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Trends within the ministerial boiler rooms – Ukraine

January 21, 2016

One of the side effects relating to the aftermath of EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity (choose your own widely used label of the two) was the willingness, through want of fear for themselves, of the established political class to swiftly try and dilute their number sufficiently enough to give the perception of change by sucking into their respective party ranks civil society members, journalists, activists and the intelligentsia.

This was accompanied by foreign (now Ukrainian) citizens, and Ukrainian citizens living and/or working abroad too.

One strata of the political central governance structures to see a fairly significant infusion of foreign, (now Ukrainian) citizens and Ukrainian citizens with experience within and significant exposure to “western systems/methodology” was that of the “Deputy Minister” across the Ukrainian ministries.

It is a policy that rarely gets mentioned, though it is difficult to find a Ukrainian ministry that does not have a (fairly) young, driven, western experienced Deputy Minister – normally fluent in English and keen to bring the best of their acquired “western” experience to their respective ministry.

To be blunt, it was – and remains – a good policy to have such driven Deputy Ministers within all the ministries who at the very least prevent ministerial regression, if not always being able to force progress.

Problems with this policy however, relate to the longevity any such Deputy Minister will remain in post.

All patriotically answered the call of Ukraine.  All gave up, or at least took an extended sabbatical, from what were better paid careers in doing so.  There is little doubt that few – if any – answered the cries of their homeland with the intention of entering Ukrainian politics as a career change.  Undoubtedly most answered that national call to prevent State collapse and do their patriotic bit for State building in line with the western models they lived and/or worked within – and always intended to return to.

Depending upon which Deputy Minister one may speak to, some decided to take a year out and reassess the situation thereafter, others two years out.  Almost all express an intention return to their careers after answering the nation’s call.

It is now more than a year since many of these Deputy Ministers have been in post.  Many whilst rightly proud of preventing a failed State and forging “western ties” and sewing the seeds of institutional culture within their ministries, are also privately as frustrated with the pace of reform as any reform activist.  Thus when it comes to assessing what they have achieved, what is still to do and the likely speed at which it will actually be done, difficult and thorny personal decisions are now having to be addressed.   To stay a little longer – or to go as planned? After all, those colleagues they left behind in their previous (mostly western) careers are progressing up the corporate career ladder in their absence.

This not to mention the fact that the legitimate salary of a Ukrainian Deputy Minister is a substantial pay cut for most.

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With all eyes looking toward the reshuffle within the Cabinet of Ministers in the immediate future and the changes that will occur, it will be easy to miss the departure of the young, driven, western experienced and orientated Deputy Ministers, most of whom have and had little interest in a political career, but a desire to build the State from within the ministerial boiler rooms where creative thinking, planning, strategies and tactics are thrashed out.

With the President and Cabinet of Ministers having chosen the slow evolutionary reform path over the swift revolutionary reform path that would have fitted the “career breaks” of the youthful western orientated and experienced Deputy Ministers, the reversal of the “brain drain” witnessed during 2014/2015 will soon be again reversed as the resumption of suspended “western” careers occur.

Already the resignations are beginning.

Thus far First Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Vladimir Shulmeystera and First Deputy Head of the National Bank of Ukraine, Alexander Pisaruk, have now been joined by Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Ruslan Korzh, and Deputy Defense Minister, Yuri Husyev..

Mr Korzh summarised the position quite clearly in his resignation text – “Like most of my colleagues, I have come into the power from business, considering this step as voluntary aid to the country. Today, I am ready to go back to the real business.”

It is sadly, a trend that will probably continue – and one that will remove much of the energetic and western experienced talent that was domiciled within the “Deputy Minister” strata.

That they begin to leave their posts with Ukraine in a far better position than when they put their careers on hold is a credit to them – that Ukraine is nowhere near where it could be after their volunteerism says much more about the Ukrainian political colleagues they leave behind (and perhaps is part of the reason for their return to suspended “western” careers).

Nevertheless, when new Ministers are appointed in the Cabinet reshuffle, it would be wise to keep an eye on the calibre of replacements who sit behind them in the ministerial boiler room too – for they have in some cases of far higher quality than the Minister.

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