End Note: UKRAINE UNDER CORRUPTION SPOTLIGHT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS PROTEST OVER BACK WAGES. Some 500 nuclear plant workers remained for the second consecutive day in tent camps near Ukraine's five nuclear power plants, AP reported on 25 February. The protesters are demanding that the government pay longoverdue wages and allocate more funds for their industry. According to an atomic energy workers' union, nuclear plant employees are owed 150 million hryvni ($42 million). JM
UKRAINE JOINS INTERNATIONAL LAND MINE BAN. Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Volodymyr Kandohyy has signed the international convention banning anti-personnel land mines, AP reported on 25 February. Ukraine agreed to destroy its arsenal of nearly 8 million land mines following a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999). Canada has pledged financial and technical aid for the destruction of Ukraine's land mines. JM
LAZARENKO INTERVIEWED BY U.S. IMMIGRATION AUTHORITIES. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Department on 24 February interviewed former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Lazarenko's U.S. lawyer. Lazarenko, who has asked for political asylum in the U.S., told the immigration authorities that he fears persecution on the part of President Leonid Kuchma if he returns to Ukraine, where he is charged with corruption. According to the news agency, the interview was the first step in a long process of finding out whether Lazarenko's fears are justified and whether he is thus entitled to receive political asylum. JM.
UKRAINE UNDER CORRUPTION SPOTLIGHT
The detention in the U.S. of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is wanted on corruption and money-laundering charges in Ukraine and Switzerland, has put the global spotlight on Ukraine, again drawing attention to the country's problems with corruption.
The editor of the publication "ERT" from the private Ukrainian Center for Independent Research, Inna Pidluska, told an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conference in Washington earlier this week that corruption is "a painful" subject in Ukraine because it has been so broadly discussed since 1992 and more than 20 laws enacted on fighting the phenomenon.
The problem, Pidluska said, is that despite all those laws and seven government ministries and departments assigned the task of fighting corruption, no one is actually doing the fighting. Ukraine, she noted, is lagging behind many other post-communist states, both in economic performance and in dealing with corruption.
One of the reasons, Pidluska added, is the totalitarian attitude of the state toward business--the taxation system has not been reformed, nor has the criminal code. She noted that there is still a law on the books making "speculation" illegal. Speculation is defined as reselling something to gain profit, which is business activity, and in Ukraine that still is de facto outlawed. This means that businesses are pushed into bribing officials.
Part of the problem in Ukraine, said Pidluska, is that the average business owner spends 55 days registering his or her business and it is not unusual for that process to take 90 days. At the same time, there are 26 state bodies authorized to perform inspections in any business and impose fines on entrepreneurs for any infraction of the agency's rules.
But the rules are not published, and frequently the inspectors will not tell even the business owner what violations are being cited. Of course, Pidluska commented, there is a simple and fast way to get a license or pass an inspection--namely, bribery.
Without question, continued Pidluska, President Leonid Kuchma was right last year when he admitted that abuse of power, bribery, and extortion by bureaucrats were the main obstacles to economic development in Ukraine.
Ukraine, of course, is not alone in having to battle corruption.
The deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), Harriet Babbitt, told the conference that in its role of promoting democracy around the world, the American aid agency helps fight corruption as well. She noted that in Armenia, for example, USAID supported 200 community development programs that stressed the importance of transparency and accountability in managing any funds, public or private. It backed judicial reform through ethics classes in schools and the creation of professional associations in law, business, and the media to endorse anti-corruption codes of ethics. And it also encouraged an independent media in Armenia and in the last elections provided the most balanced coverage in Armenia's history.
Additionally, she said, by helping Armenia privatize its energy sector, the U.S. aid agency helped the government reduce electric meter tampering and bribery through launching a computerized system that separates the metering, billing, and collection functions.
The vice president of the private group Transparency International, Frank Vogl, wrapped up the OECD conference saying that corruption is seen as a "massive problem" in more than half the countries of the world.
Petty corruption serves as a vicious tax on the poor, he said, while grand corruption hurts the economies of Central and Eastern Europe. Looting, which he described as the most outrageous form of corruption, has been perpetrated by leaders in Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Kenya, among others. While fighting corruption has become a major global topic, Vogl said efforts so far have "only made a dent." He said the armor of protection surrounding the corrupt--in government and business--remains largely in tact.
Businesses should be pro-active, said Vogl, by reforming themselves and being good corporate citizens everywhere.