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Prime minister’s first year: conclusions and promises

PM Volodymyr Hroisman postpones reporting to parliament to practice with journalists?
13 April, 10:30
Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day

Volodymyr Hroisman’s government is one year old. Can we (and should we) compare them with a toddler who makes his first steps but who cannot speak yet and so finds other ways to express his wishes? Of course, such a comparison would be incorrect for the most part. Let us formulate our question differently: has our government grown up and learned to run the country in such a way as to make citizens feel that they are really being cared for?

In our opinion, this was exactly the question that Prime Minister Hroisman was trying to answer at his meeting with the media. Moreover, this press conference had a special meaning for him as a kind of rehearsal for his report to parliament (which was postponed to May, probably, following his request). The Day recently wrote about parliamentary traditions in the United Kingdom, where the incumbent PM Theresa May reports to the legislators and answers their questions every Wednesday (see The Day of March 14, 2017). Our domestic politicians, however, will never get used to keeping to the rules, despite keeping talking about democracy and the civilized world.

Thus the press appeared as a kind of coach and informer about the sentiments prevailing in the society. A year ago, in April 2016, in the article “The National Government Team,” Den wrote: “Why no one wonders which problems must this government settle, what kind of challenges is it facing?” and added: “People are confronted with this question: we went out on Maidan, sacrificed more than a hundred lives there, and found ourselves still further from Europe and from our goals than we were under Yanukovych.”

Hroisman did his homework. His key message at the press conference was the strategic action plan up to 2020, or the five reforms he believes to be the key ones for his government and about which he reported at the recent government session. “In fact, this is the plan which enables us to answer the question which way we are heading and what we need to do to start serious economic development of Ukraine,” said Hroisman at that session.

He began the press conference with a short video Ukraine in Statistics, which presented some positive information: in 2016 Ukrainian economy grew by 2.3 percent, the average nominal salary by 35.4 percent, 66 million ton grain was harvested, the public budget deficit was reduced to 3 percent. As if summarizing the data, the prime minister pointed out: “We were able to keep our promises.” Hroisman promised that 2017 would be the year of growth for national economy and the year of improving social standards for citizens. “We have started a refurbishing of the country,” said he outlining the intended steps in the road infrastructure (and infrastructure in general), as well as in education and medicine. “Everything what Ukraine’s economy will produce, we will re-invest in the life of Ukrainian citizens.”

Probably the prime minister meant to develop this thesis when he said, “We will modernize pensions for 5.6 million Ukrainian citizens.” According to him, around 1.3 million citizens will get a rise of 200 hryvnias, 1.2 million (in terms of current prices) 200 to 500 hryvnias per month, and almost 2 million, 500 to 1,000 hryvnias. Another 1.1 million will see more than 1,000 hryvnias rise in pensions. “The modernization of pensions will be completely dependent on the contributions we all have paid. This must be an absolutely fair solidary system.” Meanwhile, he reassured the population by saying that the intended pension reform, which the government is going to propose to parliament, “does not include any parameters to raise the pension age.” “Nine million out of twelve million pensioners will get a rise in pensions without any additional credits or anything else.”

Hroisman is sure that the necessary funds will be found in economy. It was probably no coincidence, too, that he mentioned that sooner or later Russia would pay the compensation for Ukraine’s occupied territories just like Germany was forced to do it after the Second World War. “This includes not only the occupied part of Donbas, but also Crimea, annexed by Russians, which in fact stole everything that belongs to the Ukrainian people. I realize that it is a more distant future. But I do know for sure that Russia will be paying contributions for damages to Ukraine and all the other countries it invaded.”

The only thing that the journalists never heard from the prime minister was self-criticism or even criticism of his ministers. He only mentioned those (and he must have meant the opposition) who creates all sorts of hindrances for the government. The most criticism was aimed at Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of Fatherland parliamentary faction. Speaking about the Ukraine-Russia gas dispute which is being considered at the Stockholm arbitration court, he said the following: “If we win, justice for Ukraine will be restored. If God forbid the court passes a different decision, it means tens of billions of dollars, which in my opinion cannot be invested. Because these are the consequences of the contract signed by Tymoshenko. This will be the message to Tymoshenko, which we will have to send instead of money: if she signed it, let her bear the responsibility. Why should Ukrainian people pay for it? There is no other option.”

Hroisman would not hold the government responsible for the failure of privatization, shifting the blame on Ihor Bilous, head of the State Property Fund, who had just resigned. “I see that we can effectively sell the Odesa Port Plant (OPP), so when the new head of the Fund is appointed, he will confront this question,” remarked the prime minister adding that it is not the government that sells the OPP, but the State Property Fund is obliged to prepare the plant for privatization. “We only approve tender conditions,” added Hroisman. He must have forgotten the real reasons why this tender, which might have earned tens of millions dollars for the treasury, was sabotaged twice.

The Day asked Oleksandr Sokolovskyi, president of the Ukrainian Association of Employers Ukrlehprom, to comment the prime minister’s report. We also asked if the business feels the government cares for it. “Only verbally, but in fact we do not feel we are being cared for,” was the answer. “Past year the regulators fined businesses for more than 94 billion hryvnias, in contrast with 6 billion in 2015. According to the statistics provided by the Federation of Employers, the number of planned inspections has grown by more than 54 percent (the inspections were mostly carried out on businesses with annual revenues exceeding 20 million hryvnias, which are exempt from the moratorium). The number of extraordinary inspections on the whole decreased, but the number of those extraordinary inspections which are initiated by law-enforcement authorities and public prosecutors’ offices grew by as much as 83 percent.”

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