Kuchma declares war on corruption in government
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - President Leonid Kuchma fired the first salvo in his war on corruption by releasing two high-level government officials and dismissing the head of the committee on corruption and organized crime in Ukraine on February 14. It was the president's version of a Valentine's Day massacre.
Gone are Ukraine's Agriculture Minister Anatolii Khorishko and First Vice Minister of Transportation Leonid Zhelezniak, as well as the chairman of the Coordinating Committee on Corruption and Organized Crime of the Cabinet of Ministers. The committee chairmanship was given to Vice Prime Minister Vasyl Durdynets.
Maybe President Kuchma finally had his fill of the government's stalled efforts at rescucitating Ukraine's stuporous economy, which he in part blamed on regional-and ministerial-level leaders who pursue their personal agendas.
Or perhaps his resolute action was a result of his meeting with World Bank Chairman James Wolfensohn in Davos, Switzerland, at the International Economic Forum, where the banker noted the increase in corruption in Ukraine. According to Interfax-Ukraine, Mr. Wolfensohn called corruption a "threat to the growth of investments and the resolution of economic problems."
What is known is that at the February 14 meeting of the Coordinating Committee on Corruption and Organized Crime President Kuchma came down hard on everybody and accused all parts of the government for the growth of corruption in government. His speech implicated the Verkhovna Rada, district and city officials, heavy industry and health care, and his own prime minister, Petro Lazarenko, whom Mr. Kuchma accused of being soft on anti-corruption efforts.
President Kuchma's words were strong and clear: corruption at the highest levels of government would not be tolerated.
He specifically criticized several government ministries. "The situation in transportation is abysmal. The cost of train travel has risen 40 percent, while the floor has dropped out of the quality," he explained. He accused managers of the transportation industry of building "three- and four-story dachas" at a time when there are no longer enough trains on the tracks to accommodate travelers.
In agriculture, he implicated oblast leaders in hoarding grain and thus preventing government contracts from being filled.
He backed up his words after his presentation by signing decrees relieving Messrs. Khorishko and Zhelezniak of their portfolios.
President Kuchma also upbraided enforcement agencies for being lax in dealing with corruption in the energy and alcohol industries, "for whom certain participants in the domestic markets for natural gas, petroleum products, electricity, sugar and alcohol remain sacred cows," he said.
The president further lashed out at the government committees organized to fight corruption, a not-so-veiled criticism of the committee before which he spoke. "The media is uncovering more corruption than the committees that are supposed to fight it," he declared. "Corruption has infected a significant part of the state apparatus."
He said too many public officials had "dirty hands" and that it was time for a clean up effort, which he likened to the "clean hands" program in Poland, where an in-depth review has taken place to ferret out government administrators linked to corruption and crime.
The problem, however, as he explained it, is that "no sooner does the president mention the phrase 'clean hands' than he is confronted with a slew of insinuations, and what is most noteworthy is that it comes from those whose hands are not altogether clean."
The president did not absolve himself of blame for the spread of corruption, although he brought everybody else into the picture with him. "I have not and will not cleanse myself of the responsibility - the president is answerable for all that takes place in the country. But all parts of the government must shoulder their responsibility - the government, central and local administrations of government," he stated. They are to blame, first of all, for the failure to establish market reforms and a competitive market in Ukraine.
"The drawn-out transitional stage of society and the associated atmosphere of uncertainty and rudderlessness is a breeding ground, not only for social cynicism and apathy, but also for criminality and corruption," said President Kuchma.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, February 23, 1997, No. 8, Vol. LXV
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