Volodymyr Zelensky in power: What has been done in the past year?

Volodymyr Zelensky in power: What has been done in the past year?

Ukrinform
Much has been done. More has yet to be done. The global crisis is a tremendous test but Ukraine is holding up well

The second round of the presidential election was held in Ukraine on April 21, 2019, exactly a year ago. Everyone remembers the unprecedented figure of voter support he recorded: 73 percent. A month later, President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky began to fulfill his duties. Two months later, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the next convocation was elected in a snap election, and a new government was appointed in late August. That is, power in the country, at least two of its key branches - legislative and executive - has been completely restarted.

What have President Zelensky and his entire team achieved in the past 12 months? Here it is worth recalling that Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential republic. This means that the powers of the president are limited and the parliament has a relatively high level of competence, particularly in the economic and social fields. Therefore, we will evaluate all the results of the past year for the government of Volodymyr Zelensky, given that a one-party majority of the Servant of the People faction was in the Verkhovna Rada in this period.

Of course, the assessments will be different in view of the internal political situation, it cannot be otherwise. It is also true that this year was a very special year in the world - that is, not difficult but very difficult. And these trials have not ended yet, they are only growing exponentially. And what about Ukraine, which is determined to change? If objectively, how has it passed this period, and how is it going through it?

The course declared by the Revolution of Dignity has not changed - Ukraine is moving to a united Europe and NATO. The war with the Russian aggressor is continuing, although great efforts are being made to end it fairly for Ukraine, and they are already bringing results. The fight against corruption is not yet demonstrating impressive results but there are serious foundations for it - both at the legislative and executive levels - so there is reason to hope for progress. The unfolding global crisis in the world is a critical test for both the Ukrainian economy and the nation. We have been holding up decently so far, though it is difficult for us. But let's put it in order.

WAR AND PEACE

The Normandy format, which was actually paused back in 2016, is again working - contacts are being maintained, decisions are being made. And what is important is that this can be done with the unwaveringly firm position of Ukraine: as part of a general settlement, security issues must first be addressed. It is a full and comprehensive ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian occupation troops and illegal armed formations, the withdrawal of weapons, the transfer to Ukraine of control over the border in Donbas and only then politics, in particular, local elections. In addition, the Ukrainian side, President Zelensky, having found the support of the allies, proposed amending the Minsk agreements at the December summit in Paris so as to bring them into line with today's reality. After all, much has changed in the world and in Ukraine over the past five-and-a-half years since the signing of the Minsk-1 agreements, and this "much" must be taken into account during the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

It is also important that with the demonstration of all these principled approaches, the advance to the end of the war has intensified. Due to Zelensky's personal involvement, some of the prisoners and hostages held in Russia and in the occupied territory have been released. Among them are also those who spent years (!) in captivity, including Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Roman Sushchenko, and others. Crews of Ukrainian warships captured by aggressors near the Kerch Strait in November 2018 returned from captivity. Two boats and a tug were also returned, though robbed by the occupiers.

One more thing, the disengagement of forces and hardware was conducted in Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote and Petrivske. A bridge was built in Stanytsia Luhanska. The Chonhar and Kalanchak checkpoints were built on the administrative border with Russia-annexed Crimea.

Finally, the Dim/Dom television channel with pro-Ukrainian information and entertainment content was created to broadcast programs in the occupied territories. It helps spread Ukrainian narratives and true information about Ukraine in the occupied territory of Donbas – for the first time in six years.

POLITICAL SYSTEM AND ANTI-CORRUPTION

The Verkhovna Rada was restarted in July-August last year. Not everyone in Ukraine supported this decision, but there are objective facts. Yes, they are not always positive. Some 16,000 "amendments" to a law that unblocks (amid a pandemic and global economic crisis) Ukraine's cooperation with the International Monetary Fund is a clear negative thing and a warning about danger. However, there is hope that the resistance of the oligarchic lobby will be overcome.

The positive fact is that the Verkhovna Rada of the ninth convocation has adopted without delay the laws not passed by the parliament of previous convocations. The introduction of rigid liability - up to criminal liability - minimized the facts of piano voting and deputy absenteeism. The parliamentary immunity, which turned a mandate into indulgence in any acts and crimes, has been canceled. A new Electoral Code, according to which the next Ukrainian parliament will be elected according to a proportional system with open lists, has been adopted. Finally, legislation has been adopted to launch the land market in Ukraine. Yes, there are many politicians, business entities and ordinary people in Ukraine who do not like this decision. But this is exactly the case when it was necessary to start - Ukraine could no longer remain in the list of six (!) countries in the world where it is forbidden to sell land.

Finally, for the first time in Ukraine's history, the law on the impeachment of the president, initiated by Zelensky himself, has been passed.

Of course, there is one detail: three governments have changed in Ukraine in the past year. Were there any mistakes when two of them were formed in the parliament of the ninth convocation? There were. Several ministerial positions remain vacant in the Cabinet of Ministers, which has been led by Denys Shmyhal for one-and-a-half months already. Some of the new ministers did not work even for a month… But what gives hope is that both governments were formed in parliament without usual "fixed agreements" and bidding for control over money flows and corruption schemes.

At the same time, the independence of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) has been ensured - something the Bureau has not been able to obtain since 2015. This includes the right to wiretapping and the opportunity to seek help directly from international partners. Unfortunately, NABU has not yet taken full advantage of the opportunities received. In addition, reform of the prosecutor's office has been launched. It envisages the release of so-called "prosecutor oligarchs" - highly influential and wealthy officials of the prosecutor's office, who were well-to-do under all previous authorities in Ukraine.

ECONOMY AND BUSINESS

The global economy has been gripped by an unprecedented crisis related to the coronavirus pandemic. However, if objectively, the cyclical crisis has been approaching since the second half of last year. In this period, international rating agencies – Standard & Poor's and Fitch – upgraded Ukraine's rating with a stable outlook. At the same time, the Ukrainian currency increased by almost 15% in the fourth quarter of last year. This allowed the National Bank of Ukraine to accumulate gold and foreign exchange reserves at $25 billion, which means, first and foremost, stability.

Of course, there were problems. The high hryvnia exchange rate has created problems for Ukrainian exporters and, consequently, for the industrial sector. However, the National Bank of Ukraine and the government's financial bloc are controlling the situation, and the projected resumption of "cheap" IMF lending adds confidence: Ukraine will go through the global crisis with minimal losses.

More details about a number of key industries. Energy is a long-standing and bottomless source of corruption in Ukraine's governing elite:

  • The industry has moved from the dead point - both through participation in European organizations and through the determination of the Ukrainian leadership. The unbundling of Naftogaz - separating energy supply functions to combat corruption and improve efficiency – was conducted in the shortest possible time and in cooperation with the EU.
  • With the support of the allies, we have agreed with Russia to extend the transit of natural gas through Ukraine on favorable terms for the Ukrainian side. In particular, the "pump or pay" principle is applied. It allows Ukraine to receive payment from Russia's Gazprom even if the amount of gas pumped is lower than provided for in the contract. In practice, that means billions of U.S. dollars every year.
  • Ukraine has received money from Russia under a ruling of the Stockholm arbitration court. Although Russia has long refused to pay these funds, in the end, after talks between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia, Moscow transferred $2.9 billion of the total amount of $5 billion. Ukraine had previously received part of the amount paid with gas.

Financial sector, economy, fight against corruption:

  • The law providing for the liquidation of the National Commission for Regulation of Financial Services Markets and the distribution of powers to regulate the financial market between the NBU and the National Commission on Securities and Stock Market. This was one of the key requirements of our Western partners and will allow us to create a financial system in Ukraine that meets international standards. The fight has been going on since 2015.
  • A real concession mechanism has been created to attract experienced international investors to Ukrainian infrastructure facilities. The first concession tenders – on the Olvia and Kherson ports - have already been successfully completed.
  • Measures to support small and medium-sized businesses during the corona crisis have been developed and are being implemented. In particular, legislative changes have been introduced to allow businesses to receive holiday on interest and capital repayments. A program for providing interest-free loans to replenish working capital has been developed. The only condition is that at least 80% of jobs are preserved during the crisis.
  • The Great Construction program has been launched. It will help not only build and repair thousands of kilometers of roads, thousands of socially important facilities but also create thousands of new jobs.
  • Income limits for FOPs (sole proprietors), which have remained unchanged since Viktor Yanukovych's presidency, have been raised.
  • The implementation of a program for affordable small business loans at record low interest rates of 5%, 7% and 9% has begun.
  • The article of the Criminal Code of Ukraine for fictitious entrepreneurship, which actually did not work but allowed corrupt law enforcement officers to blackmail business, has been abolished.
  • A number of laws have been adopted to facilitate exports of Ukrainian goods to EU countries (the so-called "industrial visa-free regime"). For example, the EU will recognize certificates of conformity and quality provided by Ukraine.
  • Construction standards have been greatly simplified and updated. The State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate, a source of corruption in the industry, has been liquidated.
  • A law requiring electronic public procurement in the amount of over UAH 50,000 has been adopted. Thanks to it, it is no longer possible to break the procurement into small contracts and avoid transparent tenders.
  • Preparation has begun for the privatization of dozens of state-owned enterprises - monsters of corruption, which have always been a feeder for power-holders. Ukrspyrt is a case in point. Budget revenues from alcohol production have increased by almost eight times.

SOCIAL ISSUES

It's always difficult here, but at the same time:

  • Yes, energy has become significantly cheaper in the global market. However, we know our bureaucracy and "interested persons" who traditionally prefer not to notice it. Thus, a real mechanism has been found to reduce tariffs on heat and hot water. Depending on the region and the provider, this helped reduce the payment amount - up to minus 30 percent.
  • A program to help people who lose their jobs as a result of the crisis has been developed and launched.
  • A mechanism for additional payments to elderly retirees has been developed. During the coronavirus crisis, additional payments will be made to retirees who receive UAH 5,000 and less.
  • Ukrainian volunteer fighters who fought against Russian aggression in Donbas have been granted the status of combatants.
  • The work on the construction of the medical and diagnostic building of the Okhmatdyt children's hospital has been completed – the work lasted for almost a decade.

Oksana Petrenko, Kyiv

Photo credit: Office of the President, Ukrinform, Facebook


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