With all eyes on Tymoshenko’s case (waiting to see if her case will be decriminalized or not), life still goes on. There are other important events. For one, a Forum of Civic Organizations of Ukraine was to take place in Kyiv on October 13. Its aim is to stand up for the benefits guaranteed by state. However, it was not quite clear if the Afghan war veterans and Chornobyl disaster fighters – the main movers behind the recent protest actions – would attend the event (This article was written on October 13.).
On October 13, deputy director of organization department of the Union of Afghan War Veterans Viktor Ishchenko said that Afghan vets and Chornobyl fighters had canceled their rallies, since their benefits were left intact. “Our benefits remain, so we took this decision. Maybe, there will be people willing to participate in the actions on their own, but they won’t be using our symbols.”
However, some time around noon another news arrived: the home of Oleksandr Kovaliov, leader of the Afghan veteran organization, was being searched, and all veterans had allegedly been put on alert. True, no one cared to inform about the aim of this mobilization and the activists’ further actions. In a word, the situation was pretty discrepant.
Yet no matter if the Afghan veterans are coming to the rally or not, the benefit problem remains. The bitter truth is that our country remains one of Europe’s poorest. But at the same time Ukraine is the global leader concerning the number of benefits: 142 categories of Ukrainian citizens are entitled to some kind of benefit. One has to agree that it is a strange social policy, protecting half of the population. On the contrary, it exceeds all sensible boundaries.
“In Ukraine, benefits are granted regardless of income, so the citizens entitled to benefits use governmental aid irrespective of their personal income and material status. Thus, an individual can get tens of thousands hryvnias in salary, and still have the right of traveling free in public transport, preferential rates when paying for housing services,” as first deputy of Ukraine’s minister of social policy Vasyl Nadraha once complained to journalists.
And here are some more figures. Over the period from January to April, the sum of subsidies for housing services has nearly tripled, reaching 73 million hryvnias. Clearly, no budget can cope with this kind of expenditure. Besides, the current budget does not embrace all benefits. And this is where an interesting process starts: the most active and persistent benefit seekers fight tooth and nail for their privileges. The rest remain as they are.
Obviously, the problem of benefits has to be addressed. All experts are unanimous in saying that economy cannot develop under such conditions. The budget pie will only shrink, and the fights over each piece will become tougher.
However, the Afghan war veterans have their own argument in favor of their right to benefits: “We, too, are very well aware of that being Ukrainian citizens. We surely have to believe that this is how things are. But when the poor are robbed so the rich can have even more… You know, Immanuel Kant said that when justice disappears, there is no point in living. So that’s where we have gruesome injustice,” said Afghan war vet Petro Riabenko.
Indeed, when compared to the movers and shakers, the rest of benefit holders get crumbs from the master’s table. It is a common knowledge that when an MP’s term in the legislature runs out, they are entitled to a one-year benefit pay the size of a normal MP salary. And if they find a job afterwards, they also are entitled to 50 percent of the same amount until retirement. That is, if there is a salary rise for the incumbent MPs, their former colleagues also get a higher benefit pay.
Besides, the Law “On the Status of People’s Deputy” stipulates that when a 1st or 2nd category civil servant (i.e., the prime minister, ministers and their deputies, heads of oblast administrations, and so on) retires, they are entitled to a monthly payment of 85 percent of their official salary including long-service increments and rank bonuses until retirement. This rule applies if they do not find another job. One might just wonder how many such MPs and civil servants Ukraine has. There will be a lot.
Besides, legislators also enjoy the right to housing cost compensations (in case they buy an apartment or a house), free stay at sanatoria, and free parking tickets. And they also get holiday allowances.
Where is the way out of this situation? There are more and more voices saying that all the benefits should be canceled but for those supporting the sick and disabled. And civil servants and legislators should first be stripped of benefits. But who will vote for that?!
We also asked The Day’s regional experts what can be done about the benefits.
“THE SYSTEM OF BENEFITS IS A RESULT OF CORRUPTION”
Aider EMIROV, director, Bekir Choban Zade Charitable Fund:
“The cheapest and easiest populist policy for a government is to grant some sort of benefit to some category of voters. Standing ovation, everyone is happy. That is why virtually all previous governments, both Soviet and independent Ukrainian, bribed their voters with benefits. Russia has already understood that this is a ruinous policy. Now a part of their benefits are monetized, another part is canceled, it was a complicated process, but it has brought good results. But over here, you can see a trolley bus packed with passenger, but no one has to pay their fares. On the other hand, the government finds every possible way to avoid paying relevant compensations to benefit-granting organizations, such as public transport companies.
“Now it is a very painful issue, since it affects many categories of population. But however hard this may be, Ukraine must get rid of the benefit system. Granting benefits is an economic absurdity. No one would need benefits in a healthy, well-balanced economy. What is a benefit? It’s when you take the bus, but the budget pays your fares. Or your home is heated at the expense of the public budget. But why should someone pay for me? You had better create conditions under which everyone would be able to pay for themselves. Or if you want to please a certain category, give them a decent old age pension, so they need no benefits.
“Therefore it is obvious that this unaffordable benefit system is a result of corruption. Budget money is embezzled, but the government pretends to be protecting the vulnerable categories of the population with benefits. State must get rid of benefits by all means, there is no doubt about it, but this should be a step-by-step process. A part must be just canceled, and a part should be monetized now. We should gradually come to an economy where benefits are not necessary at all.”
“TRUST IN STATE WILL BE COMPLETELY LOST”
Oleh KONOVALOV, head of Zhytomyr oblast organization of the Union of
Officers of Ukraine, retired lieutenant colonel, participant of Soviet warfare in Afghanistan:
“It is a very painful issue. When the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan, it was rather a matter of ideas. The men who were sent there knew that there would not be any big money for them there. But still, some benefits were granted. Speaking of peacemaking operations in former Yugoslavia and Iraq, that is where you go to earn money in the first place, because wages are quite high there.
“They have introduced a lot of benefits in Ukraine, and some of them should not have been introduced at all. You should not promise anything to our peacemakers. For example, there can be an inspector taking a business trip to check a Ukrainian military mission abroad – and voila, he is entitled to lifetime benefits. All our generals enjoy them. Such benefits must be canceled, and the government should impose the practice we used to have in Afghanistan, when you had to serve at least for a month before you became entitled to something.
“Our state can keep ignoring the Afghan vets and Chornobyl disaster fighters, but the truth is that most of their benefits are just on paper. What they still can actually enjoy is the discount for housing rates, plus in Zhytomyr they have a right to free trolley bus passage. But the other benefits remain a fiction. Japan, for instance, has boards with the portraits of the World War II kamikazes – they honor their heroes. If you strip the Chornobyl fighters and Afghan veterans off their benefits, then people’s trust in state will be completely lost.
“Most of Afghan veterans can’t return to active military duty. But a lieutenant serving on a contract will think twice if it’s worth displaying heroism when he sees what has been done to his older comrades. The civil servants, who drive about in posh cars, cannot care less, they treat us as subhumans. But in Russia, for instance, war veterans get considerable increments to their pensions.”
“THE REFORM HAS TO BE TRANSPARENT”
Oles STAROVOIT, legislator, the Lviv oblast rada:
“The question of benefits indeed needs regulation. However, in a situation when the vast majority of population is way below poverty line living from hand to mouth, a total cancelation of benefits will result in even worse impoverishment and thus in a social outburst. The repairing of this situation will take a reform program of 5 to 10 years long.
“First of all, benefits should be limited or canceled for those categories of population who do not need them at all, such as legislators (in particular, they enjoy the right of free use of public transport which they never take, but certain transport companies get compensations from the budget), the military and the police, civil servants, etc.
“Secondly, the benefits should be addressed to concrete individuals. For instance, it would be better to grant a certain special traveling increment to pensions for the disabled than give them a right to free use of public transport: some disabled people may use public transport for free several times a day, but others will never use it (in the country there is no public transport and people mostly get about on foot). But it is only selected transport companies that get compensations from the budget.
“Thirdly, no more benefits should be granted from now on, with the exception of a limited number of categories who really need them (the disabled, families with many children, and children without parental care).
“Then, the existing benefit holders should all be registered, so those who have no lawful right to enjoy them might be revealed. Next, benefits should be made unavailable for individuals with high incomes, in particular, salaries. And finally, the reform has to be transparent, with public discussions and explanations, without rushing the issue like the government is doing it now.”
Interviewed by Mykola SEMENA, Simferopol, Tetiana KOZYRIEVA, The Day, Lviv, Valerii KOSTIUKEVYCH, The Day, Zhytomyr