February 13, 2017 – Fort Russ News –
L’Express,* translated by Tom Winter –
|Daily protest in front of National Bank of Ukraine. Photo: Neils Ackerman for L’Express|
Three years after the revolt of Maidan, Ukraine is sinking into crisis. Corruption is endemic, exasperating the population. How long will the people wait?
Every morning, Alesandr Grigorash joins a hundred protesters in front of the headquarters of the National Bank of Ukraine, in the center of Kiev. Together they shout slogans hostile to the government.
“I am 61 and I do not have enough to live on,” he explains. “Gas is expensive, food too. I get the equivalent of 64 euros a month for my retirement, plus food aid because for working ten years on the site of Chernobyl, eight euros … while the leak of radioactivity made me lose half of my teeth in a few months … “
Beside him, his friend, Zoya Kryshnya, 58, does housecleaning to complement her small pension. Without the help of her children, she would not be able to cope. Alesandr and Zoya, two ordinary stories, but it’s the story of millions of Ukrainians whose living conditions have been deteriorating in recent years. And who wonder what the revolution of Maidan has changed for them.
So many sacrifices, however … January 2014: the first protesters fall under the bullets of Ukrainian special forces. A month later, President Viktor Yanukovych was expelled from power after three months of bloody clashes. The population exults. This is the end of the corrupt clique. A new energy breathes through Ukraine. Three years later, hope is at half-mast. The war rumbles to the east and the Russian flag floats over the Crimea. The economic crisis is ravaging the country, and President Petro Poroshenko, at mid-term, is at the lowest in the polls.
The task, it is true, is not simple. The conflict against the separatist forces, supported by the Russian army, costs the Kiev government 3.6 million euros every day. The military budget, multiplied by 8, this year exceeds 4 billion euros. “By maintaining pressure in the eastern part of the country, Vladimir Putin is forcing the Ukrainian government to mobilize important resources for the war,” [**] asserts Mykla Davydiuk, boss of an analytical center called Politics. “Money that can’t be applied to the reforms which the country has sorely needed.”
Ukrainian society undermined by corruption
Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, who left his post as Governor of Odessa on November 7, was mostly “out of action.” “It is true that there is bottling up,” admits Mikhail Titarchuk, deputy minister in the cabinet of ministers, a structure that links the ministries and the Ukrainian presidency.
“We have created a number of secretary of state posts, which will be used to ensure continuity in the follow-up of cases, and this role is all the more necessary because, A ministerial cabinet rarely lasts more than a year in Ukraine, and we urge administrations to take action against corruption. “
High time, for this scourge undermines the very foundations of society. In Kiev, the word is on everyone’s lips, especially since the “e-declarations” case. Under pressure from international bodies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country’s politicians were forced to declare their assets, and the information was posted online. A first in a country which, since the Communist era, and during the Yanukovych era, has never shone through its transparency in the matter …
The leaders’ vaults are full of wealth
In shock, the Ukrainians discovered the fortunes of their leaders: luxurious properties, cars, collections of paintings or Fabergé eggs… The political class also shows a certain taste for prestige watches: the Prime Minister, Volodymyr Hroïsman, possesses 12, while Nestor Shufrich, member of the opposition, can choose every morning among his 17 different models … “The most shocking are the huge sums they hold in dollars and euros,” said Andriy Novak, director of the Committee of Economists of Ukraine,” which shows how little confidence they have in their own currency. “
Petro Poroshenko holds no less than $26 million in one of his accounts. Head of Customs and General Director of Taxes, Roman Nasirov has $ 1.1 million and 450,000 euros in cash, while his monthly salary is $1500. This “state clerk” also owns five apartments and two houses in Kiev. But he has only four watches …
These revelations deeply shook the Ukrainians, most of whom only earn 5000 hryvnias (180 euros) a month. “It is scandalous that the governor of the National Bank keeps nearly $ 2 million under his pillow, while our meager savings melt like snow in the sun because of devaluations and inflation! insists Maryna Lukach. In her apartment in Kiev, this colorful woman paints paintings that she then sells in the markets. “I give the money to our soldiers who risk their lives in the Donbass,” she said in a thundering voice, “all these stories of corruption disgust me.”
Corrupt practices have a hard life
For the economist Andriy Novak, the sums diverted by the elites would represent 15% of the national budget. According to him, half of the Ukrainian economy would be underground and thus would escape any taxation. In fact, corruption is everywhere and it corrodes all strata of society. When Zhenya Mykhail Enko opened his noodle restaurant on the outskirts of the capital, he was visited by three firefighters.
“They came to make sure that the premises were in order,” he says. “They managed to find a flaw, of course, and I had to make a little effort to get my certificate of compliance.” In this case, offer them a lunch every day. Then it was the turn of the administrative services. They too wanted their little contribution. Zhenya, who has worked for six years in the United States, then changed his method: “I took on a good lawyer and threatened to file a complaint,” he said. So I do not pay any more bribes.”
Yulia Mendel, though, could not escape. In 2012, this young woman, now a journalist, defended her thesis in Ukrainian literature. “The commonly accepted practice is to offer a good dinner to the jury,” she explains. “It’s not a trivial expense: there are twenty of them and sometimes come from across the country! And hotel and trips expenses are added on.”
A few days before the defense, her thesis supervisor remarked to her that her thesis is incomplete, because it lacks the introduction. “It was there, that I understood the message. With a 200-dollar envelope slipped into the first pages, my work was considered excellent.”
And Yulia Mendel is now being prosecuted for having denounced, in a press gallery, corruption within the universities of Ukraine.
Customs codes trafficked
In the business world, it’s worse. “I import flat screens from China,” says an anonymous, “I have two solutions: to pay 30% of taxes, what nobody does, or to contact an import-export company of the sort that exist by the dozen on the web. If I pay $650 per cubic meter of merchandise, I can import anything I want, including weapons or cocaine – nobody ever opens the containers. To skip paying the taxes, the intermediary companies traffic in the customs codes, the best is still to go through Poland or Russia. There is no control.
Journalist and deputy, Sergii Leshchenko embodies this new generation which wants to put an end to the impunity of the oligarchs. But he is accused of having taken advantage of the system.
To say that the government does nothing would be unfair. “We are computerizing all administrative procedures,” says Mikhail Titarchuk, “so that civil servants can no longer demand baksheesh.” We also introduce an electronic prescription system to prevent doctors from issuing medical certificates of convenience as they currently do “This measure alone will save us 70 million euros.”
Deputy Minister of Economy, Max Nefyodov also attacked a major project: rigged tenders. “It costs us nearly $2 billion a year,” said the former business banker. “When it becomes operational in 2018, our electronic platform will allow us to earn a half point of GDP!” Demonstration on his computer, placed on stacks of files: “In a few clicks, one can see for example how many public tenders have been in the city of Lviv and, above all, the number of bids. If here is only one, cheating is obvious … “
Only civil society could make a difference
Are these efforts backed up by the Head of State? Igor Bychkov has his doubts. A public works contractor based in Odessa on the Black Sea, he set up an NGO, the Open Society of Ukraine, which is lobbying the authorities when they are reluctant to take legal action. In the case of cronyism, for example. Their latest deal: a 15 million euro elevator renovation contract, largely attributed to a screen company.
“All government projects are gangrenous,” says Igor Bychkov. “When Mikhail Saakashvili arrived as governor of Odessa in mid-2015, I hoped things would work out, but the president tied his hands. Has not been able to do anything. “Since his departure, the situation has worsened, and I am bitter. Poroshenko could have changed a lot, but he is mainly trying to grasp at money.”
This is also the opinion of Sergii Leshchenko. This former investigative journalist, now a deputy, went on a crusade against the head of state and his clique of oligarchs. “If he wanted to, he could put an end to these practices,” he said, “is he not concentrating all the powers? But he is too close to all those businessmen who for years have been using their political connections to get rich. “
Will the Ukrainians long endure this? Indeed it is not the doubling of the minimum wage, up at January1 to 115 euros, that will suffice to appease their dissatisfaction. Are they going to a new Maidan? No one here seems to believe it. “We are exasperated,” says the painter Maryna Lukach. “This time, if people go out into the street, they will have weapons in their hands. They are everywhere … ”
Head of a group of NGOs, the Center for Civil Liberties, Oleksandra Matviychuk thinks that the salvation will come from civil society: “It is increasingly strong, thanks in particular to the rise of social networks. It can push the government.
This is what happened in Mariupol, in the east of the country, a city nevertheless held by a powerful oligarch. In the last municipal elections, at the end of 2015, the citizen party “Strength of the People” managed to get into the municipal council. It can now make its voice heard. The movement is on, it will not stop anymore. “
*This was published January 5. I have just discovered that L’Epress has extensive coverage of post-Maidan Ukraine. I am catching up. Soon the Express story on today’s Mariupol –tr.
** Absurdly upside down, of course, and twice over: 1. The war they are waging remains the excuse, not the cause, of the nation’s nternal neglect. 2. As if the people of Donbass would give up if VVP asked them to!!