Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reasons for not believing today's authorities, part 2

See previous blog for part 1.

16. Caution - president approaching

The president's cortege of about 10 vehicles always travels along Kyiv's roads at about 100km/hr, constantly causing traffic jams. Everyday, morning and evening, many thousands of Kyiv's drivers are forced to sit in traffic jams as the president goes to work in the centre of town, and returns to his out-of-town residence in Mezhyhirya later in the day. The closing of adjacent roads has become general practice wherever Yanukovych travels.

17. Halfhearted fight against corruption

Yanukovych promised that on coming to power his first priority would be to fight corruption. Neither he, nor the parliament he controls can even pass the essential laws to do this. E.g. on December 17th 2010 the Verkhovna Rada cancelled a whole raft of anticorruption laws which should have come into power on January 1st 2011. Pro-presidential deputies failed to support Arseniy Yatsenyuk's bill requiring high-ranking officials and their families, to declare both their incomes and their expenditures. Without such measures, the fight against corruption remains a fiction.

18. Biassed television reporting

The activities of the ruling authorities are reported to a much greater extent and with a significantly more positive 'spin' that those of the opposition. News bulletins on some channels are beginning to resemble those of Soviet times. The PRP media watchdog company reports that in May 2010 17% of reports in main mass media had a negative spin on president's activites. By September this figure had dropped to 11%. Quite the opposite was observed when it came to the reporting of the activites of the opposition. Over the same period the frequency with which opposition activities were reported dropped from 33.5% to 20.6%. Undesireable [opposition] politicians and banned topics were not broadcast on many television channels at all.

Many experts link such selectivity with the owners of these stuctures - the leading channels belong to oligarchs whose businesses depends on decisions made by government. The most popular channel, Inter, is controlled by structures close to the head of the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service]. This swing has been reflected in international ratings of press freedom -'Reporters without Borders' have downgraded Ukraine from 131st to 178th position - a huge 42 position drop in its list of countries over the last year.

19 Audit of the work of Yulia Tymoshenko's cabinet

The current president's team announced a wide-scale investigation of the work of the Tymoshenko-led Cabinet even before it come into office. The 'Regional's had no doubt the results would be resonant. PM Azarov's Cabinet of Ministers secured an agreement with the American law firm Trout Cacheris PLLC, who then called in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to assist. The latter's partners, Mark G. Macdougall, have on several occasions represented the interests of Party of Regions' deputy Rinat Akhmetov in various court cases.

These auditors did not reveal any facts indicating major corruption. It turned out Tymoshenko's biggest infringement had been using 200 million euros obtained from selling greenhouse gas quotas, which should have been earmarked for ecological programmes, to pay pensions on time. Another transgression of the BYuT leader's team was the purchase of one thousand Opel Combo ambulances, on credit, for the Ministry of Health, at a cost of $12.5 Mn. The vehicles had "Tymoshenko government [health] programme" stickers applied to them. They went into service on the eve of the elections.

The Prosecutor-General's office did not worry too much that the Kyoto protocol money was not appropriated personally by Tymoshenko; any previous Ukrainian prime minister or president could easily have been accused of using their official position for electioneering. Tymoshenko is now being regularly summoned for questioning by the Prosecutor General's office, and she has been banned from travelling abroad.

20. Roads just for their own

A 13 km stretch of the Staroobukhiv Road and adjacent main roads along which the president and premier travel every day between work and home, were recently upgraded and relaid. "The president's road" was laid with super durable ashphalt, in record time. The cost to the state budget, according to UkrAvtoDor, was 50 Mn Hn. which is only 19 Mn Hn less than the total spent repairing all of the capital's roads a year previously. Most of the city's roads are in a poor state of repair. 'Avtodor' claim the work was done at the demand of UEFA in preparation for Euro-2012, but it seems the European football association made no such demand.

21. Gas capitulation

Thanks to the passive position of Ukraine in the Stockholm Internation Court of Arbitration the state gas company Naftohaz Ukrainy has had to give back12.1 Bn cu.m. of gas which were supposedly taken by Tymoshenko's cabinet from RosUkrEnergo [as agreed between Tymoshenko and Putin]. RUE is part-owned by Dmytro Firtash. It became clear that Naftohaz would lose its dispute with RUE even before Yanukovych's victory, when in 2009 the SBU, on the order of its deputy head at that time, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, entered into confrontation with Tymoshenko, unsucessfully trying to overturn the transfer of gas from RUE to Naftohaz. With the arrival of the new adminstration law suits were opened against the officials that had nationalised this gas, and Naftohaz admitted it was at fault in Stockholm and agreed for $4Bn, the value of the gas in question, to be given to RUE from state coffers. This unprecented step, which even members of today's authorities called a surrender of state interests, was described by the opposition as a reward to Firtash, who was one of his main presidential election campaign sponsors.

22. His house - his fortress

How Yanukovych obtained his huge fenced-off residence Mezhyhirya is one of the most secretive topics in Ukrainian politics. Details revealed by 'Ukrainska Pravda' indicate that the state property was illegally appropriated before Yanukovych became president, and was developed during Yanukovych's presidency. In 2007 Yanukovych's Cabinet of Ministers sanctioned the transfer of 137 hectares of Ministry of Environment land. Having passed through several intermediaries, a major portion fell into the hands of little-known firms and also into the hands of the top 'Regional'. The president claims only a building of 600 sq m and 1.7 hectares of land belong to him, which he rents for a laughable 300 hn. per hectare per month...

During one foreign visit he let slip that he and some friends were building a clubhouse there using German contractors. This building comprises several thousand sq. metres and its luxurious fittings are of the highest possible quality. E.g. just one door is made of Lebanese cedar, at a cost of $64K. The property will include a zoo with ostriches and lamas, peacocks etc. No-one knows who is financing the entire project and Yanukovych refuses to permit any journalists to visit the site, even though he has publicly promised to do so.

23. One of the Family at the head of the National Bank of Ukraine

The president has appointed 34-year old Serhiy Arbuzov, a native of Donetsk, as head of the National Bank. Until then Arbuzov had not held any leading positions in any large financial institution - he had worked in regional branches of smaller banks, but had never worked in the field of state finances. However, he has close business ties with the president's older son Oleksandr. Arbuzov's mother is one of the co-founders of the Donsnabtar company, which belongs to Oleksandr Yanukovych.

24. Economising - it's for others only

From the first day of coming to power both Yanukovych and premier Azarov declared that their government would reduce the costs of maintaining the state apparatus. This promise has not been kept. According to the state purchasing register, in the previous year the Presidential Administration [P.A.] overturned a series of transactions, with the aim of providing even more comfortable conditions of work for the ruling elite. E.g. the P.A. purchased an elevator for 900,000 Hn. and modernised two Il-62 aircraft, used by high-ranking officials, at a cost of over 1 million Hn. Another 5 million Hn. was provided for the reconstruction of a swimming pool at the elite state sanatorium in Koncha-Zaspa. The P.A's. fleet of cars was enhanced by the purchase of a further 40 automobiles, including three Toyota Sequoia SUV's at 130,000 Eu apiece. The latter are to be used as quick-response vehicles for the president and other highly placed officials.

25. Working with youth

The Security Service of Ukraine, breaking Constitutional norms, attempted to prohibit civic activists from taking part in protest actions. One SBU officer, on May 18th 2010 demanded Borys Gudziak, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, to warn students not to participate in street meetings against Minister of Education, Dmytro Tabachnyk.

26. Tightened control of the airwaves

On 8th June 2010 the Kyiv administrative court, following a legal action instigated by the Inter group of television channels belonging to SBU head Valeriy Khroshkovsky, suspended the granting of additional frequencies to Channel 5 and TVi. These additional frequencies had been previously issued to the latter two companies by the National Council of Television and Radio. An attempt by the two television companies to appeal against the court decision failed. It is suspected that all of the broadcasters who had earlier received additional frequencies had infringed rules, but only those who regularly criticise the government were penalised by the court.

27. Face to the table

On December 16th 2010 a group of PoR deputies assaulted BYuT deputies who were blocking the parliamentary presidium. Five BYuT deputies were taken by ambulance to hospital. Amongst the assailants were Petro Tsyurko, Oleksandr Peklushenko, Anatoliy Horbatyuk, Vadim Stolar, Oleksandr Volkov, Oleh Tsarev, and also the Minister for the Ecology and Natural Resources, Mykola Zlochevksy and Dmytro Salamatin, head of 'UkrOboronProm' arms company. The entire assault with fists and chairs was recorded on video by television companies and is widely available. The victims of the assault submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor General, but the matter has been shelved. However, P.G. investigators have questioned the opposition deputies about earlier events that took place on 27th April 2010, the day when the Kharkiv accords were ratified and smoke bombs were ignited and eggs thrown in the main chamber of parliament.

28. Hands up! [Hande hoch!]

On June 26th 2010 the head of the Conrad Adenaer Foundation in Ukraine, Nico Lange, was detained at Kyiv airport by law enforcement officers. He was held for ten hours before he was allowed to enter the country. The P.G. explained that he was detained for meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs. Lange, who has worked in Ukraine since 2006 and has never experienced any such problems before, fell from grace after the website of his organisation posted evidence of authoritarianism in the president's activities.

29. Fighting the police is equated to pornography

At the end of last year Dmitro Groysman, the coordinater of the Vinnytsya civil rights protection group, who for many years has fought against police misdeeds, himself received a blow from law enforcers. The local prosecutor accused him of spreading pornography and outrageous images above state symbols. As evidence they claimed Groysman posted a photograph of a male statue with his erect phallus laying on the Constitution. The case remain s under investigation.

30. An example of unprecedented generosity

Last summer the Azarov government granted a small Kremenchuk company, 'Livela', the exclusive right to import petroleum products without paying any excise duty or tax. By the end of the year the fuel trading company had imported a colossal quantity of fuel - about a million tons, or about 20% of the country's light petroleum products [annual?] requirements. As a result of this gift, state coffers esperienced a loss of about 3 Bn Hn. Other traders are perplexed how a small company, known only for its business links to billionaire Ihor Kolomoysky, can recieve such a generous benefit from the government. Neither the state customs agency nor the tax administration, who are both investigating the company's activities, can provide any explanation.

Update: 'Washington Post' says: "The United States should be pressing harder to stop the democratic erosion -[in Ukraine]. One way to do so is to explicitly link further progress in economic relations with Ukraine to improvements in human rights - and to urge the governments of the European Union to follow suit."

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