9 August 2016, 22:34
Change of the Government: a New Policy or the Old Scheme?

In 2016, exports of agricultural products reached nearly half of all that Ukraine sold to foreign markets. Naturally, the agricultural sector is and will be the focus of officials of any government.

During the old regime, "the Family" Deputy Prime Minister Sergiy Arbuzov was interested in agriculture paying considerable attention to the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, the State Agency for Land Resources and the State Inspection for Agriculture.

He also initiated numerous "business projects" – the State Land Bank (DerzhZemBank), the Agrarian Fund, the State Food and Grain Corporation of Ukraine, the Agrarian Exchange.

Journalists and representatives of relevant associations were writing a lot about those schemes trying to stop them. However, Yanukovych has not been being in the country for over two years now. Arbuzov and his ministers were suspended from control over the economy almost having no influence on it.

I will not dwell on the activities of the first team that came to power in agribusiness. Ihor Shvaika and Sergiy Rudyk from Svoboda (ex Head of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food and former Head of the State Agency for Land Resources) were random people.

They were trying to quickly benefit from their positions, knowing they had only a few months.

After the parliamentary elections, a new coalition government came to power, being dismissed after a year of work. What did the government achieve during this time, and what challenges will the new Minister for Agrarian Policy and Food Taras Kutovyi face?

PR seems to be everywhere. While all the ministers prior to Oleksiy Pavlenko made great display of gross yields which they had nothing to do with following the old Soviet tradition, Pavlenko went further.

He filled the Olympic pools with sunflower oil and translated walnuts into Kyiv cakes on his Facebook page.

They say in the Ministry that media monitoring was almost the main document used to evaluate any work. As a result, Pavlenko ranked among top 20 Ukrainian public personalities, sometimes being ahead of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yuriy Lutsenko and Anton Herashchenko.

At the same time, there were few actual results. Projects on introduction of irrigation in the South of Ukraine or introduction of agricultural receipt system appeared to be much more lasting and complicated than it seemed before.

A widely announced privatization of agricultural state-owned enterprises ended in nothing. As for the head of the tasty piece "Ukrspirt" – three unsuccessful tenders were held. The first ended up in scandal, the following ones – in a fiasco. Recently, the fourth tender was announced, which the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is in charge of. This time, it was blocked by court.

So, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy focused only on assets they could reach – the Agrarian Fund and the State Food and Grain Corporation of Ukraine, as well as on the race for power. The ghost of the Agrarian Exchange loomed on the horizon. Once, all agrarians were tried to be rounded up there and a percentage taken of the registration of all trade operations.

It is worth noting that the attempts to introduce corrupt schemes at Arbuzov’s and Yatsenyuk’s governments looked different, and this is well illustrated by the agricultural sector. While Donetsk team had a strictly built vertical power structure, decentralization and chaotic character were peculiar to the coalition supporters.

The government and the President’s Administration being the highest level occasionally wanted to kick start the agricultural land sale market. The idea itself makes sense, but it seems that there were attempts to turn back for three years when the government tried to pass the Law on the State Land Bank through the Parliament.

This is about a great project, perhaps the most corrupt idea of Arbuzov’s team. The point was to give an exclusive right to one government agency to buy agricultural land from Ukrainians. By then, the opposition (UDAR, Batkivshchyna, Svoboda, the future People's Front) spoke out against.

For example, one of colleagues of Yatsenyuk Mykhaylo Apostol (now Advisor to Minister of Internal Affairs) called the State Land Bank idea "an anti-national hostile takeover of Ukrainian land." But time passed, and the government headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk began to push the idea of ​​"government agent in the land market" without hesitation.

In my opinion, the main task of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food is to develop the game rules. And here, the situation is rather contradictory.

On the one hand, Pavlenko’s team jointly with the European Commission, donors, civic organizations and international financial institutions, developed Draft Single and Comprehensive Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development in Ukraine for 2015 – 2020.

The document came out to be of high-quality, due to which the Ministry advantageously differs from previous teams that called a generous set of Socialist slogans "the strategy". On the other hand, it is hard to call the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of 2015 – 2016 active law makers. It is best to describe this part of their activity as "did not interfere".

Pavlenko did not appear at the Verkhovna Rada delegating his communication function with the Parliament to his deputies. They honestly attended all meetings of the Committee on Agrarian Policy, but their support ended there.

With no lobbying on the part of the Ministry (in contrast to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade that paid much more attention to promoting their initiatives), the Verkhovna Rada considered only a small portion of the Bills developed by members of the Committee on Agrarian Policy.

In this regard, Kutovyi has a considerable pole-position over Pavlenko. He is not new to the Verkhovna Rada, has the authority both at the Committee and BPP. If he wants he can become a better lobbyist of the industry interests at the Parliament than Pavlenko.

However, here he might face a serious challenge. The thing is that the Parliament still managed to conduct significant deregulation of agricultural market during the last two years. The main old schemes are broken, but it almost does not refer to land. So, further reforms must be carried out there.

Now the largest inner struggle continues around bills aimed at releasing agricultural lands from disposition by the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre and return them to communities. Other initiatives are next in line to divest the Service of their rather broad authorities.

Despite the recent noted name change, little has changed inside the State Service. However, online competitions to fill in vacancies became an interesting know-how. On the one hand, everything is transparent: the progress of competition can be even watched on Youtube. On the other hand, it is not always possible to understand the matter of speech of competitioners.

Try to make out what people say in this official video. Such "an open competition" is more likely a profanation and does not guarantee the selection of the best candidate.

Meanwhile the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre takes the lead in "Corruption Perception Ranking." The new Minister for Agrarian Policy and Food cannot change it.

The point is that under both compositions of Yatseniuk’s Government, the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre was taken out from control of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food and was coordinated by Deputy Prime Minister for Infrastructure. First, by Volodymyr Hroisman, then – Gennadiy Zubko. The State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre is headed by Maksym Martyniuk, an old fellow of Hroisman from Vinnytsya.

Of course, Officials of the Ministry dream about taking over control of their former important agency, however, Hroisman does not seem to give his "domain" in the Cabinet of Ministers to anybody. It appears that there is a dispute inside the new coalition government that sooner or later will irritate all its potential parties.

Volodymyr Makar, Head of the Ukrainian Agrarian Association for The Ekonomichna Pravda.

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