Inevitably after a major election and government reshuffle, Ukraine’s counterparts once again start asking themselves, which way Ukraine is going to go. Typically, a geopolitical choice is meant, but if you ask the regular Ukrainians on the street what’s on their mind, it won’t be geopolitics.
Fear of unemployment and economic crisis, economic growth and social security will top the list. And in the Oct. 28 vote, Ukrainians try to elect a political elite that could bring them that. But this is where the problems start. Ukraine’s political elites are desperately lacking the two essential qualities that are required to meet those expectations: competence and maturity.
Here are some illustrations of what I mean. With great fanfare, the Ukrainian government announced on Nov. 26 that it signed a $1 billion agreement with a Spanish company to build an onshore liquefied natural gas terminal in a bid to decrease Ukraine’s dependence on Russian gas imports.
Just a few hours later, it emerged that the Spanish company in question had no idea about the agreement, signed nothing, and authorized nobody to either negotiate, or sign on their behalf. The mysterious man who concluded the deal is nowhere to be found.
The deal was a glaring example of the incompetence of the following agencies that were (or were supposed to have been) involved in a deal like this one: the Agency for National Projects, which pushed the whole affair, the president’s administration, which oversees the agency, the Cabinet of Ministers, and energy ministry in particular, and the counter-intelligence and economic departments of the Security Service of Ukraine or SBU.
Those departments of the SBU account for 5,000 people of the total 33,500 officers the service has, according to a source in the outgoing government. All those thousands of people showed their total incompetence, among other things.
But does the opposition have higher quality to offer? If their actions immediately after the election are anything to go by it does not look like it. Faced with fraud in several majority constituencies but which represented less than 2 percent of parliament’s seats, the whole opposition spent more than a week rallying, calling people for endless strikes and hunger strikes in the streets, and trying to make up their minds about what to do next. Some of the more feckless grandstanding concerned whether to refuse to accept their mandates – which of course would have given the Party of Regions the constitutional majority the opposition claimed was its overriding electoral goal.
In the meantime, the pro-presidential forces in parliament approved a new law on referendums that many fear will become a step towards changing the constitution in a manipulative, non-transparent manner, and possibly a means toward joining the Customs Union with Russia. The opposition once again failed to see the forest for the trees, focusing on the wrong thing, and once again proving its own incompetence.
It has to be said that the level of competence really varies in all of the groups of political elites that analysts tend to clump together for the sake of convenience. There are competent people in the government, able to control many agendas and run their jobs smoothly – even along with a few businesses on the side. In other words, they are competent but corrupt.
And there competent people in the opposition – sociologists, economists and politicians -- but they are still in the minority and are able to make little headway either within the opposition or in effecting change in society. In other words, they are competent but ineffective.
That said, most people in both groups are still old-style bureaucrats, fearing to express opinions, or take actions and responsibility. The good news is that it seems the political elite, and in particular those with an old Soviet mentality, are falling behind the society in many ways, including the degree of competence and maturity, which has increased dramatically in the population as a whole in the past several years.
In particular, civil society is getting more robust than ever, affecting policy making, a whole range of political processes and bringing forward new leaders who sometimes end up in politics.
A good case in point is UDAR’s numbers four and 10 on the party list, Oksana Prodan and Pavlo Rozenko. Both of them come from the non-government sector, and are well-respected by their community. Prodan was one of the leaders of the Tax Maidan, the mass protests of business owners at the end of 2010 against the new government’s tax code. She is also head of Fortetsya, a small and medium business association. Rozenko is a well-known social policy expert who has worked for the reputable Razumkov Center.
At a recent conference in Warsaw, Prodan, in particular, talked about what she is coming to the parliament with. She said she was coming with hope for change and the belief that change for the better is possible. But most importantly, she said she will concentrate on a few, but significant changes to improve the business climate – particularly, deregulation. She will push to cancel all those silly Soviet health standards and spravkas, for example, that have new era regulations piled on that are impossible to observe, no matter how hard one tries. This pushes many businesses out of the legal norms and makes them vulnerable to any inspection and therefore likely to engage in corruption to stay afloat.
These are just tiny signs of the processes that are bubbling in the society under the thick greasy layer of corruption and incompetence that we see every day around us. But they give hope for a better quality of politics sometime in the future, when a critical mass of these people come to power.
In the meantime, these processes also are like a tactic of a 1,000 small cuts: they don’t kill the giant of incompetence, but they weaken it, hopefully paving the way for its fall one day.