On Jan. 16, 2008, the Cabinet of Ministers unanimously approved its draft program “The Ukrainian Breakthrough: for People, Not Politicians.” According to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the government heeded the president’s address to the Verkhovna Rada and all his comments and suggestions. Tymoshenko emphasized that the draft program “was thoroughly discussed” by various strata of society as well as scholars. The draft got its share of criticism, and the prime minister requested that the critics be included in a board to develop the government’s action plan that will be based on the program.
Frankly, it is hard to believe in the effectiveness of public discussions of the government’s program if only because there was too little time devoted to this undertaking. Even less likely seems to be the Jan. 17 announcement by the Cabinet’s press service that the government’s program also incorporates suggestions that were given during a two- day hotline set up by the Cabinet of Ministers.
Furthermore, the prime minister’s statement that her program reflects all the president’s suggestions raises some doubts — after all, she had only one day to do this. Viktor Baloha, the head of the Presidential Secretariat, says that Yushchenko’s critical comments and specific recommendations pertain to all chapters of the government’s action plan. “The president insists that certain paragraphs of the proposed document be brought into conformity with current legislation, statements be made more specific, and the deadlines for the Cabinet of Ministers to meet its obligations be indicated. President Yushchenko proposes to couch the program’s statements in unambiguous terms, for example, “the government will provide” rather than “the government will be adopting measures” or “the government will be taking care of,” Baloha reasoned persuasively.
According to him, the president’s proposals pertain, above all, to the social component of the government’s program. President Yushchenko has drawn the Cabinet’s attention to the fact that the draft program fails to incorporate such socially significant issues as the payment of wage arrears and the prevention of further arrears in all types of businesses. The program does not set out in sufficient detail measures to improve the security and safety of working conditions in the industrial sector. In particular, the president proposes to introduce an economic stimulation mechanism to make owners of businesses interested in creating safe working conditions, including the demand to reimburse all costs incurred by the state in the event of an industrial disaster. Moreover, the deadline for providing all public general education institutions with high- speed Internet service needs to be shortened by two years, from 2010 to 2008.
The president insists that the state must introduce an urgent social housing plan for families and single parents who are bringing up five or more children, as well families into which three or more children are born at the same time. The government must also guarantee preferred application conditions and tuition waivers in all levels of state education institutions for children coming from large families (five or more children).
The head of state also proposes to include measures in pursuance of his decree on building affordable housing. “These are the social initiatives of the president on whose realization he will insist regardless of the composition of the Cabinet,” says Baloha.
“Today the government has every opportunity not only to develop its action plan, but also to implement it. Relying on the support of the president and the parliamentary majority, the Cabinet of Ministers has sufficient resources and tools to create a precedent by fully implementing all the obligations to our society and state, which it pledges to fulfill,” Baloha emphasized.
Ukrainian students, however, are sharply critical of the government’s program. The Day received a letter addressed to the prime minister from the Ukrainian Association of Student Self-Government, which expresses concern about the way issues pertaining to state educational and youth policies are presented in the program. The students are perturbed by the absence of a number of clauses envisaged by the “Obligations to the Students of Ukraine,” which Yulia Tymoshenko solemnly signed in Kyiv on Sept. 1, 2007. As listed in the letter, these obligations include a breakthrough in students’ monthly allowances (an increase to the level of the minimum living wage), a housing breakthrough, i.e., the construction of new, modern student campuses, etc.
It seems that similar claims could be made by other public organizations that, one way or another, were instrumental in the preparation of the current government’s elections pledges. However, this is not even the main problem. Tymoshenko will undoubtedly pursue these goals, but their implementation may place the country’s economy in a difficult situation. This is something to be considered by the prime minister and the president, who continue to play games with voters.