Uncleansed: Justice Ministry says bureaucracy is foiling lustration

Originally posted here.

The new Ukraine looks too much like the old Ukraine under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. And that’s the problem, say reformers. Last week, civic group Reanimation Package of Reforms gave mediocre to dismal scores on the nation’s progress to improve electoral legislation, public administration, the law enforcement and judicial systems and the Constitution, and on combating corruption.

One reason is that a law intended to cleanse the government of officials linked to Yanukovych and the Soviet regime is often ignored or sabotaged by the nation’s entrenched and bloated bureaucracy.

Ukraine’s Justice Ministry acknowledged the subversive practice, which has prevented reform-minded officials from entering government. Many of the problems stem from the failure to implement Ukraine’s law on lustration.

Passed last October, the measure envisages firing many governors, heads of regional administrations, ministers, heads of law enforcement bodies and their regional branches, and the deputies of all those officials. The law applies to those who served either more than a year during Yanukovych’s truncated presidency in 2010-2014 or during the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.

According to the Justice Ministry’s website, a total of 654 officials have been fired under the lustration law. This number does not include those fired who couldn’t account for their property holdings and those who quit of their own accord. The Justice Ministry does not yet have statistics for those categories.

Current Kirovohrad governor Serhiy Kuzmenko is subject to lustration because he was the head of that region’s Oleksandriya district in 2010-2012, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Justice Ministry and the Civic Lustration Committee say.

Dmytro Dymov, a deputy head of the Justice Ministry’s lustration department, told the Kyiv Post that the department had sent inquiries to the president’s office about Kuzmenko but received no response.

The presidential administration told the Kyiv Post that Kuzmenko was appointed governor before the lustration law came into effect. However, it failed to explain why he had not been fired after that, as stipulated by the law.

Kuzmenko was a member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and voted for a package of legislation that severely curtailed civil liberties in January 2014, which triggered Yanukovych’s overthrow. He has also been accused of recruiting and financing pro-government thugs who attacked EuroMaidan protesters.

The officials pictured and named above are subject to the nation’s lustration law, according to Ukraine’s Justice Ministry and Civic Lustration Committee, which is designed to cleanse their ranks of state employees who served under the disgraced presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, were Communist Party or KGB members, prosecuted EuroMaidan activists, or cannot account for their property holdings. (UNIAN, Courtesy)

The Kirovohrad Oblast Administration didn’t respond to a Kyiv Post inquiry.

According to the Justice Ministry, presidential deputy chief of staff Oleksiy Dniprov should be dismissed because he was a deputy education minister and the ministry’s chief of staff in 2013-2015.

The National Civil Service Agency justified Dniprov’s appointment, telling the presidential administration that “a combined deputy minister and chief of staff” is not a deputy minister, and therefore should not be lustrated, Dymov said. The presidential administration told the Kyiv Post that the lustration law does not apply to Dniprov without providing an explanation.

Prosecutors have also successfully avoided cleansing among their ranks.

Oleh Valendyuk, acting head of the Kyiv prosecutor’s office, is subject to lustration because he was a deputy head of the prosecutorial department for representation in court and the enforcement of court rulings in 2008-2014, according to the Justice Ministry.

Last October the Prosecutor General’s Office said that Valendyuk should be fired.

However, Valendyuk challenged the decision in Kyiv’s Administrative District Court. On the next business day, the court prevented the Prosecutor General’s Office from firing him.

Karl Volokh, an activist of the Civic Lustration Committee, said by phone that the ruling was “unimaginable” and “impossible” from the standpoint of Ukrainian law.

Even Valendyuk has said that his position was subject to lustration. He told Radio Liberty earlier this month, however, that he was formally a deputy head of the department, but “de facto” only headed a sub-unit of the department – a claim that has raised eyebrows.

Viktor Danylyshyn, the judge who issued the favorable ruling in Valendyuk’s case, is an acquaintance of the official, Dymov said.

Justice Danylyshyn himself is subject to lustration because he banned public gatherings on Kyiv’s central streets on Nov. 21, 2013 when the EuroMaidan Revolution began, according to Markiyan Halabala, a deputy head of the Temporary Special Commission for Checking Common-Jurisdiction Courts.

Kyiv’s Administrative District Court told the Kyiv Post by e-mail that the lustration law did not apply to him without explaining why.

The lustration law stipulates firing judges who issued unlawful rulings during the popular uprising. Not one judge has been dismissed under the lustration law from among the 7,590 that currently sit on the bench.

Another agency accused of blunting lustration efforts is the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, according to the Civic Lustration Committee.

The civic group says the SBU’s main investigative department chief, Hryhory Ostafiychuk, should be fired because he served as a deputy of Kyiv’s top prosecutor for more than a year under Yanukovuych – from May 14, 2007 until March 9, 2011.

But SBU spokeswoman Olena Hitlianska told the Kyiv Post by phone on June 26 that Ostafiychuk only occupied the position until Jan. 27, 2011 and was thus not subject to lustration. Later, in a written response to a Kyiv Post request, Hiklianska provided a different date for the end of Ostafiychuk’s tenure – Feb. 22, 2011.

The Kyiv Post sent a request for a document proving the SBU’s version on July 1 but has not received a response. Government agencies are supposed to comply with media requests for information within five working days.

Moreover, few officials have been fired for having links to the Soviet Union’s Communist Party and KGB secret police, Dymov said.

Even getting information related to lustration checks is extremely difficult. “You can’t even imagine how much effort it takes to get this information from a government agency,” Dymov added.

For instance, the State Fiscal Service is required to give information to the Justice Ministry but has always refused to do so, Dymov said. The service declined to comment by e-mail.

The results of property lustration – the process of firing officials who cannot account for their property holdings – are also disappointing.

Dymov said that no top officials with immense wealth had been dismissed under property lustration, but a lot of rank-and-file employees had been fired on dubious and often illegal grounds, such as failing to say in their income statement that they inherited a car, a motorcycle, or a trailer.

“Many officials use the lustration law for their own selfish purposes,” Dymov said, implying bosses simply replace lustrated subordinates with their protégés.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov can be reached at reaganx84@gmail.com.

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