Ukrainian President Sacks Government, Wants More Done About Graft

Published: 06 March 2020

322px-Volodymyr Zelensky-20 May 2019 Vadim Chuprina - АVolodymyr Zelensky: "It's not enough to not steal." (Photo: Vadim Chuprina (CC BY-SA 4.0))

By David Klein

The Ukrainian Parliament approved a new government after President Volodymyr Zelensky who came to power on an anti-corruption campaign fired the old ministers, saying they performed poorly and that the country needs “new brains.”

“Yes, this is the first government where there is no corruption on the top level. But it’s not enough to not steal,” Zelensky told the lawmakers.

He criticized the outgoing ministers for failing to address smuggling, for the poor performance of the industry as well as for high utility prices.

He also slammed the prevalence of foreign supervisors on the boards of state owned companies.

“Today, it has actually become more profitable to ‘supervise’ than to work in Ukraine,” he said.

“And with all due respect to our international partners, with all gratitude for their help, today our citizens in the supervisory boards of our enterprises feel like a national minority,” he explained.

Last summer, the presence of one foreigner on a Ukrainian state business’s board nearly shattered US-Ukrainian relations and almost led to the impeachment of the president of the United States.

In a phone call, US President Donald Trump requested that Zelensky open a corruption investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden who served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas producer.

In the outgoing government, Zelensky, a 42-year-old former comedian, had made a point of hiring younger political outsiders like himself.

The incoming government represents a departure from that mentality with many of the new ministers being experienced veterans in their fields.

As part of the reshuffle, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, a 35-year-old lawyer who had only served for seven months, was replaced with a relatively unknown economist from Lviv named Denys Shmygal.

Interestingly, one of the few to keep their positions was Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Despite the Zelensky administrations anti-corruption focus, Avakov, who has held his role since 2014 and is Ukraine’s longest serving interior minister has been embroiled in numerous scandals, according to the Kyiv Post. Several of Avakov’s allies as well as his own son have been charged with corruption.

Ario Deghani, a Ukraine based lawyer and expert on anti-corruption efforts sees the shake up as a manifestation of internal-struggle that plagues Ukrainian politics.

“There is an inner battle between the old guard and the new one,” he told the OCCRP, explaining that there are old approaches from times of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and modern approaches of people who “may be a little bit naive and less politically experienced, but at the end of the day it is something new.”

“The president and his staff want to make a change, that change may be coming too fast and they might have stepped on some toes,” he said. “In real life in Ukraine, you can’t achieve much change without the old guard on your side.”