The issue extends beyond the United States worrying about provoking President Vladimir Putin. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia bluntly remarked during a panel at the Yalta European Strategy recently held in Kyiv that the lack of significant reforms in Ukraine has engendered growing alarm and mistrust in Washington. In private discussions with the author, ambassadors to Ukraine from certain key European Union countries echo these concerns – what if Ukraine’s Soviet-era generals sell the equipment to the terrorists; or, worse, what if no reforms take place, Ukraine descends into chaos and Russia romps in to pick up the pieces?
Unfortunately, the apparent loss of faith internationally is reflected in the frustration of Ukrainians with the slow pace of reform of Ukraine’s governing institutions. Even the Prime Minister at the YES conference regrettably admitted that the government has "failed” to fight corruption (although, in fairness, there have been improvements in some areas, including higher education and public procurement).
Nevertheless, Russia’s escalation of the conflict seems to be slowly turning the tide of opinion and there is palpable growing recognition in Western capitals that it is in their interests to provide Ukraine with an enhanced military capability, but under the right circumstances. The term "there is no military solution to this conflict" is probably now code for "show us you're serious about reforms and then we'll reconsider."
The equation is very simple:
Ukraine needs a robust army; to afford an armed forces properly
equipped to meet the threat it faces, Ukraine needs dynamic economic
growth; Ukraine will not achieve these results so long as
institutional corruption remains unchecked. In short, no reforms
equals little support.
To secure the support of its allies, Ukraine must therefore ensure that its governing institutions operate and function according to the values and principles underpinning the Euro-Atlantic system of economic and collective security.
they adopt reforms in three key sectors, the government and president
will have a compelling story to tell. These are neither new nor
controversial; indeed, the bulk of these reforms are integral parts
of the International Monetary Fund aid package, the EU Association
Agreement, the Copenhagen Criteria for EU accession and entry into
NATO; all have been on the table for years and most
ready for implementation.
1. Lustration of the judiciary. The adoption of a law securing judicial independence (formulated in 2006) and lustration of at least the superior administrative and commercial court judges is the litmus test for the viability and seriousness of all other reform efforts; the protection of the rights of persons, including their property rights, and holding government officials publicly accountable for their actions lie at the heart of the rule of law and a competitive economy. To restore the legitimacy of the judiciary, judges must undergo rigorous vetting and new European standards must be established for their appointment; the hallmark of any credible justice system is that justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done. The same goes for reforms.
These measures should be immediately followed by an overhaul of Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies, especially the police (encouragingly, the Minister of Interior has posted just such a plan on his Facebook page) and the transformation of the prosecutor's office, which still operates pursuant to its Stalinist origins.
2. Institutional reform: decentralization and reform of the civil service and the executive. No fight against corruption will succeed without the de-sovietization of Ukraine’s centralized vertical of power. The opaque and arbitrary command-administrative decision-making system inherited from the Soviet Union must be scrapped in favor of democratic governance based on the principles of transparency, accountability and subsidiarity (the EU’s term for effective delivery of public services to the consumer at the local level).
A plan to separate the functions of the executive and local governments (including limiting the number of inspection agencies), decentralize the budget process, pay civil servants a living wage so that they have less incentive to engage in rent-seeking behavior, and to limit contact with officials through a system of e-governance, was approved by the government on April 1 this year. Properly implemented, these reforms could be a “game-changer” in removing the institutional basis for corruption.
3. Abolish immunity for deputies and revamp the electoral system. A throng of young Maidan activists is seeking to enter the Verkhovna Rada. A good test of their reformist credentials would be for them to put to a vote the abolition (except for statements made on the floor of the Verkhovna Rada itself) of the immunity from criminal prosecution they will now enjoy as Peoples' Deputies.
This is no small matter: by standing up the for the principle of equality of all citizens before the law, the activist-deputies would demonstrate that that they are true to the principles of the Revolution of Dignity and are serious about fighting corruption.
They can further earn the trust of the people by introducing and shaming any reluctant colleagues into voting for electoral reform, especially open party lists, transparency in campaign finance for all parties, and the requirements for deputies to declare their assets (and expenditures) and those of their immediate family members.
These reforms will create the impetus to address Ukraine’s pressing socio-economic challenges in order to generate economic growth: de-monopolizing Ukraine’s oligarch-dominated economy and revitalizing the investment environment by enhancing competition, implementing pensions and labor reform, and overhauling the regulatory and tax systems.
In summary, Ukraine’s strategic response to Putin’s long game in Ukraine should be to attract Western investment on a scale that exceeds that made into Russia; Western governments will be more amenable to assisting Ukraine if they can explain to their citizens that many of their jobs would be a stake in the absence of such support.
The government should enact these reforms now - Ukraine’s future depends on it.
Daniel Bilak is a Kyiv-based international lawyer. The views expressed are his own.
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