In many ways, Ukraine still lives by rules drawn up over 70 years ago by the Soviet authorities. The country has made progress in several areas, including decentralization, but the government is still divided into those who want to bring change and those doing their best to preserve the old order. In this situation, trustworthy institutions are a key factor in reforming the country, according to the participants of a panel discussion that took place on June 24 in Lviv.
Ukrainian government officials, politicians, entrepreneurs, and political experts talked for about three hours but didn’t agree on a universal formula of how to build those institutions. Speakers did agree, however, that Ukraine needs to hire new judges, to renew trust in the banking sector, to reform law enforcement bodies so that more Ukrainians feel they can rely on them, and proceed with decentralization and privatization.
Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, a Ukrainian civil activist, and frontman of Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy, moderated the discussion.
“We renovated our old Soviet apartments, painted red flags yellow and blue, and foolishly thought something had changed,” said Vakarchuk.
Gerard Roland, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, said he believed that concentration of power in Ukraine’s capital was the main factor that holds back further progress in Ukraine.
“I stand for decentralization. When you have a concentration of power in the country – you are lost,” he said.
Peter Wagner, the head of Support Group for Ukraine in the European Commission, agreed. However, he also highlighted the progress that Ukraine has already achieved, including the launch of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
“The reform balance sheet after the EuroMaidan (Revolution) is impressive. But the space for improvements is still very narrow,” he said. Wagner explained that level of corruption in Ukraine has increased lately, while the Russia’s war in the country’s Donbas also impacts the possible pace of reform.
Khatia Dekanoidze, former chief of Ukrainian National Police of Ukraine, agreed, adding that not all lawmakers in Ukrainian parliament were really ready for a change. She said that when she had been suggesting some improvements, she was told: “We can’t just copy Georgian legislation.”
Dekanoidze said that trustworthy institutions meant trustworthy people. She said she had put a lot of effort in the new patrol police, which was launched in Ukraine in summer 2015.
“Ukrainians have to understand – police work for them, not for corrupted politicians,” she said, noting that according to the latest poll as much as 42 percent of Ukrainians now trust the police, which is much higher than several years ago. “Politicians have to understand: if one takes a bribe – they will go to jail. Ukraine will not thrive while old schemes (are in place). Schemes, where one pays another one not to be investigated for certain crimes, should be destroyed.”
Daniel Bilak, the chief investment adviser to Ukraine’s prime minister, said that Ukraine started to change only three years ago.
“I would always say to investors – do not look at Ukraine as a 26-year-old (independent) country. Ukraine started to build its independence only three years ago,” he said, noting that Ukraine was in the process of transformation, leaving old schemes behind and building new democratic institutions. “But no one has ever written textbooks on how to do that, especially without spilling any blood.”
Bilak said that for Ukraine this process is quite painful because the country has never really had national institutions of power. Church and local governments are what Ukrainians had for a very long time.
“Institutions should not protect the country, but its citizens,” Bilak said.