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Though Progress is Genuine, Reform Must Accelerate in Ukraine

Written by: Alexander J. Motyl

Source: World Affairs

The following is an interview with Myroslav Senyk, former head of the Lviv Province Council and current Vice Rector for Administration and Development of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

MOTYL: Most people in the West, as well as most Ukrainians in Ukraine, are persuaded that corruption in Ukraine has either remained unchanged or gotten worse in the last two years. Do you agree with either of these views?

SENYK: The facts argue for the opposite. If you speak to Ukrainian businesspeople, as I do on a regular basis, they’ll tell you that corruption has decreased several fold in the state tax service, the police, the procuracy, as well as in a host of inspection agencies related to the environment, health, and fire prevention. Bankers who deal with foreign capital are generally positive in their evaluations of the National Bank’s efforts to improve financial markets. There have also been positive changes in capital markets. And it’s also important to note efforts made by both the government and president to improve conditions in our large state-owned monopoly-enterprises such as Ukrainian Railroads, the oil giant Ukrnafta, the Ukrainian gas extraction agency Ukrhazvydobuvannya, and others. Obviously, there are many other sectors, such as customs, where little change has occurred, but that’s no reason to claim that nothing has happened on the anti-corruption front.

MOTYL: If so much change has actually taken place, why are people convinced that nothing has changed?

SENYK: If you consider that President Poroshenko has begun a genuine “de-oligarchization” of the country—possibly out of conviction or possibly under pressure from internal and external actors—and if you recall that most mass media outlets in Ukraine belong to the oligarchs, then it’s not surprising that the media are disseminating this view so as to undermine the President’s efforts and consolidate their own position.

MOTYL: What is the current administration doing wrong?

SENYK: Reforms can work only if they are supported by the overwhelming majority of the population. I remember when our neighbors, the Poles, introduced unpopular economic reforms in the 1990s. Leading national figures such as the now deceased Jacek Kuron appeared daily on television to explain, in comprehensible language, the content and necessity of the reforms. As a result, Polish society accepted the reforms and they proved successful. In contrast, Ukraine’s president and government believe that no such dialogue is necessary, and, as a result, the reforms are misunderstood or rejected by the people. The President’s tendency to resolve important legislative issues by fiat has also undermined his credibility.

MOTYL: Decentralization actually appears to be taking off. Do you agree?

SENYK:  On the one hand, there’s been a genuine financial decentralization and, as a result, local governments are better funded and more able to provide services. It’s impossible not to notice that conditions in our cities have improved in the last two years. Roads are being repaired, city squares are being renovated, and housing construction has increased. On the other hand, the consolidation of local communities into larger administrative units is proceeding very slowly, and there is still no clear division of authority between local administrative organs and the state.

MOTYL: How would you evaluate the reforms being undertaken in higher education?

SENYK: I can state with confidence that higher education has experienced very positive changes. The most important of which is that higher education institutions have acquired more academic freedom. In addition, private educational institutions may now receive state financing, and religious organizations now have the right to establish educational institutions. The Ukrainian Catholic University actively lobbied the Education Ministry, the President, the government, and the Rada with respect to all these issues.

MOTYL: How do you evaluate the reform process in Ukraine?

SENYK: Reforms are taking place, but not fast enough. I fear that, at this rate, reforms will drag on for another two-three years, with the result that they will fail because the people won’t wait that long for their lives to improve. In order to avoid chaos, we need to ramp up reforms greatly. There are three priorities. First, the courts must become independent, effective, and fair. People must believe that crime will be punished and that their rights will be defended. Without such courts, the fight against corruption will fail. Second, the pension system must be reformed.  At present, one working person supports two or more non-working persons. At some point the retirement age may have to be raised; in the meantime, the number of early retirees has to be lowered. If something isn’t done soon, business may simply stop making contributions to the pension fund. Third, the medical system has to be fixed and decentralization completed.

I’m persuaded that the President, government, and Rada understand what needs to be done. They appear to have the political will to implement change. I think that a year from now we’ll see positive changes in Ukrainian society.

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