Free advice to Kyiv
Ukraine has the National Investment Council, Ukraine Invest, Kyiv Investment Agency and many other organizations and people, in public and private sectors, whose mission is to increase investment in a nation starved for it.
We hate to say it, but those agencies and the people staffing them are wasting their time until Ukraine gets the basics right.
It took visiting World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to cut to the chase on Nov. 14 in Kyiv, the latest in a long list of visiting dignitaries trying to give Ukraine's leaders a much-needed reality check.
"The creation of an independent anticorruption court is the critical next step to tackle corruption and state capture, which are the biggest obstacles to Ukraine’s development and prosperity,” Kim said. “Progress in fighting corruption is crucial to grow businesses, create jobs, attract investors, and provide equal opportunities for all Ukrainians.”
Got that Boris Lozhkin, Daniel Bilak, Oleg Mistyuk and all the other leaders of business associations in Ukraine? Stop shooting the messengers, and denying the reality. Get to work. Step No. 1 means recognizing, as member of parliament Sergii Leshchenko laid out in a page 1 op-ed, that President Petro Poroshenko has cast his lot with the oligarchs who plunder the nation and broken his corruption-fighting promises to the people who put him in power. Step No. 2 would be to marshal collective influence and unite with Ukraine's citizens, civic society and Western friends to pressure the leadership to change.
Ukraine's courts are hopelessly corrupt and the make-up of the new Supreme Court won't change anything. Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko is an incompetent political hack put in place to harass the president's foes and protect his friends. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Security Service of Ukraine head Vasyl Hrytsak are anti-reformers. Corporate raiding, tax evasion, insider favors and impunity still rule. On a more local and fundamental level, Mayor Vitali Klitschko, the heroic boxer and hail fellow well met, continues to mismanage the city. The evidence is all around us, although those of us who live here are too inured to it.
How can Ukraine attract investors when it cannot even reliably supply all buildings with hot water and heat? Utilities are the most basic of government services and Kyiv is failing.
How can Ukraine improve its image or economy when Kyiv has empty, rotting, graffiti-strewn buildings in its city center? Mistyuk told the Kyiv Post that the city can't do anything about it — that the buildings have private owners who can do what they want. Nonsense. Great cities in the world employ smart tactics — building nuisance ordinances, eminent domain — to rid their municipalities of properties that are doing nothing commercially or aesthetically for their citizens. Another way to spur productive use of buildings is a progressive property tax — and one that enacts a penalty tax for owners of dormant buildings.
Let's move to public transportation and parking. Anybody who has tried to get from one end of this city to another knows that we don't have a road network that can meet the demands. Greater emphasis on improving our extensive, but aging, public transportation network of metro, trams, trolleybuses, buses and mini-buses will help a lot. As for parking, it's a disaster. Simple tried and true solutions need to be put in place: Enforce parking restrictions, fine violators and start towing illegally parked cars or "booting" them — placing metal locks on the wheels — so that owners get the message. This should be coupled with incentives and low-cost financing to build parking ramps, either municipally or privately owned, to help motorists get their cars off the streets and sidewalks. Ukraine and its capital city have indestructible charms. But poor public policies and spineless politicians are tempting fate.