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Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 13

04-29-2011 10:38 AM CET | Politics, Law & Society

Press release from: People First Foundation

Entrepreneurs on the roads and teachers on the streets, the government faces mass protest as well as allegations of apathy towards corruption. The Prosecutor General's Office bringing charges against former president Kuchma added some excitement to the political arena of Ukraine.

Continuing protests of entrepreneurs become "AutoMaidan"

The professed Ukrainian East-West divide was undermined recently as entrepreneurs from around the country united in protest against the latest batch of tax legislation brought about by the current government. Automobiles from Lviv, Lugansk, Mariupol and other cities from the eastern and western regions came to Kyiv to create a new form of protest already referred to as "AutoMaidan". The automobile protest lasted from the 21st till the 25th of March and ended with a rally at Kyiv’s European Square and presentation of demands to the government under the slogan "Take Ukraine away from the oligarchs and return it to its citizens". The event gathered over 500 entrepreneurs and a number of deputies from the opposition.

The protesters demanded the protection of the Constitution, called for an end to economic repression and social experiments under the mask of reform and requested favourable conditions for the development of business and the national economy. The participants of the motor rally also demanded that the government accept the legislative initiatives of the Entrepreneurs Council of Ukraine in the area of small and medium-sized business, which have been introduced for consideration in parliament. Over 200 organisations and trade unions participated in the discussion stage of these initiatives. Considering this delicate issue, Prime-Minister Azarov encharged the ministers of finance, justice, labour and social policy with the task of reviewing the aforementioned legislative initiatives. The Cabinet of Ministers has also criticised the repression of entrepreneurship and the massive shutdown of small and medium-sized businesses by their owners. In the case that protesters' demands remain unheard, and the new Tax Code remains unchanged from the version introduced on April 1, the country may face a new wave of protests.

People First Comment:

There is no limit to human ingenuity. No matter how many laws, or how many police or how much repression this government or the Rada choose to employ, free people will always find a way round it. It is a democratic right to be able to protest and the more governments do to prevent the public from exercising that right, the more creative they will be. This approach is novel as it does not defy the government’s new rules on assembly as the people are simply sitting in their own cars and, as far as we know, there is no law against that... yet.

Ukraine is still losing the battle against corruption

Despite the adoption of new legislation, international organisations and the Ukrainian opposition share the opinion that the Ukrainian government is avoiding the real battle against corruption. Experts from the anticorruption organisation Transparency International also expressed concerns in conjunction with the law on public purchases. It is believed that Ukraine loses up to 3 billion Euros in budget funds each year due to inefficient tenders and is suggested that the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Lytvyn, adapt the law in order to make information on tenders available to the public. Parliament approved the draft law "On the prevention of corruption in Ukraine" in the first reading but left a number of controversial provisions of the law to the second reading. This gave the opposition an opportunity to accuse the governing coalition of faking the fight against corruption. According to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the "Front Zmin" political party, the majority of amendments offered by the opposition were rejected.

In the corruption perception index compiled by Transparency International in 2010, Ukraine ranked 134th of 180 nations. GRECO (Group of States against corruption) reported that Ukraine has not taken sufficient measures to combat corruption. EBRD representatives also noted that a high level of corruption does not allow Ukraine to implement structural changes in the agricultural sector.

People First Comment:

Corruption in Ukraine is no longer an abuse of the system… it is the system. Corruption has become so endemic that the majority now expect to have to pay some petty bureaucrat something to get anything done. As a result nothing at all gets done and the nation simply grinds along at a snails pace. The new law designed to prevent corruption is farcical as it has been purposefully engineered by the Rada to catch everybody except those who have direct access to the State budget. The most telling example being the removal in the second reading of the clause that would require the families of public officials to make the same income declarations as the official as this would mean that they could not use their wives, children, brothers, sisters and probably their dog as surrogate owners whilst they plead honesty.

The only real way to rid the country of this curse is to follow the Georgian example where the President and all of his inner cabinet agree that corruption is socially, morally, ethically and financially unacceptable. Over the past 10 years the Georgian government has fired almost a million civil servants who had their fingers in the cash till. They tried to rehire around 30% but found that most had not changed from their old ways. Instead they hired young people, paid them properly and engineered a government policy of transparency through the highly visible provision of public services. It has been a spectacular success to the extent that the people now see the Militia as a force for public good where even the family fights and feuds for which Georgia was once famous are now resolved through the law. If Georgia can achieve this, so can Ukraine. It’s only a matter of political will.

Charges against former president Leonid Kuchma affect Ukrainian politics

The Prosecutor General's Office has reopened a criminal investigation into former president Leonid Kuchma. He is accused of involvement in the Gongadze murder case. The ongoing criminal investigation involves the re-interrogation of all the witnesses including major Melnichenko who made scandalous records of conversations in the ex-president's office. From a legal perspective, even if Kuchma is found guilty of abusive exercise of power he will not suffer criminal punishment due to the expiry of the period of limitation - over 10 years have passed since the case was first opened. Therefore consequences are limited to reputational.

The reasons why the authorities reopened the Gongadze case with accusations against Kuchma remain unclear. They may need a powerful news item to distract society from the increased interest in social problems or perhaps they are attempting try to restructure Ukrainian politics or pressure the former president's son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk. Another explanation is that the Party of Regions is haunting Leonid Kuchma for his indecision during “Orange events” in 2004. Legal experts note that if Melnichenko's recordings are admissible in court for this case then such evidence may be used against other politicians who appear on the recordings. The reopening of the Gongadze case may be evidence of an attempt to influence various Ukrainian politicians including the Chairman of Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Lytvyn and Prime-Minister Mykola Azarov. By filing a charge against the former president of Ukraine and pushing the case through the courts the authorities may prove their desire to be seen as possessing respect for justice and the democratic principle of transparency.

People First Comment:

Whatever decisions the government, court, or elite come to – the people will not believe either the validity of the accusations or the decisions of the court. This is nothing more than smokescreen designed to give the impression that the administration is clamping down on abuse. Wisely the ‘Old Fox’ has hired possibly the finest legal council money can buy in order to give the State prosecutors a run for their money however Ukrainian justice being what it is today this case will most likely join the 129,000 other Ukrainian cases waiting to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

Whilst we would all agree that those accused of crimes should face their day in court, we should also agree that in democratic society you are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Clearly President Kuchma has been already tried in the court of public opinion as a result of the hysteria surrounding the authenticity of the Melnichenko tapes. But this does not mean that he is actually guilty. That is for the courts to decide based upon proven fact.

What is sad for public confidence and the whole Ukrainian justice system is that President Yushchenko did not pursue the case as soon as he came to office. Today, irrespective of the decision of the courts, justice will not be seen to have been done especially as the case is now outside the statute of limitation. If this is nothing more than a show trial then President Yanukovich had better plan to be in office for the foreseeable future as what is good for one former President can also apply to others.

Teachers' protest at Ukraine’s commitment to education

After a long period of relative tranquillity education workers launched campaign of protest against violations of their rights. Late January saw protests in front of the Cabinet of Ministers building, which gathered around 10 thousand members from education trade unions demanding a salary increase. There have been similar protests by teachers in Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Lviv (which gathered over 5 thousand of protesters), and other cities of Ukraine. In total the protest movement has attracted over 20 thousand teachers from all over Ukraine.

Prime-Minister Mykola Azarov pulled Dmytro Tabachnyk, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports of Ukraine, up for allowing teachers to protest. He stated that the protests are indicative of the irresponsible work of the Minister and the local education administrations that finance education establishments. Azarov reproached Tabachnyk for not engaging the protesters in dialogue. The protests have resulted in a 20% salary increase for all education workers but only from the 1st of September 2011. According to the Minister of Finance of Ukraine Fedir Yaroshenko the government is prepared to allocate a further 420-430 million UAH providing a salary increase for around 350 thousand education workers. Before the teachers' protests there was the students' campaign in many Ukrainian cities that helped to prevent the implementation of changes to high educational establishments, which could have led to higher education fees and a smaller volume of government scholarships.

People First Comment:

There is a point in social dynamics known as the ‘tipping point’. It is that point in time where a group will finally say enough is enough and rebel. What is interesting about tipping points is that they cannot be predicted and sometimes cannot be controlled. When 20,000 people come out onto the streets a blind politician might well choose to ignore them as they do not seem to be too much of a threat but in reality this is often an indicator of more dangerous civil unrest boiling just under the surface.

If the government decides to award teachers a pay increase of 20% what about the doctors, nurses and social workers? Are they too not horribly underpaid? Then what about the miners, steel workers and government administrators should they not also be given a 20% pay rise? If the government indulge in selective pacification of one sector of public employees then all the other sectors will have every reason to feel that they too can protest and even go on strike. The net result is that by putting out one fire the government may well reach a tipping point where the rest of society rebels.

Tampering with the education system has made Mr Tabachnyk one of the most unpopular Ministers in the current government. Favouring the teachers over all the other public sectors can only add more fuel to the fire. But when it comes down to fellow party members perhaps, a severe public rebuke is the only punishment Prime Minister Azarov was allowed to administer.

Quote of the week:

People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.

Walter H. Judd
American politician and statesman

Democracy Watch is the weekly monitor of the People First Foundation and serves to raise public awareness of how government and parliamentary action is impacting upon Ukrainian democracy and democratic due process. The information is copyright free and may be reproduced but we ask that any comments are reproduced in full and with reference to the People First Foundation.

The People First Foundation recognise and appreciate the support of Ivan Matieshin in the production of Democracy Watch.

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