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The imminent changes at the top occurred – Now what?

August 29, 2016

A few days ago an entry appeared forewarning of changes at the top within the Ukrainian political and civil service elite – forecasting that Boris Lozhkin would move on from Head of the Presidential Administration (as he has been trying to do for some time, wanting to return to the business world) and that in all probability Igor Rainin would cease to act as Head of Kharkiv Regional Administration and replace Mr Lozhkin (due to Mr Rainin being the least controversial choice for those that will be remaining within the Presidential Administration – and also the easiest to replace holding an Oblast level position).

It went on further to suggest Mr Lozhkin would not be completely released from the Presidential grasp/circle but could very well be appointed head of the newly invigorated National Investment Council.

Lo, all such predictions came to pass on 29th August – with the minor deviation of Mr Lozhkin assuming the position of Secretary to the National Investment Council.  (Nevertheless, hopefully most readers would agree the predictions made were close enough for a free to read blog.)

Mr Rainin will be a competent, adequately discreet (and fairly discrete) safe pair of hands as Head of the Presidential Administration.  Shocks to the system he will not cause.

Mr Lozhkin thereby leaves the Civil Service (prior to e-declarations going live with effect from 1st September) yet remains within the Presidential grasp and therefore presidential team no matter how indirectly it may appear.  Regardless of title and position, his unofficial “shadow rank” within the elite of the Ukrainian elite firmly keeps him within the inner sanctum of trusted Presidential advisers with easy access to the body (President).

He is now therefore free to return to the business world without annoying e-declarations and other such bureaucratic requirements, whilst also promoting (and to be blunt he will be driving) the National Investment Council.

Presumably the existing Investment Support Office will be rapidly (although probably not officially) subordinated to the NIC – and by extension to Mr Lozhkin.  Reading between the lines of Prime Minister Groysman’s statement regarding Mr Lozhkin’s new position such inference can certainly be drawn.

Boz

A reader may ponder who Mr Lozhkin will attract to the newly invigorated National Investment Council as he is very well though of internally and externally of Ukraine – and it was he that invited and convinced the foreigners that formed part of the Yatseniuk Cabinet.  Ergo it would be no surprise to see some very competent people appear as leading lights within the NIC.

Clearly with Ukrainian GDP growing at about 1.5% per annum that is not enough to provide a “feel good” factor among the electorate to return President Poroshenko (and parliamentary team) to power when elections arrive.  Annual growth of approximately 5% however could well (and probably would) do so as long as elections can be kept to their projected timelines per statute and not forced to arrive early.

Although it may be wishful thinking, 2.5 years with GDP growth of 5% (or more) consecutively wins a lot of votes – especially in mercantile cities like Odessa.

Mr Lozhkin will therefore be faced with the same existing statute that prevents significant FDI that has frustrated Governor Saakashvili, whose long list of legislation that requires repealing and/or amending has seen no traction within the Verkhovna Rada.

It seems unlikely that Mr Lozhkin will succeed without forcing some (if not the majority) of the very same statutory and de-regulatory issues already raised and submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by the Odessa Governor.  The question therefore is whether Mr Lozhkin can gather Verkhovna Rada momentum swiftly in order to give himself a chance of changing the economic fortunes in time to support the president by the time elections come around?

Further where is FDI going to be most effective when it comes to national development (and no doubt also in his mind, winning the Poroshenko political entities votes)?

The days of mining and metals as economy leaders, and with both being major employers (and exporters) are on the wain.  Road and rail infrastructure projects, of which there are innumerable, are potentially significant employers.

The necessity to bring the Ukrainian Military Industrial Complex to the modern day also presents significant opportunity.

The IT industry which suffers no oligarchy market capture, and boasts a significantly high proportion of globally recognised qualified people, simply has to be left to do its innovative thing – with support where necessary/possible, but otherwise unobstructed or interfered with.

Agriculture is and will remain a major economic driver (and should any reader have $150 million(ish) for investment in a 230 hectare, high tech farming corporation – this blog is aware of one discreetly for sale “off market”).  Thus the agro-industrial complex will have to be a top priority for FDI if the sector is to become more efficient.

The Ukrainian aerospace industry appears to be doing fairly well, but can do much better with some smart investment and a “harder” sales initiative.

The continuing clean-up of the banking sector by the NBU presents an ever-improving market place for entry (and if a reader has $40 million(ish) the blog is aware of a particularly healthy bank for sale “off market”).

There is of course the impoverished yet potentially massive tourism industry (perhaps with the “added incentive” of legalised gambling returning one day).  The blog is aware of numerous experienced international gambling entities waiting to enter Ukraine – Turkey, Israel, Georgia etc have all contacted the blog regarding legislative updates and visited potential locations for casinos in the past 9 months.  FDI money for this there is – legislation prevents.  (Should a reader have $12 million(ish) the blog is aware of a small gated and profitable beach front resort for sale “off market”).

There is also the expansion of the existing pharmaceutical and chemical industry that should not be overlooked – neither should energy extraction/production/infrastructure.

(Getting out of the way of SME’s wherever possible will also bring about swift local economy benefits, but clearly this falls outside of the competence of a National Investment Council charged with finding and protecting big money investment.)

Thus it is not only going to be a question of how many $ billions Mr Lozhkin can attract (and protect) by way of FDI (and in what time scale), but also what areas are deemed a governmental priority and his ability to nudge investors that way.  Investors can be strange creatures and want to invest in areas that are not governmental priorities – unsurprisingly.  Some have no interest in PPP, others only in PPP.  Some are quite rigid in their internal governance and expectations, EBRD etc., where as others, for example “Investment Fund X”, may be far more flexible.

Having now written all this, a reader may perhaps ponder just how much time Mr Lozhkin will have to return to his own businesses, and the business world – which was the reason for his wanting to leave the Presidential Administration in the first place.

(As an aside – Teasers for the “off market” assets mentioned (and others) are available for investors subject to the usual NDA/contractual requirements.)

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