Heads roll as Ukraine’s reforms falter

The recent spate of dismissals or resignations of high-ranking officials in Ukraine is a sign that the country’s reform drive is stalling just 16 months since the EuroMaidan Revolution, analysts say.

Those being expelled include Western-educated specialists who had successful careers in the private sector, but who wanted to help change Ukraine after the corrupt Viktor Yanukovych fled power.

The ruling coalition in Parliament contends that the officials failed to carry out major reforms and combat corruption. But critics argue that President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Parliament share the blame for this failure.

Analysts say that the reshuffle could be the result of backroom deals. But the crucial question is whether the new appointees will be any more efficient and reform-minded than their predecessors.

The most recent firing was Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Ihor Shevchenko. Parliament voted to dismiss him on July 2. He was accused of failing to reform his ministry, which oversees licensing for oil and gas exploration – a major potential source of corruption.

After a series of disputes with Yatsenyuk involving key appointments, Shevchenko became a target. He was accused of having links to wealthy lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, and critics allege that the businessman had lobbied for his appointment.

“I’m acquainted with many people in this country and worldwide,” Shevchenko said by phone, arguing that there was nothing wrong with that and denying claims of corruption.

The Western-educated lawyer in turn blamed Yatsenyuk for stalling anti-corruption efforts at the ministry and forcing the appointment of his own loyalists to key posts there to guarantee the distribution of licenses to associates.

Yatsenyuk’s spokesman Olga Lappo and his advisor Danylo Lubkivsky were not available for comment.

“Lawmakers have just voted for my dismissal quietly without discussion or giving me the floor,” Shevchenko wrote on Facebook on July 2. “This proves that the old corrupt Soviet system is afraid of the truth, of open dialogue and strong opponents.”

Shevchenko told the Kyiv Post he was on good terms with ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, governor of Odesa Oblast, and was considering joining his team.

The Bloc of Petro Poroshenko will nominate Volodymyr Buchko, the head of the ministry’s department for legal and international activities, to replace Shevchenko, lawmaker from the bloc Ihor Kononenko said on July 2.

Another official forced out is Health Minister Oleksandr Kvitashvili. The former Georgian health minister resigned on July 2.

Though Kvitashvili did carry out a successful reform in his native country from 2008 to 2010, he failed to repeat the feat in Ukraine. Critics say that since he was appointed in December 2014, he has dragged his feet on eliminating rampant corruption in drug procurement and submitting bills on healthcare reform.

In turn, Kvitashvili complained at a June 30 briefing that none of the legislative initiatives he submitted to Parliament were passed, while defending his work performance.

“I came to Ukraine to implement reforms, and we’ve accomplished a lot: we completely changed the procurement system in Ukraine, and bills were drafted to implement changes in medical institutions,” he said. “Now under the influence of different parliamentary groups, they want to slow down reforms. I call on deputies to think about the nation’s interests insofar as this is the first and last chance to change the health care system of Ukraine.”

Saakashvili urged Kvitashvili to step down on July 1. “It’s high time we said honestly that the system resists reform,” Saakashvili said. “It’s not enough to be honest. You must also act aggressively.”

Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said by phone that the ministry needed a crisis manager with a team of his own – something that Kvitashvili lacked. “He must have carte blanche from the president and be a ‘Saakashvili’ at the ministry level, and with the same level of support,” Fesenko said.
He said Kvitashvili had met fierce resistance from vested interests and lobbying groups linked to the ministry and the pharmaceutical industry.

“There’s an iceberg there – the minister and ministry are on the surface, but the main problems are underwater,” Fesenko said. “The ministry is rife with problems of corruption, and there are various ‘landmines’ that may explode.”

Critics have argued that Kvitashvili was merely a scapegoat chosen by the Ukrainian authorities to explain away the failure of reform.

The Health Ministry has missed several deadlines for transferring drug purchases to international organizations to eliminate corruption. Moreover, pharmaceutical supplies to HIV and diabetes patients have stalled, jeopardizing their lives.

A similar situation has emerged at the Security Service of Ukraine, which has been accused of doing little to crack down on corruption in its own ranks. That could have been one of the reasons for the dismissal of Valentyn Nalyvaichenko as the head of the SBU on June 18, and the appointment of Anatoly Hrytsak to replace him on July 2.

Nalyvaichenko has alleged, howevrer, that it was the Petro Poroshenko Bloc that was promoting corruption.

“Cynical and shameless corruption is happening in the parliament,” he said on July 2, claiming that an unspecified person was bullying faction members into voting for specific bills.
Petro Poroshenko Bloc head Yury Lutsenko said that his faction had an “ironic attitude” towards the claim.

Saakashvili praised Nalyvaichenko’s replacement Hrytsak on July 2, saying that “in recent days Hrytsak has been investigating corruption cases against high-ranking officials, and judging from the wave of black public relations against him, he’s moving in the right direction.”

But Yegor Sobolev, a member of parliament from the Samopomich faction, argued on July 2 that Hrytsak, as an ex-chief of the SBU’s anti-terrorism center, shared responsibility for the agency’s failure to prevent smuggling in the war zone and the trade in permits for travel to the occupied territories. Sobolev also said that the sources of Hrytsak’s wealth were not clear to him.

According to Hrytsak’s income declaration, he owns a 94.9 square meter apartment in Kyiv, a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Harley-Davidson Sportster xL-1200 motorcycle. His family members have a Land Rover, a Volkswagen LT, a Volkswagen Caddy, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, a 79-square-meter apartment in Kyiv and a 413 square meter house in Kyiv Oblast.

Hrytsak has also confirmed that his son Oleh prosecuted activists of the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution. Critics say he has kept his job as a prosecutor despite allegedly being subject to a law meant to cleanse government of officials connected to the Yanukovych regime.

Another SBU appointment that has raised eyebrows was that of Vitaly Malikov, who became head of the SBU’s anti-terrorism center last week. He has been accused of supporting Kremlin-backed separatists in Crimea, which he denies.

Meanwhile, the Civic Lustration Committee argues that Grigory Ostafiychuk, the newly-appointed head of the SBU’s main investigative department, also shouldn’t be in government since he worked for more than a year as a top prosecutor under Yanukovuch. The SBU argues that Ostafiychuk had actually worked for less than a year under Yanukovych.

Source: The Kyiv Post