Brake time?

The new ad­min­is­tra­tion failed, af­ter all, to make good on a sin­gle se­ri­ous re­form. The seem­ingly mi­nor post­pone­ment could sug­gest a sys­temic cri­sis of de­ci­sion-mak­ing

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

On the new ad­min­is­tra­tion's fail­ure to make good on a sin­gle se­ri­ous re­form

What hap­pened on Septem­ber 12, 2019? Few will re­call the news of that day, even though nearly all the do­mes­tic press re­ported it. That Thurs­day was the day the “turbo gear” the new gov­ern­ment’s en­gine was charg­ing along in of­fi­cially broke. The un­wa­ver­ing sub­mis­sion of the Rada’s mono­lithic ma­jor­ity to the pres­i­dent and Gov­ern­ment had lasted all of 10 days. Since that day, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion has found it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to get the poli­cies it wanted passed.

The first his­toric re­jec­tion was Bill #1075 “On the suc­ces­sion of Ukraine,” which pro­posed abol­ish­ing soviet reg­u­la­tions that were still valid in Ukraine, such as the Hous­ing and La­bor Codes. When the VR dis­play tally showed 214 votes in­stead of the min­i­mum of 226 needed, it laid bare a con­flict that runs deeper than merely the po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests of dif­fer­ent groups. It now looked like the style of work of the new team was bound to fail to pro­duce re­sults, be­cause it wasn’t so much whether the propo­si­tions be­ing rafted in gov­ern­ment of­fices were good or bad, but that the team sim­ply did not know how to get the de­sired re­sults.

Two days ear­lier, the VR Com­mit­tee for Le­gal Pol­icy had dis­cussed Bill #1075. MPs from dif­fer­ent fac­tions and newly-ap­pointed Jus­tice Min­is­ter Denys Mal­iuska joined the de­bate, sit­ting down next to MP Rok­solana Pid­lasa (SN), the co-au­thor of the bill. Both Mal­iuska and Pid­lasa be­long to the Sluha Nar­odu co­hort whom sup­port­ers tend to re­fer to as “young tech­nocrats,” point­ing to their bent to­wards prac­ti­cal work rather than dem­a­goguery. Be­fore join­ing the Gov­ern­ment, Mal­iuska worked at BRDO, an NGO that drafted bills for the Econ­omy Min­istry in the Gro­is­man Cab­i­net and has pro­vided much of the hu­man re­source foun­da­tion for the cur­rent one. Pid­lasa also comes from the NGO com­mu­nity and was the spokesper­son for the pre­vi­ous Econ­omy Min­istry.

Across the ta­ble from them sat the com­mit­tee’s first deputy chair, Va­syl Nim­chenko, a fa­mil­iar old face in pol­i­tics at 69. Now in the newly-minted Op­po­si­tion Plat­form–Za Zhytt­tia fac­tion and a one-time jus­tice on both the Supreme and Con­sti­tu­tional Court benches, Nim­chenko took the floor and be­gan to speak at

length about how dam­ag­ing the bill un­der con­sid­er­a­tion would be. Shortly, he launched into rem­i­nisc­ing about 1991 and the cir­cum­stances un­der which the laws of the Soviet Union and newly-in­de­pen­dent Ukraine were har­mo­nized. Mal­iuska and Pid­lasa turned away, barely sup­press­ing laugh­ter and look­ing al­most smugly con­fi­dent in their right­ness. They seemed to con­sider their pres­ence at the meet­ing a nec­es­sary for­mal­ity rather than a means of at­tract­ing sup­port­ers. Af­ter all, they had a ma­jor­ity of nearly 250 MPs be­hind them. Two days later, this mono­lith failed spec­tac­u­larly to pass the young re­form­ers’ bill.

Over the course of the fall, this in­abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate and make deals, to per­suade the pub­lic or their op­po­nents – skills that are, af­ter all, the essence of pol­i­tics, yet are treated by many of the SN MPs as a kind of per­verse virtue – was to trip them up sev­eral more times. The last such episode was in the runup to the Christ­mas hol­i­days, when, once again, just 213 MPs sup­ported a bill to le­gal­ize the gam­bling in­dus­try. While highly un­pop­u­lar, this ini­tia­tive was one of Ze­len­skiy’s key prom­ises and one of only a few that even made it into his of­fi­cial plat­form dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign. Af­ter fail­ing to pass the law to reg­u­late gam­bling, all the Gov­ern­ment did was use the po­lice to shut down gam­bling and slot ma­chine casi­nos. Ukraine has lived through such at­tempts be­fore and the gam­bling busi­ness has al­ways bounced back in fight­ing form.

The land mar­ket was an­other tale of an im­por­tant re­form that failed to pass. The Rada has al­ready voted first read­ing of the bill and plans were to pass it in sec­ond read­ing dur­ing the same ple­nary week that the gam­bling bill flopped. This time po­lit­i­cal games at an all-night marathon of the VR agri­cul­ture com­mit­tee and a clash be­tween pro­test­ers and po­lice in front of the Rada on De­cem­ber 17 got in the way. The prob­lem is not just that the bill has been reschedule­d to the new year. Since plans were to launch the mar­ket in the sec­ond half of 2020, this de­lay, in and of it­self, might not have been sig­nif­i­cant – if not for the sig­nal the party in power was send­ing to op­po­nents of po­lit­i­cal re­forms: that melees in the leg­is­la­ture and murky clashes out­side it are an ef­fec­tive way to block progress. Sluha Nar­odu can now look for­ward to demon­stra­tions against pri­va­ti­za­tion, le­gal­iz­ing gam­bling, and any­thing that’s more “rad­i­cal” than UAH 100 rise in pen­sions. And all those par­ties and politi­cians that claim to “speak for or­di­nary Ukraini­ans” will be happy to put in the time and ef­fort nec­es­sary.

Nor is the nev­erend­ing tale of the Fi­nan­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau (FIB) re­solved yet. The Poroshenko ad­min­is­tra­tion spent years promis­ing to launch it. Ap­par­ently, Ze­len­skiy and his team have now taken up the ba­ton, de­lay­ing the launch of the new in­sti­tu­tion and se­ri­ously curb­ing the ap­petite of the SBU, the Se­cu­rity Bureau led by Ivan Bakanov, Ze­len­skiy’s friend, in in­ves­ti­gat­ing white-col­lar crime. So far, the FIB bill has only passed the first read­ing, with de­bates over the qual­ity of its con­tent on­go­ing.

An­other se­ries of re­forms has failed as well, hav­ing been passed by MP but not launched. The four big ones are ju­di­ciary re­form, restaffing the State In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau (SIB), elec­tion re­form, and the reg­u­la­tion of am­ber min­ing.

The Rada for­mally com­pleted the re­form of the highly lu­cra­tive and largely il­le­gal and de­struc­tive busi­ness of am­ber min­ing in late 2019 when it fi­nally passed the bill in full on De­cem­ber 19. How­ever, the bill had not been signed into law by the pres­i­dent or pub­lished in the of­fi­cial bul­letin by De­cem­ber 24. The same hap­pened with the Elec­tion Code, although in this case the de­lay can be seen as pos­i­tive in terms of the work of the new Rada: the au­thors took into ac­count the opin­ions of dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties and NGOs when pre­par­ing the fi­nal draft. As a re­sult, the bill was passed with 330 votes and gen­er­ally pos­i­tive feed­back from pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions. It’s not per­fect as it in­tro­duces the much-vaunted open lists only partly.

A de­lay of five days in sign­ing bills does not seem ex­tra­or­di­nary, although no rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion was pro­vided in some cases. A key rea­son for one of them was the need to dis­miss SIB Di­rec­tor Ro­man Truba who had fea­tured in a num­ber of scan­dals. Although the bill was fi­nally signed on De­cem­ber 24, Truba re­mained in his po­si­tion un­til De­cem­ber 27. Mean­while, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Maidan killings in 2014 re­mains un­der threat. The Rada passed a bill that al­lows the cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tors to move to the SIB and con­tinue their work, by­pass­ing the nor­mally manda­tory com­pe­ti­tion pro­ce­dure. For now, how­ever, all the in­ves­ti­ga­tions are still blocked and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors could still be dis­missed from the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice be­fore the law comes into ef­fect. If that hap­pens, the rules pro­vided by the law will be use­less.

Ju­di­ciary re­form, the first ma­jor change of the Ze­len­skiy pres­i­dency, has not de­liv­ered re­sults yet in ei­ther of its two ma­jor in­no­va­tions: the re­duc­tion of the num­ber of Supreme Court judges from 200 to 100 and the re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the High Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of Judges, a key com­po­nent in the ju­di­ciary sys­tem. The for­mer is im­pos­si­ble with­out the lat­ter, and com­pe­ti­tion for seats in the High Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of Judges is at risk drag­ging on in­def­i­nitely be­cause the pro­ce­dure is still un­clear.

THE NEW AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TION ENDED 2019 WITH SOME TO­KEN VIC­TO­RIES, SUCH AS THE MUCH-HYPED MEET­ING OF THE NOR­MANDY FOUR AND THE RE­MOVAL OF IM­MU­NITY FOR MPS AND THE PRES­I­DENT.

BUT THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON THEIR AC­TUAL SUB­STANCE

Then there are the re­forms that are sup­posed to take place “ASAP.” This par­tic­u­lar phrase and its var­i­ous syn­onyms are also typ­i­cal of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. It would take most of a page to list the times when the new gov­ern­ment has used it, both be­fore and since the two elec­tions. Still, some of th­ese lucky ASAP re­forms are worth men­tion­ing. First, there’s the widely ad­ver­tised ap­proach of re­ly­ing on “peo­ple power” and ref­er­enda – got which the pres­i­dent has still not come up with a def­i­nite con­cept. In March, his team promised to present the nec­es­sary bills “as soon as pos­si­ble” for con­sid­er­a­tion. In Oc­to­ber, Speaker Dmytro Razumkov re­de­fined “as soon as pos­si­ble” to “be­fore New Year’s,” but in De­cem­ber the team ad­mit­ted that it would not com­plete a draft of the bill in 2019.

ASAP is also the time­frame given to the bills needed to fi­nal­ize de­cen­tral­iza­tion. In late De­cem­ber, the gov­ern­ment pro­posed amend­ments to the Con­sti­tu­tion in this re­gard, but with­out re­lated laws be­ing passed, the im­ple­men­ta­tion pro­ce­dure re­mains in limbo. In short, an­other re­form that might not be fin­ished.

Econ­omy Min­is­ter Ty­mofiy Mylo­vanov uses sim­i­lar rhetoric when talk­ing about the new draft La­bor Code. “The new la­bor bill is still in process,” he said on De­cem­ber 23. “It will be pub­lished on the Min­istry’s web­site in the next few days.” Back in Septem­ber, the prom­ise was that it would be put up for a vote by Jan­uary 1, 2020 – by Jus­tice Min­is­ter Mal­iuska dur­ing the com­mit­tee dis­cus­sion of ill-fated Bill #1075.

The new ad­min­is­tra­tion ended 2019 with some to­ken vic­to­ries, such as the much-hyped meet­ing of the Nor­mandy Four and the re­moval of im­mu­nity for MPs and the pres­i­dent. But the jury is still out on their ac­tual sub­stance. For now, th­ese have al­lowed Ze­len­skiy and his party to hang on to a high level of trust. But the ef­fect of sym­bolic so­lu­tions fades quickly. Soon enough, it could turn out to that Ukraine’s new po­lit­i­cal team has lit­tle more to of­fer than prom­ises to do things “ASAP.”

Time to ac­count for them­selves. When he del­e­gated tasks in early fall, Pres­i­dent Ze­len­skiy pub­licly ap­pointed of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­men­ta­tion, with Speaker Dmytro Razumkov among the first

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