It the end of May, the President of Ukraine has personally introduced the new head of Odesa regional administration –Georgian ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. 112.international has analyzed his 100 days in the office and taken stock of it.
Saakashvili can afford making straight-line and tough statements concerning powerful actors of Ukrainian political scene. Recently he started media quarrel with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The governor of Odesa accused the PM in sabotage of reforms, insufficient struggle with corruption, and acting in favor of oligarchs. “I have many times heard about reforms from this government. For them, reforms are utility rates uprising. I will say that these are not the reforms, this is an outcome of economical crisis. For the latest time, corruption has ever widened and moved to certain level higher”, Saakashvili stated in his interview to President Poroshenko’s “5 channel”.
While presenting the new governor in Odesa, the head of the state spoke about successful reforms and fight against corruption as the main aims for Ukraine. So, Saakashvili’s mission was to demonstrate both of it on example of Odesa region and launch several pilot projects, which are to be spread all over the country. “During the next 100 days we will stop contraband in the region”, Saakashvili had promised just after his appointment.
We will check which of these aims Saakashvili has achieved, and which still remain as projects.
New governor was met with skepticism in Odesa, so Saakashvili started his work from loud PR actions. You can often meet him on the streets, where locals make selfies with him. The official makes his best to broaden the lines of his supporters.
During the period in office, Saakashvili visited different parts of the region, including Reni, considered to be problematic place. This subregion, Besarabia, is ethnically heterogeneous, and pro-Russian attitudes are traditionally strong here. Saakashvili emphasizes that the point lies not in political sphere, but in local economic problems. As one of the main needs of the region, new governor names a lack of appropriate road from Odesa to Reni, which interferes to investment and development.
As the result of Saakashvili’s activity, the government provided ₴ 400 million of nearly ₴ 700 million, needed for the road reconstruction after governor’s esteem. President Poroshenko during his visit to Odesa on August 25 announced that the construction is to be started soon. Cabinet of Ministers agreed to share for this purpose part of the income from the Odesa customs.
Governor and his team
Saakashvili has made several noticeable personnel decisions. So, as his deputy governor Saakashvili hired Mariya Gaydar, the daughter of Yegor Gaydar, famous Russian liberal reformer of the early 90ies. Also, he invited Sasha Borovik, who left Yatsenyuk’s Cabinet with a scandal. Now the latter is the head of Economic board, which unites representatives of police, prosecutor’s office, national security, tax service, and local powers in order to manage with business issues after the Singapore model. This board is meant to be functioning permanently.
As the head of regional Ministry of Interior department, Saakashvili lobbied his compatriot Georgi Lortkipanidze. However, the latter has been accused in corruption activities, because one of his closest subordinates has been caught at accepting a bribe. Saakashvili has promised that such arrests will go on, but still this fact casts a shadow over the governor himself.
Also, Saakashvili criticized heavily regional deputy prosecutor Tetyana Hornostayeva, Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin’s stepdaughter. Governor accused her in persecution of private business, which led to losses of millions of potential investments.
In regional state administration, Saakashvili announced staff purges and reduces. The bureaucratic structure of governor’s office is to be changed. So, he means to left near 400 officers of current 781. Also, Saakashvili makes his own appointments for 26 rayon administrations of Odesa region, after a competition procedure.
Sea and sky
Another direction of the governor’s activity is paying attention to issues, not so important but perceptive and symbolic for Odesits. From time to time Saakashvili takes part in breaking another fence, which closes a path to the seaside. The official promised that soon all beaches will be in open access for locals and tourists.
Also Saakashvili concentrates on aviation issues. “International airlines of Ukraine”, company belonging to oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, have been heavily criticized for its expensive tickets policy. The governor invited another airlines, and low-costs among them, to work in Odesa direction.
Several days ago Saakashvili inspected the building process of the new terminal in Odesa airport. It will provide service for 3.5 – 4 million people per year. The governor announced building of a new airstrip, which must be ready in 18 month.
New police and service centre
August 25, new police was presented and started serving in Odesa, with 392 officers, instructed by American supervisors. Odesa is the third city with it, after Kyiv and L’viv, and by the end of the year Ministry of Interior plans to launch the new police all over Ukraine. The event was attended by President Petro Poroshenko, Minister Arsen Avakov, his deputy Eka Zguladze. Saakashvili participated in examining of the new policemen and even climbed into the trunk of a patrol car.
In October starts Saakashvili’s project called “Decision point”. It is going to be a single centre of administrative service, which can quickly provide different documents and resolutions. “Decision point” will be opened with 50 different services, and in the future this number will be extended to 250.
The governor’s promise to defeat corruption at customs for 100 days appeared to be unfulfilled. Saakashvili accused oligarchs and Yatsenyuk’s Cabinet in patronage over contraband. The official stated that because of it state budget has lost over ₴ 100 billion.
For the last two years, ten heads of Odesa customs changed, the last of them was in office only for three month. A contest for the vacant seat was announced.
Also Saakashvili achieved to stop privatization of Odesa Portside Plant, which was planned to the nearest time. This company is crucial active for the regional economy and budget, and a tidbit for different private
interests. As evaluated, the plant’s profit will draw over ₴ 220 million. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk at last agreed to postpone the process of privatization.
Reformer or populist?
Saakashvili has a lot of critics, who name him none otherwise than populist, who speaks fine but does a bit. “Liar, populist, and cynical villain, kicked by his own citizens”, MP Borys Filatov, close to Kolomoysky, characterized him on Facebook page. However, conflict between Saakashvili and the oligarch’s team is well known.
Neutral observers are more moderate. They criticize Saakashvili’s personnel decisions, as Masha Gaydar’s appointment. The governor permanently violates the powers of the Cabinet and other institutions. Critics on the address of Yatsenyuk are estimated as a desire to become the Prime Minister instead of the latter. However, Saakashvili himself rejects such desire. On the other hand, Odesa is obviously too tight for the Georgian – but still, there is a lot of work to reach the promised level of Batumi.
Permanent being in the centre of attention plays in favor of Odesa governor. Many people like his brave statements, open contest for public offices etc. It should be acknowledged that Saakashvili’s team is not sitting around. The work is in progress, however more slow, that it has been promised.
Now Odesits should worry whether the Georgian reformer will be able to finish his reforms. Too stirring public activity raised Saakashvili’s popularity in region and over Ukraine. The idea becomes more and more popular of Saakashvili as the Prime Minister. Petition with such offer has got near three thousand signs on the President’s web site. On the one hand, it may be a display of mistrust to Yatsenyuk’s “kamikaze Cabinet”, on the other – about growing popularity of the Georgian reformer.