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Nov 30, 2012

Government officials often no-shows at conferences

Kyiv Post

Ukrainian officials often shy away from attending investment and business conferences. While some notable exceptions exist, the rare appearances are still too often limited to delivering some platitudes and leaving.

But the Kyiv Post Tiger Conference on Nov. 27 was attended by three government officials who participated in discussions and spoke English – Economic Minister Petro Poroshenko, first deputy head of the Presidential Administration Iryna Akimova and deputy Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Volodymyr Ignashchenko.

Serhiy Holovaty, a member of parliament from the ruling Party of Regions was also present and speaking Shakespeare’s tongue. Better still, the four stuck around long enough to answer questions from participants and journalists.

But experts say this is one of the exceptions to the rule of Ukrainian officials rarely showing up, speaking little or no English and avoiding substance.

Officials often act “as if they do not care about what the experts and business community has to say,” said one Kyiv Post conference participant who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

Pavlo Sheremeta, president of the Kyiv School of Economics, said the disinterest of Ukrainian officials is a contrast to the active interest he sees by representatives of other governments. “Two weeks ago I was at the summit of World Economic Forum in Dubai and I met one of the key ministers of Malaysia. During the summit he was present at the several different sections, where he was taking detailed notes. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials were nowhere to be found after day one,” Sheremeta said.

Andrey Bespyatov, president of CFA Ukraine, said the financial institution’s annual investor conference, held Nov. 21, was ignored by major Ukrainian government officials. They found Polish and Georgian officials, by contrast, much more receptive to coming.

Natalie Jaresko, CEO of Horizon Capital, has noticed the same phenomenon of disinterest on the part of Ukrainian officials. “It is rare that a Ukrainian official stays beyond his or her own personal appearance to hear what the other speakers discuss,” Jaresko said.

Another big exception is the Yalta European Strategy conference, organized annually by billionaire Viktor Pinchuk in Crimea, which typically features a broad range of Ukrainian officials.

Jaresko particularly praised former Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Tigipko, who “not only participated as a speaker, but also stayed in the audience and listened – taking notes – to the other panelists throughout the day.”

Tomas Fiala, CEO of investment bank Dragon Capital, said members of the current government of President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov are doing a better job of showing up than previous governments.

“There are quite a few ministers that usually try to participate and give good presentations,” Fiala said.

The European Business Association and other major business lobbying groups also usually have no problem arranging private meetings for its members with top government officials.

At the Kyiv Post conference, Poroshenko introduced Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili by noting how much Ukraine has to learn from Georgia in “improvement of investment climate, sharp growth of living standard of population, deregulation, and impressive achievements in fighting corruption.”

Poroshenko said: “First and foremost, the economy needs reforms…Our main goal should be diversification of the economy, opening up of new directions. Ukraine has great potential in IT, color metals, biotechnology, and other.”

He continued to list several specific initiatives.

Akimova talked about the government’s attempts to battle a corrupt bureaucracy by simplifying procedures. “A sign of corruption is excessive number of licenses and allowance documents,” she said. “We have reduced the quantity of allowance documents and licenses.”

Despite the progress, more has to be done, she acknowledged. “I am not saying we should rest and be proud,” she said. Referring to the theme of the conference, Akimova said the tiger “is not sleeping, it already opened its eyes. It just needs some time to jump.”

Volodymyr Ignaschenko, deputy head of the Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry, attended the energy panel and noted Ukraine’s progress.

“Just several years ago there was no such discussion on shale gas, efficiency, alternative energy and diversification of Ukraine’s energy sector, as we have now,” he said. He also pointed to the introduction of production sharing agreement contracts, long-term deals between the government and companies, as a positive step.

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