Heorhiy Tuka: "Local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were untimely”
"Local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were untimely"
Deputy Minister of the Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs on social benefits, smuggling across the contact line and blockade
Heorhiy Tuka has been working for nearly six months at the newly established Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs. He told The Ukrainian Week about his thoughts on the conflict over social benefits between the state and the IDPs and the campaign against illegal trafficking across the contact line in the Donbas.
The NGOs defending the rights of the IDPs are seriously dissatisfied with the new procedure for obtaining social benefit payments. What is your Ministry's position in this regard?
— I would like to point out that the IDPs registration and benefit payments are the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Policy. Nevertheless, I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Any radical views are mostly reserved for small groups. Of course, any official is a conservative to some extent, and this is normal. Very often, government officials are concerned about the issues of saving public funds. They know what state the budget is in. We aren’t rich. Therefore, they try to avoid extra expenditures. Within their powers and in line with the law.
Do you interfere in these issues at all?
— A person receiving compensation from the state as an IDP (this refers to the lump-sum compensation for IDPs, not pensions or other social payments – Ed.) may not stay in the uncontrolled territory for more than 60 days. Whether or not an individual has exceeded this limit was previously determined by the stamp of the State Migration Service. Now this has been canceled. From day one, we've been trying to move away from any paper-based data carriers. All of this should be done electronically. In particular, everyone, an IDP or anyone else crossing the demarcation line, undergoes a uniform verification procedure with the State Border Service. And everyone should have their personal permit number issued by the SBU.
We proposed (and we can say that this procedure is already in beta) to automatically combine two databases: IDP databases of the Border Guards and of the Social Policy Ministry. This will help recording where the citizens are and for how long they stay there. The initiative was welcomed by the NGOs, and the Social Policy Ministry has no objections. We hired some IT professionals, who have actually completed most of the work already.
I believe that the objections of some NGOs saying that people overstaying on the uncontrolled territory for over 60 days receive no benefits are not quite accurate. First of all, and this is critical, the compensations are only allocated to the internally displaced persons, and not to all citizens living in the occupied territory. The 60-day requirement is prescribed by the law. Neither the Cabinet nor the Ministry of Social Policy has the right to break it. So, in this respect I fully support the Ministry of Social Policy. There is a legal provision, and if you don't agree with it, you should appeal not to the state institutions and their officials, but to the authors of the bill: the MPs. However, does someone who lives in the occupied territory and comes here only once in six months as an IDP?
NGOs also criticize the habitual residence test. It involves possible surprise inspections by special commissions accompanied by security forces to check whether an IDP lives at his or her stated place of residence.
— I have worked with many IDPs. At the early stage of the implementation of the current procedure, there really were such objections. I would even call them not "objections," but "concerns." However, I talked to the IDPs from various areas of compact settlement after the process had been implemented. There might have been real problems somewhere, but I am not aware of them. Most of those to whom I have spoken see no problem here. This was done because the Ministry of Social Policy has a uniform mechanism of using the so-called commissions that can generally come to people's homes to find out where they are, who they are or whether they exist. These are the commissions that oversee social well-being of the people who have been allocated state assistance: large families, and low-income citizens, etc. These have been the commissions used by the Ministry for the verification procedure. In fact, the residence test was not one of their tasks. Their function is to actually come and make sure that a person is there. That's it.
You have mentioned the law. Some time ago you talked about the situations when the transportation of large cargoes across the demarcation line (which most people would call illegal trafficking) does not formally break any laws. And you could do nothing about it as the Head of Luhansk Oblast. Today you are in the Government, and the Cabinet has the right of legislative initiative. Are you working today towards any changes in this area?
— First of all, let me tell you about the phenomenon of smuggling in general. Like corruption, it exists in any