Saturday, 16 June 2012

Swedish forum highlights Ukraine’s age-old problems

Ukraine's Soviet heritage is holding the country back. The 31-year-old deputy economy minister took the microphone to speak at a business conference in Kyiv on June 11 and, in fluent English, began rattling off his country’s achievements: a rise from 115th to 16th in the World Bank’s doing business ranking, reduced bribery and greater trust in police. “The transformation we made and achievements which I can list during the period of 2005-2010 [mean that] we’ve been named as the number one reformers,” he said. Sadly for Ukraine, this was not one of its own officials, but Georgia’s Deputy Economy Minister Mikheil Janelidze. Janelidze was speaking at the Sweden-Ukraine Business Forum, which had gathered together potential investors to inform them about investment opportunities in Ukraine. His Ukrainian counterpart produced a speech in heavily accented English that was full of platitudes. Janelidze’s fluent presentation of Georgia’s successes raised the question as to why Ukraine still remains toward the bottom of international business rankings. Natalie Jaresko, CEO of Horizon Capital investment bank, pointed to the age difference between Ukrainian and Georgian elites. She said Ukraine’s “Soviet heritage” was holding the country back, as older politicians and officials are not open to new approaches and a more global view. “I don’t know what the average age of our Cabinet of Ministers is today, but it’s older than 35,” she said. Tomas Fiala, CEO of investment bank Dragon Capital, said he had also noticed the limited international exposure of members of the government and presidential administration. “Last week at a meeting with the president, there was about half the government members present and unfortunately about 75 percent of them did not speak English and had their headphones on,” Fiala said. Georgian Janelidze is among many members of Georgian government, led by President Mikheil Saakashvili, known for having a number of young, Western-educated members. The president himself received a masters of law from Columbia Law School and has a good command of English. Having recognized corruption as the core problem of Georgia’s development, the government saw younger people as a solution. “We had a huge change in the administrative staff. Instead of corrupt officials, we hired new people, with less working experience but with no experience of taking bribes. They were young but we trained them,” Janelidze said. Roman Shpek, an adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, admitted at the forum that Ukraine needs more “concrete knowledge” of international trends. “Very important not to find how to build on our own way, we should use more international experience,” the 57-year-old said in heavily accented English.

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