Editor’s Note: The Kyiv Post tracks the progress made by Ukraine’s post-EuroMaidan Revolution leaders in making structural changes in the public interest in a broad range of areas, from the defense and energy sectors, to taxation and pensions. Below are the main issues in focus from Sept. 29 to Oct. 6.
Ukraine’s lawmakers got their voting cards out starting Oct. 3 to approve some long-awaited legislation to overhaul the nation's distrusted courts and deficit-ridden pension system. The changes, however, are hard to pronounce as improvements. In parliament, for instance, the effects of last-minute, little-debated amendments are still being analyzed.
Ukraine unveiled its new Supreme Court on Sept. 29. Few outside government were impressed. Of the 111 appointed to the court by the High Council of Justice, 25 had earlier been vetoed by the Public Integrity Council, a civic watchdog overseeing the overhaul of Ukraine’s discredited judicial system. Moreover, another 60 judges appointed, while not having been vetoed by the council, were given negative assessments.
One of the Public Integrity Council’s members, Vitaly Tytych, said the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission, which tested the newly appointed judges, ignored the views of the Public Integrity Council.
Critics complain that the authorities sabotaged judicial reform to ensure a loyal bench. According to Leonid Maslov, a former member of the Public Integrity Council, judges such as Viktoriya Matsendonska, who spoke out against the ban on EuroMaidan public demonstrations while Ukraine was under the corrupt regime of former President Viktor Yanukovych, was not appointed to the Supreme Court because she had demonstrated that she was not loyal to the executive.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s parliament on Oct. 3 passed a presidential bill introducing a raft of amendments to Ukraine’s Economic Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the Code of Administrative Proceedings and other legislation.
Amendments will introduce an electronic court document system, in which participants in a trial, including the judge, prosecutor, defense team and the defendant will be able to exchange case materials electronically, using electronic signatures for security. Legislation on a new court telecommunications system will also regulate court appearances via videoconferencing.
Parliament started considering the presidential version of court reform on Sept. 7, and 4,383 amendments to the bill were submitted. However, the changes will make it more difficult to prosecute major crimes and corruption cases because of a sixmonth deadline between the start of a criminal case and the filing of charges.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was in parliament on Oct. 3 to oversee the vote on overhauling Ukraine's debt-ridden pensions, which take up 12 percent of the nation's gross domestic product yet provide recipients with paltry benefits of $70 monthly.
Parliament responded with a clearly majority — 288 votes in favor.
Lawmakers balked at raising the retirement age to 63, as the International Monetary Fund wanted, keeping it at 60 for men and 58 for women. However, it raised the minimum amount of working years in which to qualify for a pension from the present 15 years to 25 years. That will rise again, to 35 years, by 2028. According to experts, raising the number of working years needed to qualify for a pension effectively increases the pension age, as those who start work later in life may have to work beyond the official retirement ages in order to receive a pension.
Some critics complained that the changes are cosmetic. “This is just a mechanical modernization,” opposition lawmaker Olena Sotnyk said. “Because of the demand of 35 years of work experience, some people might not make it to pension age."
Average life expectancy in Ukraine is 66 for men and 76 for women. The probability that a Ukrainian will die before 60 is 21 percent, with Ukraine ranking 137th in the world.
Ukraine pension problems partly stem from a small economy and low growth. Cutting the pension deficit and introducing an agricultural land market could double growth and raise living standards for all Ukrainians, the World Bank says.
Ukraine suffered a massive fall in its GDP in the wake of the EuroMaidan Revolution, Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and the start of the Kremlin’s war in the Donbas. The economy halved — from $180 billion in GDP in 2013 to just $90 billion in 2014 — accelerated by a 2/3 devaluation in the value of the hryvnia combined with recession.
Growth, of 2.3 percent annually, only returned in 2016.
The moratorium on agricultural land sales depresses the entire sector, one of Ukraine's main economic engines. Land cannot be used by farmers as collateral to raise capital to develop their businesses. According to the Agriculture Ministry, the ban costs the sector $3 billion a year in lost production gains, and some economists estimate that lifting the moratorium could stimulate $50 billion in lending and investment. With the agriculture sector accounting for nearly 14 percent of Ukraine’s GDP, that investment would boost growth of the economy.
Ukraine could see its growth rise to 4 percent in 2018, according to World Bank estimates. While that is still far off the double-digit increases that economists say Ukraine needs to recoup its past losses, single-digit growth could at least stabilize the living standards for many Ukrainians.
But while the IMF has made land reform another of its conditions for disbursing further loans, an increasingly populist parliament facing re-election in 2019, looks to be in no mood to end the moratorium when it comes up for renewal at the beginning of next year.
Left to right: Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine Stepan Kubiv, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and Social Policy Minister Andriy Reva react after parliament adopted pension reform on Oct. 3.
A farmer checks land at his field on May 31 in Kyiv Oblast.