The Feb. 3, 2016 resignation of Economy Minister Aivaras
Abromavicius may, once and for all, expose Ukrainian President Petro
Poroshenko as the fraud that he is on the reform front -- something
most Ukrainians figured out long ago, judging from the polls.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is also to blame, slightly less so, because people never elected him to this job and he has fewer powers than Poroshenko.
Poroshenko has in several ways abused the trust placed in him by Ukrainian voters who put him in office by a landslide on May 25, 2014.
His chutzpah is amazing, considering the fate of predecessors who betrayed the national interest, most recently Moscow resident Viktor Yanukovych, who couldn’t get out of Ukraine fast enough on Feb. 21, 2014, once he realized that flight was the only way to save his life.
The dreams of the EuroMaidan Revolution have been blocked by two years of Poroshenko’s oh-so-clever obstructions. Poroshenko acts as if the rest of us are too stupid to figure out what is happening. I predict Ukrainians will soon bring severe consequences on him for his arrogant betrayals.
I hate to agree with billionaire oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, but he was more right than wrong when he told Politico on Dec. 21, 2014 that the only difference between Poroshenko and Yanukovych is “a good education, good English and lack of a criminal record.” Otherwise, both are “craven to absolute power.”
Oligarchs down, not out
Poroshenko pledged to dismantle the oligarchy. He did not. The old oligarchy may be down, due to a war-induced recession, but they are not out. And the president is getting richer and so are his allies, if Abromavicius is to be believed. If anything, a new oligarchy is forming under his control.
Abromavicius quit, alleging that a top Poroshenko ally in parliament, Ihor Kononenko, was scheming to install his loyalists in charge of key state-owned enterprises. Abromavicius had been pushing hard to sell as many as 1,500 state-owned enterprises, which have been milked by insiders, including several under the Economy Ministry’s management. But if Abromavicius is right, Kononenko and others want to keep stealing from these enterprises. Kononenko denies any wrongdoing.
But in an incredible resignation statement, Abromavicius said that Kononenko pressed for “his candidates to take the position of CEOs at state-owned Ukrhimtransammiak, in which he seems to have a stake...he failed to support me in removing (Victor) Bondyk, who is affiliated with the (Yanukovych-led) Party of Regions, as CEO. Instead, Kononenko ensured his associates were appointed to senior positions and joined the old CEO in running the company as they see fit.
“Through a crony of his in the parliament, Kononenko attempted to influence key appointments in the state-owned Derzhzovnishinform, in metal powder factories, and the National Accreditation Agency. This entire rampage culminated in Kononenko’s desire to have his personal deputy minister of economy – one responsible for Naftogaz and other state-owned companies,” Abromavicius said.
His resignation statement in full is well worth reading here.
No rule of law
Poroshenko promised to change the corrupt and useless criminal
justice system. He did not.
Instead, he and Yatsenyuk have proven skillful in obstructing changes -- especially when their allies attempted to jeopardize the independence of new anti-corruption bodies.
The obstructionism ensures that corruption -- old and new -- will remain unpunished.
I have interviewed each of these three ministers who resigned -- Agriculture Minister Oleksiy Pavlenko, Infrastructure Minister Andriy Pyvovarsky and Abromavicius. Each of them sent criminal cases against Yanukovych-era predecessors to the prosecutor’s office, only to have them sink into a black hole. Each of them complained about the bureaucracy and about their inability to fire corrupt managers of state-owned enterprises. While they didn’t complain about Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk during the interviews I had with them, it seemed clear to me that they weren’t getting the backing they needed.
Ukraine’s top political leaders will simply not give up their power to decide who goes to jail and who doesn’t and leave these issues to judges, prosecutors, and police -- or better yet, citizen juries.
So Poroshenko keeps a useless prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who leads 15,000 useless prosecutors.
Poroshenko keeps 9,000 judges, most of whom are useless and corrupt as well.
Yatsenyuk keeps a useless interior minister, Arsen Avakov.
And meanwhile, allegations of corruption -- yes, all denied -- swirl around Shokin, Avakov and too many police, prosecutors and judges to name.
Bottom line: Law enforcement has delivered nothing but injustice two years after the EuroMaidan Revolution. And as long as they get to call the shots, that’s the way Poroshenko and Yatensyuk want it.
Keeps his assets
But Poroshenko’s deception goes farther. He promised to sell his business assets, including Channel 5, but did not.
He keeps doing business with the nation that has waged war against Ukraine and stolen Crimea. He also, with a wink and a nod, allowed Ukrainians to keep trading with Russian-occupied Crimea until activists last fall erected a blockade.
Poroshenko’s deception continues at home and abroad.
At home, he gives interviews mainly to controllable journalists.
Abroad, he counts on answering questions from foreign journalists who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of Ukraine’s situation to pose harder questions.
So he gets away with such generalities as this in an interview with German’s Bild newspaper this month:
“We have implemented many reforms, in the police, in the fight against corruption, in the army, in decentralization process, in economy as a whole, but of course we want faster progress. But please do not forget that we have been suffering from a war for one and a half years now. Without the war, without Russian troops in the east of Ukraine, we would already have made much more progress with our reforms.”
The answer is very revealing as to why Poroshenko hasn’t faced a revolution yet. Russia is at war against Ukraine, so the public is more patient with this president. But every time he is criticized about his failure to attack corruption, he uses the war as an excuse, another abuse of his public trust.
When he can’t bluff his way through interviews, he lies. We haven’t forgotten his Wall Street Journal op-ed of June 10, 2015, when he wrote: “Over the past year, 2,702 former officials have been convicted of corruption.”
To this day, the Presidential Administration cannot even name one of those officials – let alone 2,702.
Poroshenko is very comfortable in the world of Ukraine’s corruption and oligarchs. He was a co-founder of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. And now his hand-picked prosecutor general is letting them all off the hook for -- by the government’s own estimates -- up to $40 billion in theft during Yanukovych’s rule.
And so, they are reconstituting themselves. Parliament is still filled with old Yanukovych top dogs -- Yuriy Boyko and Serhiy Lyovochkin among them -- as corruption allegations against them go uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
Yanukovych’s front man, the exiled fugitive Serhiy Kurchenko, continues to own one of Ukraine’s largest media empires from abroad, because prosecutors are too corrupt or inept to figure out how to remove him.
The list goes on and on.
If Poroshenko keeps this up, the Party of Regions is going to reconstitute itself and try to buy its way into power again. The president seems to think he can bluster his way past the Abromavicius resignation as he did previous ones. Elected officials are doing everything in their power to avoid early elections, because many of them know they cannot win.I don’t think the stall tactics will work this time. Abromavicius’ resignation is a turning point. Sooner rather than later Poroshenko will face judgment day from his people and the verdict will be brutal unless he performs a 180-degree turn and does so quickly.
There are rare moments in history when good men rise up to face evil. Feb. 3, 2016 will go down in Ukrainian history as one such moment.
In reading Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius’s letter of resignation, I was struck by the simplicity and dignity that turned his few words into an atomic bomb.
In those few short lines, the minister summed up the spirit of a nation.
In one word he said what millions have wanted to shout from the rooftops for years.
He said no, so quietly that it has already reverberated around the world.
In one word he illustrated what the Ukrainian people have all suspected for months, that the criminal ideal of power through corruption is still alive in Ukraine despite Maidan’s 1 and 2 and all the good work of those that have fought and died in the fight against it.
In many ways, Abromavicius, a 40-year-old banker from Lithuania, has set the stage for what could well be the final showdown.
On one side we have the old order of President Petro Poroshenko and his cohorts that are in reality and mentality little different from the Yanukovych Party of Regions clan he replaced and on the other we have a government of those that truly believe in Ukraine’s European future.
They are chalk and cheese, two incompatible armies now lining up for one final battle that will come to define this nation now and in the future.
The president’s team have finally unfurled their colors, the same blue as the past.
The evidence was hiding in plain sight. The president refused to sell his assets as required by law, preferring to maintain production in Russia, pay taxes in Russia, employ Russians and profit from sales in Russia whilst young Ukrainians die under Russian bullets and bombs in the east.
The president refused to reform the courts and prosecution service knowing all too well that the first to be prosecuted could be those from his own clan that support the ideal of greed through corruption.
His ministers in the coalition and his party in the parliament resisted some 28 calls for the privatization of state-owned enterprises, knowing that this would mean the end of the $5 billion annual theft through their engineered losses.
The president sought to undermine the elected government through what in PR terms can only be described as one of the most concerted political attacks in modern history even using his own media assets, which again he should have sold, to attack the government at every turn.
Not once has the president openly come out in public support of the coalition in which his party is a member.
Not once has he praised any minister for their considerable achievement.
Instead he appointed the noisy Mikheil Saakashvili to cause trouble as governor of Odesa Oblast and then did nothing to curb the antics that would have got any other governor fired even to the point of not supporting his government, when Saakashvili sought to publicly abuse a minister in his presence and on national television.
Even on Feb. 3, 2016 it took his team hours to issue his statement of platitudes in which he made little mention of serious action against the perpetrators.
Our president may say all the right things, but history does not judge by words, it judges by deeds.
On the other side, we have the government.
Is it an ideal government?
No, it is not.
It is a team hobbled by coalition, acting with one arm tied behind its back by coalition partners some of whom would rather play the charade of politics rather than work to move the country forwards and others who openly and plainly work to preserve the ways of the past.
Yet this government has actually achieved more to reform Ukraine than all the other governments put together.
Over 2,600 bills passed to parliament, almost 300 new laws enacted, major reforms achieved and all whilst staving off bankruptcy, fighting a war with Russia in the east and now it would seem also fighting a war within its very heart.
That by any standard is impressive and I believe that history will judge this government, and those who serve it, kindly.
But the war is not over.
Abromavicius has lifted the veil so that we can all see the true cause for the slow progress of reform and to him the nation should be for ever indebted.
His honesty and honour should be a beacon for all those that dream of a European future.
As to Ihor Kononenko, whose blind arrogance has become the tipping point for our tomorrow, he should be investigated and prosecuted for his attempt to coerce the elected government as should all those that supported him, even to the very top.
Perhaps it is also time for the nation to review the constitutional compromise that has enabled this situation in the first place. No family can have two fathers.
Yes, we need checks and balances, but not of a kind that enables one philosophy to undermine the other as the result will always be failure and that failure will be ours.
Martin Nunn is the chief executive officer of Whites Communication. He works with the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers on strategic communications.
Editor's Note: The following is the English-language translation of Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius' resignation statement on Feb. 3, 2016.
The following is the English-language translation of Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius' statement of resignation on Feb. 3, 2016.
Today, I decided to tender my resignation as the Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine.
Here is why.
It has become clear that any kind of systemic reform is decisively blocked. It is more than the mere lack of support or political will.
These are concrete actions aiming to paralyse our reform efforts, ranging from a sudden removal of my security detail to the pressure to appoint questionable individuals to my team or to key positions in state-owned enterprises.
I can only interpret these actions as a persistent attempt to exert control over the flow of money generated by the state-owned enterprises, especially NAK Naftogaz and the defense industry.
I refuse to be part of this system.
Neither me nor my team are prepared to serve as a cover-up for the schemes, old or new, that have been set up in the private interest of particular political or business players.
Fourteen months ago, along with other like-minded professionals, I joined the Government in order to work as a team to implement reforms.
The people of Ukraine, the Ukrainian business, the civil society and the international community eagerly awaited these reforms.
I am deeply grateful that the people of Ukraine entrusted me with the task of changing the system, eliminating corruption, and carrying out systemic reforms -- all in the face of a violently turbulent economy.
At the time, the leaders of the country assured me of the technocratic nature of the new government, of the autonomy to appoint my own team, of the absolute political support and commitment to reforms.
As a result, the Ministry of Economy recruited people of the Western mould -- young, educated abroad, open-minded, principled, committed, and, most importantly, possessing a deeply rooted desire to change our country.
We came here to do big things like deregulation, state-owned enterprise reform, and public procurement reform. We came here to create an environment conducive to economic growth, favourable to the Ukrainian businesses and attractive to foreign investors.
With the help of our partners in the Government, the Parliament, the business and the international community, we achieved a great deal.
Most importantly, we achieved the macroeconomic stabilisation and enabled economic growth. We implemented a radical public procurement reform, which has saved the government 500,000 hryvnias only in its pilot stage, and is primed to generate 50 billion hryvnias in savings each year.
Our state-owned enteprise reform ensures a greater transparency, imposes corporate governance standards and enlists professional managers, effectively shutting off the air supply to crooks of all shapes and sizes.
It has already borne fruit -- the losses of all state-owned enterprises in 2015 were 100 billion hryvnias smaller than in 2014.
Deregulation is well under way: we have removed over 100 regulatory barriers for businesses. We have also created the Better Regulation Delivery Office.
We cancelled the corrupt 15% discount on oil sales, having saved 2.4 billion hryvnias for the country.
These are but a few successes we achieved. The more radical our actions, the deeper our reforms, and the bigger our progress, the more pressure we had to endure. We learned how to overcome the resistance of the old system. Turned out, some of the “well-meaning newcomers” are much worse.
Neither me nor my team have any desire to serve as a cover-up for the covert corruption, or become puppets for those who, very much like the “old” government, are trying to exercise control over the flow of public funds.
I am not willing to travel to Davos and talk about our successes to international investors and partners, all the while knowing that certain individuals are scheming to pursue their own interests behind my back.
These people have names. Particularly, I would like to name one today. The name is Igor Kononenko.
Despite representing the political party that had nominated me for my post, lately he has been bent on obstructing our efforts.
First, his cohorts in the Parliamentary faction of the Bloc of President Petro Poroshenko drafted a resolution demanding my resignation and, using an opposition faction of “Vidrodzhennia”, submitted it to the Verkhovna Rada.
They failed to garner any significant amount of support -- a total of 18 votes over the past several months.
During the past year, Igor Kononenko hard-pressed for his candidates to take the position of CEOs at state-owned Ukrhimtransammiak, in which he seems to have a stake.
He failed to support me in removing Mr Bondyk, who is affiliated with the Party of Regions, as CEO. Instead, Mr Kononenko ensured his associates were appointed to senior positions and joined the old CEO in running the company as they see fit.
Through a crony of his in the Parliament, Mr. Kononenko attempted to influence key appointments in the state-owned Derzhzovnishinform, in metal powder factories, and the National Accreditation Agency.
This entire rampage culminated in Mr. Kononenko’s desire to have his personal deputy minister of economy -- one responsible for Naftogaz and other state-owned companies.
His candidate simply showed up with a complete set of documentation, and told me: “I want to be your deputy. I’m part of Kononenko’s team, and my appointment was approved upstairs.”
Following this conversation, I received a call from the President’s Administration, whereby I was emphatically suggested to hire this individual, as well as another one, who would take the position of my deputy in charge of defense industry.
I responded by declining to take part in this corrupt arrangement and by offering to resign my post.
Finally, Mr. Kononenko publicly stated that I was to report to his Parliamentary faction, which would then consider my dismissal.
I decided to relieve Mr. Kononenko and his team of the burden of having to listen to my report, and therefore I tender my resignation.
My team and I are prepared to vacate our offices as soon as possible and would prefer to avoid months of delay, as seems to be the usual practice. I urge the Verkhovna Rada to consider and accept my resignation tomorrow.
I am deeply grateful to my team at the Ministry, all our partners, international organisations, the business community, and all my kindred spirits in the Government and the Verkhovna Rada, for everything we have done together.
I would like nothing more than to carry on with our reform efforts alongside you. However, in these circumstances, I consider it more honest to step aside and to apply my abilities where I can really do some good.
I am a patriot of Ukraine. I live here, and so does my family. I deeply care about our country.
We have done a lot, but the point of no return is yet ahead of us.
Evil forces still want to wind things back.
Let us get rid of all those who shamelessly siphon billions off the Ukrainian economy.
These people have no place in the Ukrainian politics or the Ukrainian government.
Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine