Gathering clouds for Balchun

August 4, 2017

A few weeks ago, Adam Eberhardt of the Polish think tank OSW was in Odessa.  As an old acquaintance, matters Ukraine, Poland and Polish in Ukraine were discussed.

Among subjects ruminated upon, though that conversation is strictly private, the situation surrounding Wojcheich Balchun, current head of Ukrainian railways Ukrzaliznytsya was touched upon – for storm clouds have been gathering around him almost from the moment he won the competition to head that SOE, and his subsequent appointment on 20th April 2016.

His appointment was for 1 year, concluding on 5th June, with a 2 year extension until 5th June 2019 if neither party (Mr Balchun and the Ukrainian State) objected to that extension.

It is no secret that Volodymyr Omelyan, Minister for Infrastructure considers Mr Balchun entirely useless and completely unfit for the role.  For the best part of 10 months he has been calling for, and attempting to engineer, his removal.

Indeed such was the friction between the two men that on 18th January 2017 Ukrzaliznytsya was taken from under the control of the Ministry of Infrastructure by Prime Minister Groisman and made the responsibility of the Cabinet as a whole – clearly in an effort to, if not defuse the intensity of animosity, put distance between the fractious parties.

It was a decision that irked Minister Omelyan even more – openly stating he would challenge the decision in court, whilst still demanding Mr Balchun’s ouster.

In the meantime, 5th June has come and gone and as such, in the absence of any demands to the contrary, Ukrzaliznytsya announced that the 2 year contract extension for Mr Balchun had automatically kicked in, taking into account the provisions of Article 39, paragraph 1, and part 2 of Article 23 of the (antiquated) Labor Code.

Needless to say an already irked Minister Omelyan was furious.  His repeated objections having no weight with Ukrzaliznytsya no longer subordinate to his ministry, or himself.  As and when Minister Omleyan wins that court challenge regarding the removal of Ukrzaliznytsya from his ministerial portfolio – thus reversing it, (and in winning thus undermining the authority of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in the process), there will be further legal issues to undo before his vengeance can be fully satisfied and Mr Balchun ousted.

All something of a mess.

However, it appears that Prosecutor General Lutsenko has now weighed in, calling for the removal of Mr Balchun in a letter dated 2nd August to Prime Minister Groisman.

Without going into detail, Yuri Lutsenko states the prosecutors office are investigating about 90 cases of criminality within the Ukrzaliznytsya business across different locations and at different levels of the business management – none of which, to be absolutely clear, are related directly to Mr Balchun.

In fact the Prosecutor General is calling for the ouster of Mr Balchun not for any deeds on his part, but for his lack of deeds in relation to his subordinates and a growing list of lost court cases by Ukrzaliznytsya to commercial structures.

It may be considered professional, perhaps upon request, or perhaps upon initiative, for the Prosecture General to highlight the number and type of offences occurring within Ukrzaliznytsya for inclusion in some form of  SOE revue by the Cabinet of Ministers, but is it appropriate for the Prosecutor General to state – “I think that such a situation with the railway transport is due primarily to improper performance of the board of PJSC Ukrzaliznytsia and  the assigned duties.  

Considering the aforementioned, I consider it inexpedient to extend the contract with Wojciech Balchun.“?

Is not the Prosecutor General a-political?  Does not the very integrity of that office depend upon staying out of politics?

Is it the remit of the Prosecutor General to offer unsolicited suggestions to the Prime Minister regarding who stays and who goes within SOE management due to his perception of their management ability (rather than criminal undertakings)?  Is it not the extent of the remit of the Prosecutor General to actually get criminal cases to court – and successfully prosecute – regardless of politics?

How many of the 90 cases relating to Ukrzaliznytsya will see successful prosecutions?  Perhaps, by some strange quirk of fate, all court decisions will mysteriously start to go in favour of Ukrzaliznytsya only after Mr Balchun is forced out?

To briefly engage in some “whataboutism”, the Prosecutor General has an absolutely average (to be charitable) record when it comes to successful court results – or indeed procedural victories within the Verkhovna Rada with regard to the removal of parliamentary immunity.  Further, despite his proclaimed “cleansing” of the prosecutors office and its “restructuring”, his prosecutor staff are still regularly arrested for taking bribes.  Perhaps he too should be removed for the continuing corruption failures of his own staff?

However, that “whatabvoutism” aside, a reader perhaps has to consider, that in his professional (or perhaps “professional”) capacity as the Prosecutor General, whether Yuri Lutsenko should be calling for the removal of Mr Balchun at all – whether or not Mr Balchun’s performance should result in his removal or not.

In the meantime another Polish citizen is about to put his head in the Ukrainian SOE noose – for seems Pavel Stanchak of Poland’s PGNiG will be nominated to head Ukraine’s Ukrtranzgaz.


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