” programme, despite the fact I am looking for a spark of light in a very dark tunnel when it comes to Ukrainian politics.

Ms Korolevska enlightened Odessa with tales of “economic miracles” and her vision of a Ukrainian miracle is average salaries of Euro 1000 and pensions of Euro 500 each month.

Perhaps if her historical leader Ms Tymoshenko, vigorously defended by Ms Korolevska to the point of nominating her for the Nobel Peace Prize until they fell out,  hadn’t authorised such a crippling gas deal running from 2009 – 2019, there would be a few extra $ for pensions or education or health?  (On the presumption that the current government wouldn’t have wasted it in some other way, which is highly likely.)

So returning to “economic miracles” as proposed by Ms Korolevska as the saviour of Ukraine,  where, who, how and when does this “economic miracle” arrive with Ukraine, and possibly more importantly given that good policy is often robustly resisted by the regional fiefdoms, how and who would insure its effective implementation?

Well, according to her, she has been collecting data from countries where economic miracles have occurred, where the structure of the economy has been changed, where jobs in the very short term have been created, where the size, scale and diversity of the economy has grown.

That shouldn’t have taken long, there are numerous in-depth studies by academics of good standing to be found on the Internet, and to be quite honest, as she herself stated in 2006 when she joined the Ukrainian parliament, “it seems that everyone here is well aware of the difficulties, but nobody makes an attempt resolve them and to help the people.”  Nonetheless, if she has found the time to compile her own studies and recommendations between visiting Davos and the Brussels bubble, fair play to her.

Exactly which nations “economic miracles” she has studied and drawn conclusions from are a mystery.  How they can and will be transposed to Ukraine to transform its economy also remains unclear.  This is particularly important when Ms Korolevska has previously recommended sacking all judges, prosecutors, lawyers and defenders due to the corrupt legal system and replacing them – without giving a clue where experienced and qualified replacements will actually come from or how they will remain uncorrupted once in office.  Her stance however, is that is cannot be reformed but those currently within the system, despite her stance meaning the system simply ceases to exist when she has sacked everybody in it.

If she did a similar study to that of her “economic miracle” when reforming corrupt legal systems, she would note that no nation has sacked all the judges, lawyers, prosecutors and defenders whilst making those reforms.

So the next question is when this “economic miracle” will manifest itself in Ukraine.  In the 6 years and counting that she has been a RADA MP it has yet to materialise in any shape or form that she is prescribing as the prescription for a “new country”.

The most positive thing I can say about her visit to Odessa, other than the fact she visited Odessa, is that she has things written down, almost manifesto-like.  Apart from that, she said nothing that my butcher, supermarket check-out girl, barman or taxi driver wouldn’t say.  Certainly not enough to make a voter change from who they would normally vote for to vote for her.

Lots of form and absolutely no substance.  Luckily she has several months to up her game…..considerably!

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