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politics

For whom the bell tolls

19.12.2014 | By Yehor Struzhkin

Radical reforms, inevitability of which was discussed everywhere, finally obtain actual outlines. Of course, the premier needed much more than 48 hours promised on December 2 to develop them, but now the reform plan is ready and voiced. The first thing that catches your eye is its “just-to-be-safe” nature

Largely the Verkhovna Rada does not have much choice – either the adoption of the government’s program will be forced (and r it will receive funding from external borrowers), or officials will have to declare a default. However, listening attentively to the proposals of the premier it becomes clear that Ukraine will still have to give up part of the obligations to its own citizens: state budget expenses should be cut by 10%.

 

LEADER OF THE NATION

Tactically, the president has repeatedly beaten the premier. First of all, creation of the “broad coalition” (there is no other way to name the union of five different factions) has led to smearing of the influence of the People’s Front. Secondly, in the Cabinet Yatsenyuk’s quota is only 4 ministers of 19. And, thirdly, the premier had to announce the coming social and economic changes – image losses are inevitable.

One could say that the president convincingly won competition for the role of the national leader between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, if it was not for one detail. The national leader is not a position, but a duty. The duty to provide objective – the image of the country to which we should strive for, and the way to achieve it (explaining the sacrifices it will take). Did the politicians offer something like that?

Having analyzed Poroshenko’s recent statements, particularly the extraordinary address to the parliament, it is possible to notice the president’s passion to foreign policy issues. Possible membership in the NATO, application for joining the EU in five years – the plans are ambitious, but they have little to do with reality.

But let us pay tribute to the head of state, at least he mentions the eastern regions of the country (with an emphasis on implementation of the Minsk Agreement), while the prime minister prefers to get round such issues.

Judging by Poroshenko’s speeches – militarization and inevitable losses during the ATO will be our payment for changes for better. In the future – this refers to the process dragging on for years, if not decades: “Peace in the Donbas does not mean getting rid of the military threat… Unfortunately, this threat can be seen in the very far­reaching historical perspective and will always require a lot of effort and huge resources”.

 

YATSENYUK’S PLAN

The fact that the government’s reform plan is eclectic is not so bad. Attention is drawn by the fact that it is mainly focused on reduction of funding for social services. Interestingly enough, while talking about tax cuts the premier uses such words as “gradually” and “in the long term”. Speaking of reduction of the number of taxes and fees (in the long term – from 22 to 9), then the process implies merger of payments, but not their principal reduction.

At the same time Yatsenyuk pays surprisingly little attention to big business (oligarchic): he says the government expect reciprocity in the matter of fair taxation. It is interesting that employees shall expect changes in the Labor Code – the prime minister does not explain their essence, confining to platitudes about enhancing of competitiveness, but it is well known that introduction of amendments to the labor legislation is an old dream of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine, headed by Dmytro Firtash.

 

BUT OVERAL…

The question is how the government imagines the country, which passed through the proposed reforms. The announced cancellation of state standards and reduction of the state apparatus by 28,000 officials seem to be attractive. Yet the government will come down with a heavy hand on education, culture and healthcare, to put it mildly. It is hard to say to what extent the premier’s acknowledgement of the fact that virtually free healthcare is a myth is consistent with the Constitution. It is not difficult to predict that in this part the government initiatives can become a subject for examination at the Constitutional Court.

Adding to the proposed reforms the idea of the universal declaration of income, there would be no doubt as to whom the government appointed to pay for reforms.

Such an approach would have the right to exist if it was based on mutual trust between the government and the society. Total taxation and cuts in social services may be perceived positively only if the return step is cutting the access to corruption loopholes. But the announced  program will bypass functioning of the Customs Service, and the Attorney General issued a statement according to which his deputy owns 140 hectares of land quite legally.

 

LACK OF IDEAS

Under close examination it turns out that the ideology of the reforms of the new Cabinet is not fundamentally different from the previous “development programs” in the times of Mykola Azarov. Big business, as always, remains a “holy cow”, and expenses of reforms are passed on to average Ukrainians.” Naturally, everyone expected unpopular measures from the new Cabinet, yet people also want to see meaningfulness in their implementation.

Assuming that corruption is the main internal threat (which was mentioned by the prime minister and the president), the lack of fresh ideas is strongly felt in the area of struggle with this evil. Establishment of the National Bureau of Investigation (and abolition of the relevant departments in the Interior Ministry) is nothing more than redistribution of bureaucratic resource. The premier’s proposal to switch to the electronic document management by 2016 is utopic and not supported by the administrative reform. Broadly speaking, there is no difference whether officials exchange hard copies or use electronic doc flow.

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