Ukraine considers appointing Georgian reformers to cabinet posts

By bne IntelliNews November 28, 2014

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Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is looking to hire international reform talent for the new government, with former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili tipped to become deputy prime minister.

According to multiple reports in the Ukrainian media, Poroshenko’s administration has hired international headhunters to recruit reform talent both for a new government and to head new anti-corruption law enforcement agencies.

Georgia's former  government - credited with successfully carrying out sweeping reforms between 2003-2013 - may supply a number of officials to Ukraine, if Poroshenko can convince Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk of the necessity of hiring international talent. In particular, Poroshenko may be backing Saakashvili for the post of deputy prime minister, according to sources cited by the Kyiv Post.

Saakashvili, who left Georgia after losing elections in 2013 and the opening of criminal cases against him by the new administration, currently lives in New York. On November 27 the Chief Prosecutor's Office in Georgia  filed criminal charges against him in relation to the high-profile murder of banker, Alexandre Girgviliani, in 2006. Saakshvili has said that all charges brought against him are political.

Saakashvili has been an enthusiastic supporter of Ukraine's Euromaidan protest movement, which he addressed on a number of occasions, but he has not made any public statements about whether he could join Ukraine's government. 

Poroshenko is also reported to be backing a close Saakashvili ally, Zurab Adeishvili, for the post of deputy interior minister. Adeishvili served as justice minister, interior minister and prosecutor general in Georgia from 2003-2013. Another Saakashvili ally Eka Zguladze could head Ukraine's not yet existing anti-corruption bureau. Zguladze is credited with tacking organised crime in Georgia.

"I propose inviting to this post a person from outside Ukraine," Poroshenko told the first session of the new parliament on November 27. "He will have an advantage – no connections in the Ukrainian political elite," Poroshenko added. 

Georgia's former economy minister, Kakha Bendukidze, renowned for slashing red tape in the country,  and an adviser to Poroshenko, was previously said to have been offered the job of economy minister in Ukraine's new cabinet, but died suddenly last week.

Poroshenko did not mention any specific names during his address, but the head of the parliamentary group of Poroshenko's eponymous party, former interior minister, Yuriy Lutsenko, told reporters that at least five foreign citizens of other states would take positions in the cabinet. An MP from Poroshenko's party told Ukrainskaya Pravda that citizens from the US, Georgia, Germany, Poland and Lithuania were under consideration.  

Deputy head of Poroshenko's presidential administration Dmitry Shimkiv is reported to be organising a special fund out of which foreign ministers could be paid an internationally attractive salary. Poroshenko in his address to parliament proposed amending Ukrainian legislation so that foreigners could take high office in the country, or could acquire citizenship through an accelerated process. 

But Poroshenko's proposal to appoint foreigners may not just indicate that Ukraine is getting real about its much hyped reform drive, but also that rivalry between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk - who parliament re-elected as prime minister on November 27 - is entering a new phase, say pundits.  Poroshenko may be trying to seize the initiative in forming the government from Yatsenyuk, who according to Ukraine's parliamentary-presidential constitution, restored in February 2014, has the right to propose ministers to parliament.

The pro-European parties who formed the coalition initially subscribed to the principle that positions in the new government should be filled with 'professionals' and not decided by party quota. But Yatsenyuk is fighting for party colleagues who are incumbent ministers to stay in their posts, in particular interior minister Arsen Avakov and justice minister Serhiy Petrenko. Yatsenyuk is reported to be arguing that the government will be unmanageable if government appointments are not made according to party quotas. Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, an MP in Yatsenyuk's People's Front, said “a golden mean” should be found between politicians and business professionals in the new government, as quoted by the Kyiv Post.

Ukraine took a step closer to having a government at its opening session on November 27, voting for Yatsenyuk to stay as prime minister, and Poroshenko ally Volodymyr Hroisman  to become speaker of the house. Kyrylenko said that agreement on government appointments could be reached at the next meeting of parliament on December 2.

However, the controversy over hiring foreigners into government may slow the process of appointing a government, which Ukraine urgently needs. Four weeks after elections and with the country on the verge of default, Ukraine's pro-Europe and pro-reform majority still lacks a government.

The process of appointing a new government has been slowed by the results of the election, in which Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk's respective parties took an almost equal share of the vote, with both parties claiming victory. Poroshenko's party returned 132 MPs, ahead of Yatsenyuk's People's Front, which returned 82 MPs. But Yatsenyuk's party took a marginally larger share of the vote than Poroshenko's - 22.12% to 21.82% -  sparking a dispute as to which party should lead coalition discussions and take the post of prime minister.

Poroshenko has conceded to Yatsenyuk the premiership and the task of leading discussions on a coalition agreement, which was signed on November 21. Under the constitution, Yatsenyuk as prime minister proposes ministers to the house, with the exception of the foreign and defence ministers, who are proposed by the president.

Under the constitution, the prime minister and government answer to parliament and handle domestic policy independently of the president. This means that Poroshenko could lose control over domestic policy to Yatsenyuk, if he does not exert influence over the cabinet through appointments, pundits say, making the question of appointments to the cabinet highly charged. Poroshenko's proposal to appoint foreign experts is sees as an attempt to sidestep Yatsenyuk's likely sway over the cabinet.


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