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A difference in reform perceptions? Poroshenko v Yatseniuk

April 3, 2015

Over the very many years this blog has been active, and under every successive president, prime minister, sitting Rada, regional governor and mayor, there has been a consistent retort to every mention of “reform” or “fighting corruption” during those years.

There has also been a consistent messaging to those that read this blog, that what is said and/or done in Kyiv, regardless of any policy being good, bad or indifferent, or the intent behind any policy being genuine or malignant, only exceptionally rarely has policy been fully implemented into tangible changes within the provinces.  This due to almost consistently obstructionist leadership (elected or behind the curtain) of these fiefdoms.

That said, it is important to note that there have now been a few reforms under the current national leadership that have been implemented which have had a nationwide impact – NBU policy, Finance Ministry diktats and tax reforms – but they all happen to be those that are centrally implemented with little opportunity for provincial obstructionism, nor having a reliance upon provincial implementation.

This lack of provincial reform is something that President Poroshenko himself acknowledged yesterdayThe lower we go down the vertical, the less the energy of reforms is, and the less changes are felt.  Often people do not feel any changes at all at the level of the city, village or district.” – Undoubtedly true, and nothing unusual as it is how things have always been.  Further, as has also always been the case, much of that has to do with those in Kyiv never actually leaving it, coming to the provinces, and publicly hauling over the coals those that have failed to implement the policies that they are charged to do so by order of the public office they hold.

Indeed, aside from a few low-hanging fruit retired early via lustration, and a few visits to Odessa by the leadership of the political class prior to presidential and Rada elections last year, it is fair to say, the fiefdom elite in Odessa have been otherwise left to do as they have always done, whilst continuing to ignore all possible policy diktats from Kyiv that unduly interfere with their various nefarious schemes.

President Poroshenko went on to state that “the reforms are more noticeable in Kyiv, as the government is being monitored closely by the press, civil society, the opposition and the European partners.”  That, it has to be said, is not entirely fair upon the local media or civil society actors.

Local government is just as keenly monitored and reported upon by the local media and civil society in Odessa, as it is in Kyiv – the difference being that nobody in Kyiv reads about, or if they do, acts upon, the shenanigans of the local officials (and unofficial officials behind the curtain) that are dished up daily in the public arena by local constituents.  Since the (supposedly transformative) events of last year, several leading civil society lights in Odessa have told the author that they feel somewhat abandoned and unheard by Kyiv.   Receptive and responsive central government, it appears, goes no further than Kyiv city limits (or photo-ops/”morale boosting trips”  in the war in the east.)

If, as the president correctly states, reforms are not reaching provinces like Odessa as timely, and as thoroughly as they should be, then whose responsibility is it to ensure that the current problem is swiftly, robustly and publicly corrected?  The problem has been acknowledged after all.

As local media and civil society are doing what a democracy expects of them in highlighting issues daily, and with half of Odessa’s MPs being “opposition”, therefore presumably doing what is expected of them in publicly shafting the government at every opportunity (for their own ends), then, per the list of actors mentioned in the President’s statement, is it the “European partners” who are failing Odessa?  Despite it being far beyond the remit of his current role, should (friend of this blog) Mr Francesco Bastagli and EU staff resident in Odessa be publicly “tutting” more, together with the national Consuls based in Odessa?   Are all the national European Consuls based in Odessa, via their lack of “public tutting”, responsible for the problem?  Are they failing to accurately inform their respective embassies in Kyiv that whatever reforms are occurring in Kyiv, hardly (if at all) make it to Odessa in a tangible way?  Is it perhaps, that those embassies aren’t listening?  If they are, perhaps their respective capitals prefer to ignore it considering the other challenges Ukraine/Kyiv presents?

The answer, alas, is the same answer as it has always been.  Nobody in Kyiv is prepared to visit the provinces (let alone regularly), drag officials over hot coals, sack them for obstructionism, lethargy, or incompetence, or take personal responsibility and a lasting interest in insuring any particular regional fiefdom tows the central policy line (more or less uniformly).

Yes, that is supposed to be what presidentially appointed regional governors do – but generally they fail, particularly when going head to head with democratically elected(ish) nefarious mayors.

As such, whilst keeping the President’s statement yesterday as a lens to the observing eye, there is a statement by the Prime Minister yesterday during a visit to Berlin.  “We will report about those difficult but correct reforms pursued in Ukraine. To ensure our international partners could see that we have a new Ukraine, new approaches and those rules that are shared by the entire European community, providing an opportunity to attract investors and to show that Ukraine has started to fight corruption, Ukraine has changed the tax rules, introduced the tax and fiscal discipline, that Ukraine, step by step, is moving closer to the European Union not just in words but in deeds, including by the adoption and execution of laws.”

Really?  Who is Prime Minister Yatseniuk talking about?  When he says “Ukraine”, does he mean “Ukraine” – or does he mean “Kyiv”?  The President acknowledges a “new visibly reforming Kyiv”, but seems to have doubts about the “new visibly reforming Ukraine” the Prime Minister is talking about, when it comes to structural competence and provincial policy implementation.

perception

Writing from Odessa and knowing the local fiefdom for many years, this blog would tend to side with the presidential understanding of what is new by way of “deep reforming” governance change.

Indeed, aside from nationwide NBU restrictions and Finance Ministry policy and tax changes, the only noticeable changes in Odessa for society, is that within society itself – manifesting as a much more robust connection with Ukraine than has previously been the case.

By way of a few reform (of many possible) examples manifesting in Kyiv vis a vis the rest of Ukraine – in June, Kyiv unveils a newly formed and recruited “Police“, Odessa, like the rest of the nation still has “the Militsia”.  Kyiv is actively pursuing corrupt judges, Odessa (despite having the widely acknowledged second most nefarious courts after Kyiv), like the rest of the nation suffers the same old corrupt incumbents.  Kyiv is sacking and prosecuting corrupt Traffic Police Chiefs, Odessa like the rest of the nation is suffering the same old corrupt incumbents.

Fortunately for Prime Minister Yatseniuk, and perhaps unfortunately for the rest of Ukraine, the international conference to support Ukraine being held on 28th April, is to be held in Kyiv – rather than Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa or any other major city – allowing the image/facade of a “new Ukraine” created by governmental reforms, to be fairly confidently maintained.  Imagine the disappointment of any attendee meeting the leaders from the provincial fiefdoms, or seeing the old dyed-in-the-wool militsia, and discovering that the much vaunted reforms de facto stop at the Kyiv City limits more often than not.  It would have rather prohibitive effects upon “….the next stage is in synergy with our German friends, we will summon an investment conference – in autumn we will gather a large investment conference.

Indeed any autumnal investment conference may be wise to have an undercurrent of provincial investment as the theme – avoiding Kyiv-centric messaging entirely.  If the Europeans/West intend to rebuild Ukraine via financing and encouraging western business to enter Ukraine (with or without domestic government guarantees), they would be wise to distribute that rebuilding/business entry across the nation as a fundamental premise.

In order to do that however, Prime Minister Yatseniuk and the Cabinet of Ministers have to get out of Kyiv far more frequently and take personal responsibility for insuring that the provincial fiefdoms both adhere to, and fully implement, government policy as a matter of priority.  If not, and for example should Mrs Merkel encourage (by hook or by crook) German business to enter Ukraine beyond the city limits of Kyiv, then he will have a whole host of problems generated from across the provinces knocking at his door via the German Ambassador almost daily.

Whatever the case, there is thus a requirement to find an effective mechanism to insure the provinces completely comply with reform policy in a timely manner – with a swift, robust and reliable system of dealing with those that fail to do so – for if provincial reform compliance it is a problem now as the President states, then it is an issue that is likely to become far difficult and prickly when “decentralisation” occurs.

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