Archive for August 2nd, 2017

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(Another) Pilot Project – Odessa Port

August 2, 2017

Not much has appeared on the blog regarding Odessa Customs and the ports of Odessa since the resignation of Yulia Marushevskaya and the decampment of the Saakashvili team from Odessa.

Suffice to say as Misha Saakashvili was replaced by Maksim Stepanov as Governor, Ms Marushevskaya was also replaced.

The current head of Odessa Customs is Alexander Vlasov, an individual thus far distinguished by having never been mentioned by the blog other than in relation to the circumstances surrounding the “competition” for his appointment.

Nevertheless, as that entry made clear, despite those dubious circumstances, that did not mean that Mr Vlasov was not the best candidate for the vacancy – “For those wondering about Mr Vlasov’s background, for the first decade of this century he worked within the machinery of the SBU, more recently followed by year or two stints within the Tax Service, and then Economics Ministry.  In 2016 he was the head of the Inter-Regional Management of Operational ATO Support Zone of the SFS (Phantom Unit), with his last position being Chief of the Interdepartmental Center for the Prevention and Detection of Violations of the Law on State of Customs (also known as the “Black Hundreds”).

Prima facie, an impressive resume – so why such a clearly opaque, rigged and rushed “competition?  At the time of writing there is nothing to suggest (serious) nefariousness by Mr Vlasov historically, nor any noted lapses in integrity.  Perhaps some will surface, perhaps there are none to surface.”

Some months on from that entry, Mr Vlasov has not managed to get mired in any scandals.  Nor have any major historical scandals surfaced.  The wise words of Socrates prevail – “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people”, albeit Socrates perhaps would and should allow for some smudging of those lines on occasion, for such discussion infrequently occur in a vacuum but more often aligned to a Zen diagram.

Indeed Mr Vlasov, via his Facebook account, seems quite intent upon keeping the local population up to speed with events at the ports – which may go some way to prevent weak minds doing exactly what Socrates so wisely pointed out.

But what of ideas and the discussion thereof?  Disappointing Socrates would never do.

For sure Mr Vlasov has not managed to irradiate all nefarious events that occur at the ports of Odessa – nor will he.  Yet without ideas, then minds will focus on events and ultimately only upon his ability to curtail the nefarious shenanigans – or not.  Without ideas to mitigate and manage such nefarious shenanigans the perception of progress will simply not manifest under his tenure.  His impressive curriculum vitae almost  demands progress whilst in this role before he can move on.  The ports of Odessa are one of the many poisoned chalices of Ukraine.

Lo, a first major pilot project under his leadership is due to begin on 22nd August.

Some months ago, the concept was floated regarding a “single window” or “one-stop-shop” for car imports via Odessa Port, to be run on the Euroterminal site.  The plan to clear up to 100 cars per day, fully documented, licenced and registered (complete with number plates for any region of Ukraine).

Undoubtedly something that will be beneficial to those whose cars are imported and then have to run around not only Odessa, but further afield, documenting and legalising their car prior to being able to take from the port.  A bureaucratic nightmare.

Administratively therefore, the “autohub” will require seven (yes 7) different government agencies and institutions to work together in a single location to produce all the required clearance and vehicular documents to get a car off of the port premises in a single day.  That, at the very least, will require some form of electronic database incorporation between Customs (which currently falls under the State Fiscal Service, which is itself subservient to the Ministry of Finance) and the Ministry of Interior.  That in turn, following recent headlining Russian cyber attacks on Ukraine, raises questions over cyber security – for the bigger the tent, the more likely there is a weak link within, and the more likely there are incompatibility issues.

Thus there will be problems.  Seamless, at least behind the curtain, is probably a little ambitious from the off- whether or not the public facing “single window” is oblivious or not.

Needless to say the idea and the associated pilot project will be fairly closely followed in Kyiv (perhaps for reasons both good – and bad, if this steps too heavily upon nefarious financial flows into certain expectant pockets).

The development of the pilot project has also been followed by the SBU of Odessa – as has, it should be noted, Mr Vlasov himself.  Naturally the SBU will consider it has genuine reason to keep up to speed regarding this project.  Perhaps it also has genuine reason to put Mr Vlasov under (what appears to be ad hoc) surveillance too – albeit that Mr Vlasov is aware of the SBU surveillance would suggest that either their counter-surveillance techniques are poor, or that the SBU deliberately want him to know they are watching him.

Further the relentless and ever stringent eye of Odessa civil society and anti-corruption activists, which in the case of the ports of Odessa is most prominently fronted by Viktor Berestenko, will no doubt be swift to offer a critique of the pilot project – perhaps too quick.

However, the blog (as always) chose its words carefully upon the appointment of Mr Vlasko as the Odessa Customs Chief, suggesting that some months need pass before any form of impact assessment – be it for the better or for the worse – was made.  The same will surely apply regarding the success of this project – or not.

Mr Vlasko holds his final preparatory meeting regarding the “autohub” pilot project on 10th August at 1500 hours – with an open invitation for all that would wish to attend.  It would appear, short of any final and/or last minute tweaking, the project commencement date will remain 22nd August.

So to the question of how to measure the success of the project?

The speed and simplicity for the importer of a car?

The seamless functioning behind the administrative curtain (including the cyber security “big tent” issues and system interoperability of numerous different government agencies and institutions that all, no doubt, suffer from numerous and different vulnerabilities)?

The reduction in corruption?  (If so what illicit cash flows are identified as being generated through the current system?)

Does the horizontal accountability and inter-dependence of a successful and efficient “single window” across seven (yes 7) governmental agencies and institutions create a self-policing environment that proactively reduces corruption opportunity – or rather will it create a “single window” of monopolised corruption?

Is there a lead agency?  If so is it (presumably) Customs, or the Ministry of Interior?  To put it another way, who is ultimately responsible for what occurs when it comes to resolving the problems, the functioning, the output, and the policing of the pilot project?  Ownership and accountability, and all that!

Clearly a project to revisit in 3 – 6 months.

Another obvious question will be that while all this is going on, how much attention will it divert from tackling the other, long standing and on-going scams at the ports?  (Not that such matters are in any way a reason not to progress this pilot.)

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