Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hard times ahead...but not for all...

On 17th December the VR passed a law introducing fines for tenants who fail to pay their housing/communal services bills on time. From 1st January a 0.1% fine per day of arrears will be applied to unpaid bills. There are rumours the law was passed at the request of the IMF as a condition for its loans to Ukraine. But one of the major problems faced by tenants is late payment of salaries which, in some cases they fail to receive for many months. E.g. there have been very few trams and buses running in Ukraine's second city Kharkiv for several days now, wages have not been paid since the summer, and such cases are legion. A large portion of the country's housing stock is in a poor state of repair. Utility provision is often erratic, and water quality poor. Tenants requests for improvements are often ignored.

Drastic increases to gas and electricity tariffs are imminent in the New Year.

Pensionable age is to be incrementally increased from its current low level, but bearing in mind Ukraine's very short life-expectancy rates, it will mean many of it's citizens will never live to seetheir retirement.

The current reform programme will be most painful for the country's citizens - a quarter of more of whom live on the fringes of poverty. But for the population to accept this tough fiscal medicine, there has to be some kind of national concensus, as has been seen e.g. in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere.

At the same time elected and non elected goverment officials have never had it better - there can expect budget increases all round. E.g. spending on sanatoria and leisure facilities for parliamentary deputies is being increased by about 50% - about 1000 times more is spent per parliamentary deputy on these facilities that for the healthcare for individual members of the public, even though many, perhaps most deputies judging by their clothes, watches, automobiles etc. are very wealthy indeed. The average health bill for each parliamentary deputy paid for by the state is over 5000 times greater than for 'joe public' Next year, over 77% more is to be spent on the State Prosecutor's office. Many other government institutions e.g. the Presidential Administration, are also receiving boosts to their budget.

The president is buying helicopters, building helipads for millions of dollars, building palaces for himself for tens and maybe hundreds of millions of dollars, yet the national debt is still increasing and default can by no means be discounted.

Foreign newspapers are disturbed how a friend of the president's son, Serhiy Arbuzov, came to be appointed head the National Bank of Ukraine recently with no discussion or questioning in parliament. His declared income for 2009 alone was over 150 million hryvnya [about $ 19 million]. None one knows where this came from. Yanukovych's son is to buy half the shares of the Ukrainian Development Bank, for 110 million hryvnya. How did such young men amass such wealth? Are their tax affairs available for scrutiny? Hardly. According to the influential Polish 'Rzeczpospolita' newspaper, permission for young Yanukovych to buy the bank is to be confirmed his pal the new head of the NBU.

One of the country's best-known politicians, Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuriy Lutsenko was taken into custody today, quite bizarrely in connection with the poisoning in 2004 of Viktor Yushchenko. Former president Yushchenko's party, 'Nasha Ukraina' have immediately issued a statement declaring the motives for the detention to be "entirely political."

"By throwing a public person behind bars without providing any understandable reason, the authorities are demonstrating only one thing - that they are clearing opposition forces and politicians from the political scene have embarked on a course of police [state?] monopoly," they add.

In recent days about 12 or 13 of PM Tymoshenko's former ministers and close aids have been arrested or are constantly being questioned and harrassed by prosecutors.

A possible explanation for this hounding of opposition leaders by the ruling Ukrainian authorities was provided in the Russian "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" recently. A Party of Regions representative told them off-the-record, that the president does not preclude holding parliamentary elections next year, while in public he talks of holding them in Autumn 2012. PoR really would like a 300+ constututional majority in parliament - at present they are 20 or 30 seats short and the Communists cannot be relied upon absolutely to support certain policies. The current actions are intended to further weaken the opposition, enabling a swift and decisive parliamentary election campaign to be held some time next year, before painful reforms start to bite. But there is a risk of creating martyrs - PoR will be painfully aware that Tymoshenko's brief incarceration almost 10 years ago was the start of a path that led to the PM's office, so this plan could backfire. Fractious opposition leaders will be forced into ever-closer co-operation in the interests of self-preservation. Nevertheless, it looks as if the persistent harassment will continue - the opposition just has to take it on the chin, for now.

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