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A matter of public (dis)service – Viktor Shokin Prosecutor General

January 12, 2016

Veritable tomes have been written, and never ending statements have been publicly made, over the obstructionism perceived within the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office when it comes to stymieing, delaying and undermining reform within the institution – and more generally across the entire national reform process.  (Indeed only a few days ago was comment made upon what appears to be a very retarded idea within the PGO in tackling such opinion.)

For those that are occasionally granted one to one “chats” (albeit off the record) with the diplomatic community (from Ambassadorial level, to the newly arrived attaché wanting to get a “feel”) in Ukraine – and your author is fortunate enough to be among that number when “straight talk” is sought, given, and often received, whenever they are passing through Odessa – it is fair to state that whatever is orated in public is……well diplomatic, compared to what is said in private – as you would expect.

Suffice to say that if what appears in public may appear “pointed” or “prickly” in tone – the off the record “chats” can contain extremely “blunt and barbed” statements.  The best of conversations, and a no nonsense exchange of views/thoughts/information.

For more than a year, the institution of the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office has featured quite prominently in those chats – regardless of the nationality or position of the diplomat in question that happened to be on the other side of the restaurant table.

Rarely are specific personalities discussed at any length – unless it is a question of providing background about who is doing what to whom, why, when, what, and how – as well as the history behind it.  More often than not, bigger picture issues are discussed, for many of Ukraine’s problems are institutional regardless of the personalities currently involved.

Ergo, the personalities in situ are most often less of a problem than the institutional culture, and therefore simply changing those personalities would accomplish little more than changing the face at the top rather than addressing the of the root problem.  The matter of institutional public service ethos – or the lack of it – is recurring subject of conversation.

This situation is slowly changing however – albeit it will take a long time to fully manifest (if it can actually withstand the headwinds).  As that institutional ethos slowly changes, then the “difficult” personalities take on a different light.  Those public servants at the top have to serve the public just as earnestly their institutions are beginning to attempt to do.

Mr Shokin

Mr Shokin

One such public servant is of course the Prosecutor General, of whom as stated at the beginning, there is an enormous amount of recent prose written, both within the domestic and international media – the vast majority of which is far from supportive.  Thus with a few notable exceptions within, the PGO’s office, and the Prosecutor General himself, are widely perceived to be generally providing a public disservice, rather than a public service.  Ultimately of course, the buck stops with the Prosecutor General, for he is in charge of his institution.

That perception is not helped by yet further revelations that Mr Shokin has actively prevented Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko, who is charged with international cooperation, asset forfeiture and asset recovery – among other things – from fulfilling his role.

Letter to Shokin

As the above letter from the US makes clear, Mr Kasko has been actively hindered in his professional role by Mr Shokin.  Yet this is not the first instance where the Prosecutor General has prevented his Deputy from actively fulfilling the role he has been given.

The same obstructionism for Mr Kasko has presented itself with proposed meetings with the Council of Europe (and others).  Indeed MP Svitlana Zalischuk cites 5 occasions when the Prosecutor General has prevented his Deputy, charged with international cooperation, from attending international gatherings and cooperating with the international community.

It is simply unfathomable that on 5 occasions, a public servant has been prevented from fulfilling the duties of which he is charged, by the only public servant with the authority to prevent him from doing so – to the detriment of the Ukrainian public they both are supposed to serve.

Undoubtedly the ever-growing public disquiet with Mr Shokin’s retention will continue to grow, as will the political calls for his resignation within the Verkhovna Rada – and yet it seems unlikely that President Poroshenko, who appointed him, will remove him in the immediate future (even when Mr Shokin’s ill-health provides a face-saving opportunity for both).

From what this blog is led to believe (by reliable sources), it was, and currently remains, the presidential plan to retain Mr Shokin in his role throughout 2016 to manage the “transition of the prosecutor’s office”.  That plan, daily, seems more and more untenable, and will continue to cost the President political points the longer he retains Mr Shokin – both with the Ukrainian constituency and almost certainly with Ukraine’s external supportive “friends” and certain international institutions with which the President claims to want deeper and further integration.

A perhaps deeper problem is that thus far President Poroshenko has appointed 3 people to the position of Prosecutor General during his term, all of whom have failed to meet the expectations of the public – or the international community.  Results under them all have thus far been woeful – unless you happen to be among those that should be prosecuted, and the public expect to be prosecuted – but thus far haven’t been.

Would any forth Presidential appointment bring the just results necessarily required, compared to the previous three appointments?

Does President Poroshenko have the integrity to appoint a Prosecutor General that will genuinely serve the public without fear or favour, rather than be perceived serve President Poroshenko?

Is it a matter of timing rather than a matter of integrity when appointing a genuinely independent, public serving, Prosecutor General?  Does President Poroshenko believe that the nation remains too politically weak to allow the (in)famous, the great and the powerful to be brought down by a Prosecutor General that actually serves the public?

Is it the case (as it so often is during a transition) that certain “understandings” have been reached with the “old guard” that they gracefully bow out mostly unscathed by those that replace them?  Certainly Ihor Kolomoisky makes claim to such an agreement being reached in the prelude to his resignation as Dnepropetrovsk Governor, and Dmitry Firtash was less than discrete during his court appearance in Vienna.   That Rinat Akhmetov remains untouched perhaps indicates that a deal has been reached whereby all concerned recognise that if the occupied Donbas is to return to Ukrainian control, he as the major employer and asset owner of the region, will have a major role to play – a role he can’t play if in jail and won’t want to play if prosecuted now?

Is it to be understood in so simple terms that the deliberate retention of a deeply unpopular (and to be blunt ineffective) Prosecutor General for as long as possible, is to protect grubby little deals that the President currently perceives as necessary to uphold so as to prevent the complete implosion of the country from the top – down?

If so, is his perception right or wrong?

Is it simply that President Poroshenko wants a man loyal to him, rather than to society, at the top of the prosecutor’s machinery, and is thus simply too weak of character to surrender this lever of power – or alternatively too autocratic to do so?

Is there some other reasoning – something far more nefarious?

Irrespective of all those questions, and whatever their answers be, that Mr Kasko, a public servant, not be allowed to fully discharge the duties that the public have charged him with, requires an explanation – publicly.

Would allowing Deputy Prosecutor General Kasko to accept his international invitations have in any way undone any “grand plan” or internal balancing act?  If not, what was the point of such unnecessary obstructiveness?

Is there any other way to view this as anything other than as a public disservice?

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