Saakashvili to launch Ukraine reform blitz in Odesa

By bne IntelliNews June 22, 2015

Robert Anderson in Bratislava -


Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and the new governor of Odesa, said he is planning a reform blitz in the Ukrainian region that could then be rolled out throughout the country.

"Don’t hesitate – move fast. It’s no time for compromise. If you don’t take risks, you lose," Saakashvili told a panel discussion on the fringe of the Globsec security conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, on June 20, adding that the country’s crisis made it easier to reform.

Appointed in late May by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the new governor plans to sack swathes of police and bureaucrats, create a new police force in Odesa within two months, and launch an electronic public tender procedure, all of which should reduce corruption.

The reforms could then be expanded to cover the whole country and would act as a "positive example" that would show neighbouring Russia that there is an alternative. "They are afraid of a positive example," said Saakashvili, who won praise in the West for Georgia's reform programme when he led the country, is also head of Poroshenko’s circle of advisers.

Another adviser, Ivan Miklos, the former Slovak finance minister, concurred that the country had no time to lose. "If a country is after a revolution there is only a limited time when you can do radical reform," he told a panel discussion. "Partial reform is worse than no reform," he added.

Miklos - who won plaudits during his tenure as finance minister and now acts as chief advisor to Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko -  said that the key requirements for successful reform were leadership, ownership of the reforms, and communication with the public. "90% of the challenge of reform is political not technical," he said. 

Both Saakishvili and Miklos concurred that Western pressure would be vital in keeping the reforms on track, and that aid should be conditional on progress. "When you do reform, outside pressure helps," said Miklos,

Mustafa Naiiem, the onetime Ukrainian journalist whose Facebook post launched the Euromaidan protests, said pressure from parliamentary deputies like him would also maintain the reform momentum. "We are lobbyists for the [Euro Maidan] protests inside parliament," he told the fringe panel.  "In Ukraine the government is afraid of people; in Russia and Belarus it is the other way around," he said.

Naiiem said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had stopped the Maidan "dream" through the invasion of Crimea and East Ukraine but it was not over yet, and that the country had the ability to stop Putin. "If Ukraine makes the change it is the end of Putin's dream in the post-Soviet states," he said. In response to a question about the sometimes fraught working relationship between Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, Naiiem, who was elected on Poroshenko's list, said discussions would be held over the next month to improve their co-operation.

Among rare criticism of Ukraine's government at the security conference, one western European parliamentarian told an off-the-record panel that the country was reforming too slowly, was still mired in corruption, and oligarchs held too much power. "If there is no reform implemented nobody will give money to Ukraine," he said.

He also criticised the government for not fully implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreement’s clauses on devolution of power to East Ukraine. "The Ukrainian government should really consider whether it's a good idea to frustrate this," he said.

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