Tribal Traditions

6 December 2011, 16:49

The latest appointments of the Interior Minister and the Chief of the Tax Service were taken by the media with an ironic smile. The Donetsk “staffing factory” is the most reliable, they said in comments. The post-Soviet personnel policy based on geographical connections is tantamount to nepotism. Strangely, neither parties nor civic institutions have raised this issue or demanded any form of accountability in this regard from the government. It is taken for granted that the current administration would staff the government with members of the Donetsk regional elite, but a government built this way is a priori unable to take a critical look at itself, learn from its mistakes and improve.


Geographical nepotism in Ukraine is assuming grotesque forms. Nearly half of the members of the Cabinet (8 of 17) were either born in or made a career in Donetsk Region. People from Donetsk hold all the key offices in the government. Moreover, the Chief of the Cabinet of Minister’s Secretariat – formerly the Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers – is also from this region. This means that the highest executive body is fully subordinated to officials from just one of Ukraine’s regions. Considering the first steps taken by the new Interior Minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, major reshuffles are to be expected in his ministry, not in the least due to its territorial units being infiltrated by more people from Donetsk. Prosecutors’ offices are an example of this kind of infiltration. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine is Viktor Pshonka, and his first deputy is Renat Kuzmin, both from Donetsk Region. As a result of their employment policies, 12 out of 27 regional prosecutors’ offices are now headed by natives of Donetsk or those who have made their careers in the region. If the system of prosecutors were governed primarily by officials associated with Kharkiv or Kyiv regions, it could be rationalized somehow, because these regions are home to two of Ukraine’s top law schools – Yaroslav the Wise Law Academy and the Law School of the Kyiv Shevchenko National University. But today, the prosecutor of Kyiv Region is Mykhailo Vytiaz, who previously held the same office in Donetsk Region, while Hennadiy Tiurin, a Donetsk native, is his counterpart in Kharkiv Region. The ratio of people from Donetsk among the chiefs of central executive bodies (barring ministries) is somewhat smaller (25%) but is already alarming. The Donetsk clan heads some of the most influential agencies, such as the State Tax Service and the State Penitentiary Service. Affiliation with Donetsk Region has been the key criteria in appointing six heads of local administrations, even though this practice clearly runs counter to the promises the Party of Regions made while still in opposition: that the heads of regions must be elected by the region’s residents.


One recent trend in staffing policies is appointing people close to President Viktor Yanukovych’s family, particularly to his elder son Oleksandr. The new Interior Minister, head of the Tax Service and chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine are all considered his people. Zakharchenko, Oleksandr Klymenko and Serhiy Arbuzov have seen stunning growth in their careers in the past year exclusively due to their ties to the Yanukovych family. Importantly, other centers that wield power have no respect for them. Evidently, a change of administration will immediately send them back without giving them any hope of keeping a government office or even staying in big business. Thus, the survival of the system is, to them, a question of their personal survival. Other top officials linked to the "family" are, according to different sources, Andriy Fedoruk, chief of the Donetsk Region Administration; Mykhailo Kostiuk, ex-Director General of Ukrzaliznytsia and now chief of the Lviv Region Administration; and Serhiy Tymchenko, head of the State Agency for Land Resources. The last appointment is especially noteworthy in the light of looming land reform. It should be emphasized that, Yanukovych essentially abandoned the traditional practice of Ukrainian presidents who built a system of checks and balances. Under Yanukovych, appointments favor the interests of one group only at the expense of all others. Dmytro Firtash, Serhiy Liovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov would not, perhaps, have minded filling offices on the regional level and in the Cabinet of Ministers with their people. But it was not to be, and this is already turning into a trend. Tellingly, the president was expected to appoint and fire some top officials at the last meeting of the government which he chaired. But nothing of the kind happened. And now there is a plausible explanation: firing a slew of ministers all at once and replacing them with representatives of the Family would be a scandal challenging other powerful groups that have extensive resources and organizational potential. This step would prompt them to make life worse for the president today. Evidently, the Family is not ready for this kind of confrontation. That is, they are not ready just quite yet. A resolute attack would require having control over all of the power and fiscal levers in the country.

It appears that the SBU and the Finance Ministry are the next targets. While one may seriously doubt that Valeriy Khoroshkovsky will succeed in becoming deputy prime minister for “financial cash flow”, the Yanukovych administration may quite possibly use another tried and true scheme in the financial sector: Arbuzov will be appointed Finance Minister, while his office in the NBU will be taken by his first deputy, another highly reliable man tested and proved in Ukreximbank.

The conquest of top government offices based on familial and geographical connections will continue, particularly due to the low quality of managers in the current government team. One case in point is Arbuzov’s innovations regarding currency exchange procedures which drew strong criticism not only from average citizens but also from his colleagues. The people that rise to power these days have the right connections, but lack the requisite education and work experience. For example, is there anything new that Olha Dzharty, 23, can tell customs officials in her new position as Deputy Head of the Kyiv Region Customs Office? A reference book on professional qualifications says that a candidate for the position of a deputy head in a department (not a territorial directorate) should have at least three years of government service as a leading specialist or at least five years in a managerial position elsewhere. There is no doubt that the newly appointed “managers” will be prepared to fulfill orders from above, but it is quite possible that subordinates will quietly “bury” their own orders as a kind of protest against unprofessional “outsiders.” In order to prevent this, the police, the tax service and other agencies that were “blessed” with new chiefs will likely see major reshuffles. Information that comes from Ukraine’s regions suggests that the process has already begun.

Now the government has much more room to let off steam. Measures may even include throwing government representatives (not from the Family, though) behind bars to voters’ joy and as a way to demonstrate to the world how efficient and tough they are in fighting corruption. A system of government is taking shape in Ukraine that hinges on the power of one person only and relies on a group linked by family connections – a “tribe” of sorts. If the leader loses his power, members of the group lose everything. But this means that entire groups within the Party of Regions risk losing not only their representative in the government, but also all of their influence even by the end of 2011. Akhmetov’s inner circle seems to have smelled this. His newspaper Segodnya made a scathing comment about the latest appointments: “A ‘secret coup’ is taking place in the government.” But Akhmetov may have woken up too late.

Duda Andrii

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