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UKRAINE'S POLITICIANS USE PROCESS TO EXCUSE LACK OF RESULTS
Op-Ed by Irina Paliashvili,
President and Senior Counsel,
RULG-Ukrainian Legal Group
Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine,
Monday, February 22, 2016
KYIV-- We are again stuck in the vicious circle of the process – this time reformatting the Verkhovna Rada coalition and the Cabinet. Independent technocrats and volunteers entered the government in order to achieve results, but the post-Soviet kleptocratic/oligarchic system closed the ranks and sucked them in into the slimy swamp of the process. Honest people, after having floundered in it for months, escape and run away in horror.
Western partners and creditors also figured this out. They wave the stick of the International Monetary Fund, regularly delegate Joe Biden to give another warning, and wave all kinds of carrots for the results. Almost daily we see news that international donors are ready to provide Ukraine with sizable assistance in exchange for real reforms, applying some kind of "we pay as you go" principle.
But no, we stand by our unique path, the process is much more important than the results, because the process is the last resort for the old system. Our unique know-how – the system of process – even generated a new special linguistic term, not translatable into any other language, something like “to be solving.” Other languages use “to solve,” but we say “to be solving.” Guess, which one of these two formulas can lead to results?
Even in the old Georgia, dominated by clans and corruption, under the system of “friends and family” (“akhlobeli”), a neighbor called a relative, a relative called a friend with only one goal: to solve a problem.
In Ukraine some Kum, which is another unique notion, a system based on godfather or godmother of your kids (a colleague and I once spent an entire evening, and more than one bottle of Horylka, trying to explain this phenomenon to a prominent United Kingdom finance analyst, and got a blank stare at the end), promises to call someone, somebody knows someone somewhere, someone can or cannot “be solving” your problem, and ultimately the process swallows the goal, someone profits and someone loses, but the system is still there intact.
This is basically our entire life during the past 24 years, but the freshest example is reformatting of the Rada coalition and the Cabinet.
The coalition agreement has not been fulfilled, no structural reforms have been achieved, the corruptioneers – old and new – are still around, and the Cabinet has started falling apart in December, culminating in recent resignation of Aivaras Abromavichus and his team, and triggering a political crisis.
What is the response of the president and the Rada? No, verbally it sounds promising, “we will reformat the Cabinet!,” but in reality?
It is still the good old process: clandestine flickering, bargaining, some blurred activities, but behind all this we still hear “disgusting sniffing and slurping” (using the apt expression of a blogger Kirill Sazonov), of the system busy with graft.
Only people from outside of this system can be truly result-oriented, and it is not surprising that most of them are foreigners, who have never participated in the process, and who have achieved, despite the fierce resistance of the system, some results within two years.
Yes, the results are slow, yes, they are incomplete, but they are real: Abromavichus with his team at the Economics Ministry introduced the electronic procurement system Prozorro, pushed for deregulation and seriously cut the bureaucratic apparatus; Eka Zguladze and Khatia Dekanoidze carried out the national police reform; Natalie Jaresko restructured the debt and showed first results of the tax reform (managing to really decrease the tax burden on the salaries); volunteers fought for reforms at the Defense Ministry, supplied the Army, helped our warriors and their families, as well as internal refugees; Governor Mikheil Saakashvili in Odessa – showed results on many fronts, focusing on radical simplification and deregulation of bureaucratic procedures, reforming the customs, undertaking infrastructure projects (the airport, the roads), and directing public funds into the treasury.
Saakashvili, by the way, is a fanatic of the public treasury, in Georgia under his leadership, everything went straight there: taxes, customs fees, assistance from Western donors, the confiscated corruption assets, proceeds from privatization, and the money saved from reforms – nothing disappeared in the process.
For our ruling class, however, the filling up of the public coffers and making a life easier for the average citizen or business – is not the result at all, this is in fact an anti-result – what a nightmare, money flowing past their pockets and into the treasury!
It is a simple formula: corruption is a process reserved for those who belong, for anybody who is a part of the process. And who is the target of the process? This is Ukraine and the rest of us.
The system manipulates public opinion: “Varangian,” “barnstormer,” “get out of Ukraine!” and the infamous “get out of my country!” (this coming from an Armenian to a Georgian, both naturalized Ukrainian citizens – LOL!).
The propaganda tools are quite primitive, fully mastered under USSR, which today remain the key Kremlin weapon: white is black, and black is white, no shades of gray. If repeated for years, ignoring any facts or common sense, people unconsciously get used to it, and just take it as a given.
I can illustrate this on an example I have observed most closely: Saakashvili reforms in Georgia. Only two-three clichés have been used: “there are no reforms, only PR,” “everything he does is not for average people” and “yes, he eliminated corruption at the lower levels, but there is a lot of corruption at the top.”
Here is a symbolic picture for you: in Batumi, the city resurrected by Misha and his team from a post-Soviet junkyard, the city of flourishing small and medium sized businesses, surrounded by wonderful parks, dancing fountains, clean beaches, full with tourists and locals, on a beautifully restored square - stands one of the leaders of the current pro-Ivanishvili government, the government which achieved nothing for two years and still benefits from Saakashvili reforms. So he stands, and announces to the public: “What Saakashvili did? He did nothing, it was only PR!” Indeed, why bother believing your own eyes.
But too many are buying this. Why bother to analyze, think, search your soul, and finally get up from the couch and do something? Here is somebody to blame for everything, it is all simple and clear, he did nothing, only PR!
At the end of Saakashvili term, I was given a ride from the Tbilisi airport by an old friend. Only a few years before that the country was plunged by shortages of electricity, heating and water; ordinary people were afraid to go out because armed criminals were roaming the streets, police did nothing to protect them, they had to give bribes for every step of the way, and had lost hope.
Now we were driving on a smooth, clean and well-lit road, it was a late night, but the city was bustling with people, filling up the restaurants and happily taking walks, the police was everywhere guarding their safety (the confidence rating of the new police almost reached the level of the Georgian Orthodox Church).
My friend owned a successful business, paid his taxes, he has forgotten when he was last abuse by the authorities, he reached his village, which before took hours to drive through dirt roads, via a new highway in 40 minutes, the children at a public school were provided with new laptops, and native-speaking English teachers, who came from all over the world answering Misha’s call for volunteers. And here comes our dialog.
He: “you cannot imagine how bad it is around here!” Me: “???” He: (you’ve guessed it) “this is all smoke screen, nothing but PR!” Me: “What’s your problem?” He: “I do not have a problem, but I heard on TV yesterday that in some town a girl died because the ambulance came too late, this is all Misha’s fault!”
The system in Ukraine can relax, this primitive propaganda is ready for mass consumption, it has been tested and can be easily exported. Ukrainian blogosphere is already packed with similar comments, nothing original, just the same three clichés. And then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatesenyuk joins the chorus: Saakashvili is only about PR, he has not achieved much in Georgia. Misha in response presents the impressive list of fantastic results, confirmed by serious international organizations, by facts and numbers, but Yatsenyuk cannot be bothered, results are of no interest to him, only the process matters.
In Georgia and in Baltic States the old system was destroyed from inside by the people with new mentality and values, many of whom started their careers under the old system, but then understood its detrimental nature for the future of their countries, and did everything possible to replace it. They were not shy to plead for external assistance, they invited en masse foreign experts, trained their civil servants abroad, copied successful reforms of other countries, everybody worked together for the Results.
In Ukraine, within 24 years, the monster of the old system penetrated all levels of power from top to bottom, it sucked in a huge number of people, a mature corrupt class was formed, and the people who belong to this system passed the point of no return long time ago. There is no hope that a courageous reformer will emerge from their ranks.
That is why the society must clearly and unanimously formulate the demand for immediate Results, and massively attract people from outside the system to achieve them, while those who belong to the system must face the choice: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Our society should not complain and buy into all kinds of excuses why the results cannot be achieved (“we need time,” “we are at war,”,“our country is too big,” “to be solving,” “we will reformat”, etc.), but should unanimously stand behind those “barnstormers” and local activists who went against the system and are working towards the results.
There are not enough of them, we need a critical mass, let them arrive in shifts and rotate during the transition period, they can be Balts, Brits, Poles, Georgians, our own old and new diaspora, and all others who carry modern civilized values, knowledge and experience, let them take all leading positions at the government, courts, police, customs, procurement – the key requirement for them is to deliver fast and uncompromising results.
This is the only way to squeeze out the system of process and to replace it with the system of results, and finally transition from “to be solving” to simply solve!
NOTE: Irina Paliashvili is Chair of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) Legal Committee and a member of the USUBC Executive Committee, www.USUBC.org.