Georgian Team in Ukraine: Reforms Amidst Stormy Waters

12 February 2015
At the end of 2014, Ukraine appointed foreign citizens to senior administrative posts in its new government as the country struggles through a turning point of its statehood. Georgian former officials are present among the appointees, including former Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, former Minister of Health, former Deputy Minister of Justice and the former Chairman of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara , Former Minister of Education, current members of Parliament, as well as a dozen of other former officials are involved in either informal advisory structures, or international ventures, which aim providing expertise for the reforms. Saakashvili itself, appears to be very close to president Poroshenko , who obviously listens to his advise. His recent nomination to head the international advisory board of Ukraine is a good demonstration.
"Ukraine is fighting two wars at once. One is the actual war in the East and the other is about reforms. You can’t win one without winning the other."
Bringing in Georgian officials from the Saakashvili administration reveals Ukraine’s intentions to recreate Georgia’s experience and successful reforms aimed a long-term change. Although, the results of applying these reforms yet remain to be seen, attracting the Georgian reformists, who upgraded Georgia from one of the most to one of the least corrupt countries in the world, suggests that fighting corruption is one of President Poroshenko’s key targets.. In fact a main component for successfully fighting corruption –political will- seems to be present among the current leaders of Ukraine. However, the big question is, whether the political in few select leaders in sufficient to tackle rampant corruption and to what extent is the wider political elite ready for substantial, even painful changes. Combating corruption is unquestionably not an easy task; it does not target one sector, but instead intertwines with an array of institutions and practices. Georgia’s experience made it explicit that in the post-Soviet space, where corruption in the state institutions is notorious and visible , in reality tends to be only a tip of the massive iceberg. Bigger problem rests underneath, where the criminal mentality of the wider population and intertwined interests of oligarchs, organized crime and state institutions create an ocean problems. The problem is further aggravated in crisis-hit Ukraine, which cannot afford gradualism or poor quality reforms; the government has to be both swift and effective, reforms must be carried out immediately and eminently. Most importantly, as the time is ticking away, Ukrainians feel increased disappointment. After a year of new government in power, no one can identify a single field, where the situation has improved, or new reforms were introduced. The Government talks the talk, but whether and when they will walk the walk, remains unclear. The impasse is further depend by extremely high stakes . The understanding that Ukraine now has a third chance, as it was clearly articulated during Munich Security Conference by many speakers is prevalent. After the missed opportunity at the dawn of the 1990s and failed orange revolution , post –Maidan Ukraine seems to be having a final third try at the European future And then there is a war. Unlike Georgia in 2003, Ukraine is taking steps at transformation in parallel to a fierce war with Russia. “One is the actual war in the East and the other is about reforms. You can’t win one without winning the other.”- this quote by Eka Zghuladze demonstrates the attitudes in the Ukrainian elite. However, the magnitude of this task cannot be underestimated. While the costs of war are unclear, Ukrainian officials estimate that a month of war costs at least 5-6 billion USD. In 2014 Ukrainian GDO shrinked with at least 8%, while a double figure is probably more correct. Hryvna has devaluated from 8 to 1 USD, to 25 to 1 and free falling. Most alarmingly budgetary deficit is estimated to be at over 10% and state debt has rocketed to almost a trillion Hryvnas. These macroeconomic indicators, together with the war put Ukrainian economy at the verge of collapse and further increase the sensitivities associated with any painful reform, particularly in the field of anti-corruption. image002Drawing parallels between Georgia and Ukraine is reasonable, given their common historical background, common adversary, and shared goal. Nevertheless, implementing reforms, particularly concerning the fight against corruption, is far more byzantine in Ukraine. Ukraine is almost ten times bigger than Georgia, and has much larger federal administration units. The country is heavily embedded with oligarchies, blurred and intertwined bureaucracies of social welfare programs and public services -- cozy and mighty nests of reigning corruption that have been entrenched in the country for more than twenty years, and make the process of dismantling corruption prodigiously difficult and painful. To compare, while the public services were centralized in Georgia, in Ukraine they are part of the local administrations and various ministries – Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Justice have a say. Thus, to reform the services, Government needs a larger political will than a will of one particular Minister or a small group of reformers. Surviving the process requires reform-executors that are not only reforms-driven, but who are also entirely free of connections with local oligarchs and are not striving for local political power. The Georgian reformists -- who bring experience and vision who are experienced and motivated to offset the Soviet phantom in favor of extending democracy, overwhelmingly meet the criteria. Yet, unless the reformists are supported by the political will, courage, and public consolidation, the reforms will remain difficult. Meantime, Ukrainian Government has already taken its first steps in the fight against corruption by pledging to establish an effective Anti-Corruption Bureau. Enacting the bureau was an important decision because it’s an independent and powerful body. However, in order to make it effective, a sufficient legislative framework has to be also adopted; these legislative initiatives have already been submitted to the parliament and the cumbersome process of selecting the head of the Bureau is underway. While several Georgian candidates have a chance of occupying the post of the Head of Bureau, the selection procedure is long and subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny. This process is a good demonstration of what could be wrong with Ukrainian reforms – while time is not on the side Kiev, any reform takes longer in Ukraine than elsewhere. Large-scale deregulation, zero tolerance for corruption, confiscating capital obtained through corruption, introducing a plea bargaining procedure, introducing new state symbols, reducing the oversized public sector bureaucracy, and raising the salaries of public officials and civil servants-these are some of the core points of the formula to be applied in order to narrow down the possibility of corruption in practice. But these are easier said than done. Deregulation entails stepping on the interests of influential oligarchs and local administrations, confiscating capital and arresting corrupt officials seems to be a long shot, as none has yet been arrested. Reducing the oversized public sector bureaucracy is ridden with the problem of raising unemployment and further poverty – already a huge problem for a country. Another central hallmark of the fight against corruption is police reform. In order to make citizens law-abiding, the law enforcers need to be free of corruption first. Likewise in Georgia before the Rose Revolution, the police in Ukraine are an embodiment of the corrupted Soviet militia - a heavy legacy that has to be structurally, systematically, and fundamentally changed. Few may know what an enduring task it is to increase people’s trust of a police associated with corruption and shielding the authorities, instead of guarding order and serving citizens. However, equipped with an efficacious Georgian portfolio, experience, and a sharp vision, Zguladze and team of Georgian and international reformers laid out a five-year plan to reform the Ukrainian police from head to toe. First results of this effort should be seen already in early summer 2015, as up to 10 thousand new patrol officers replace old corrupt GAI first in Kiev and then in other cities. The reform of police is obviously harder in Ukraine. Old regulations have to be changed, or scrapped, requiring a long and cumbersome procedures inside the ministries and the Parliament, often upsetting existing balance of interests among those who comfortably fed off the previous system. Another problem is that nothing can be done simultaneously in the whole Ukraine. Some reforms, like the police reform will need to be piloted in Kiev, and then replicated elsewhere, stretching the patience of the population even further. However, as the first fruits of reforms become visible, public support will hopefully increase. Ongoing police reform in Ukraine shows that there is no lack of socially motivated citizens, who have applied in massive numbers for a relatively low-paid jobs of a policeman, and who will have to replace 80 % of the current police force in the next 5 years. Transparent and competitive recruitment procedures have already been introduced in police, which could potentially lay ground for the creation of the modern law enforcement free of Soviet symbols. Ukraine is fighting a decisive battle, and the success of reforms is the major lever for it to survive. Compared to 2008, when Russia swathed Georgia in a full-flagged war to stop its Euro-Atlantic integration, today, Russia is almost “all in”- in Ukraine, to use poker terminology. Winning in Ukraine is a gateway to winning over the whole Eastern partnership region and reviving the archaic concept of the spheres of influence for Putin. The equation is pretty much the same for Europe- Making Ukraine a success story, along with Georgia, sets example for other states in the region, including for Russian Republic too, expands the circle of democracies around Russia, and hence strengthens security and stability of the region and Europe. It is clear why Georgia should be actively engaged in supporting Ukraine in implementing effective reforms and in reinforcing democracy building.