One side of the conversation - Odessa reforms

Unusually for this blog, one side of a conversation held with a visiting diplomatic corps is going to be summarised for public consumption, rather than the usual carefully selected parts that are always subjected to the Chatham House Rule, if anything that is said is mentioned at all.

The side of the conversation is that of your author, and naturally not the side of the diplomats in question.

The very first point made was the timescale in which Governor Saakashvili has to made a significant impact - rather than the (although not meaningless) public shafting of, or sacking of officials and/or departments to the point of disbanding them.  Individually and accumulatively such things do have an impact on the public psyche - but the public of Odessa are expectant of change that they will see and feel rather than watching what can be interpreted as “show dismissals” on TV and YouTube.

This notwithstanding the dubious legality of some of the dismissals.

If the Governor has a policy of meeting ends regardless of means, rather than creating legitimate means to reach sustainable ends, then his reform process will be one that is based on the premise of keep going and let the rule of law try and catch up!  Sustainable ends are only ever reached by legitimate means, and it is questionable just how legitimate some of the current means are.  Justification is not interchangeable with legitimacy.

The timescale offered was 6 months to create a meaningful change that will be noticed by society with personal impact for most.  If such a single issue is identified, dealt with thoroughly and transparently, and effecitvely delivered then it will buy him another 3 months of grace/continued goodwill to deliver a second such reform.  Thereafter the public pressure/expectency will become somewhat more manageable.

Various potential issues were discussed as well as the issues of timeliness for each - quite rightly if a nation is going to invest serious diplomatic and political energy, notwithstanding their taxpayers money, in supporting a specific regional reform.

Thus several “whats”, a few “who’s” and the “hows” were pondered with a good dose of “when”.  The final outcomes will become fairly clear fairly soon.  The problem diplomatically, of course, is just how closely does any nation want to be seen hugging somebody like Governor Saakashvili, vis a vis, if he doesn’t succeed and get the right level of visible support, then reforming Odessa will be set back by a decade at least if it doesn’t happen now.


Longer term projects that have to be dealt  as a priority regionally would be that of administrative structure.  Odessa Oblast is not and should not be the “Saakashvili Show”.  As has been previously written, the civil service and public administration must be competent and allowed to function without significant and unnecessary political meddling.  Structural reform is desperately needed.

Whilst when Winston Churchill slammed his fist on the table, and General Alanbrooke slammed his fist on the table in reply, Governor Saakashvili seems to be lacking a General Alanbrooke.  An “ideas man” requires a “structures man” who is capable of project managing numerous project managers and also influencing the “ideas man”.  Thus the long term and important projects will undoubtedly be interfered with unnecessarily, and project/policy delivery will suffer as a result.

Another long term project should be the ports/docks.  They are after all the economic centers of Odessa.  Customs e-clearance, porto fanco/free ports etc, and other such ideas have their pluses - but also their minuses.  Impact analysis not only upon economics but also criminality would be a sensible prerequisite, together with a review of the structures within the customs and borders agencies.  If customs procedures are to be relaxed under e-clearance and/or porto franco then intelligence led checks take primacy.  The Iran, Turkey, Odessa, Poland/EU corridor an obvious target of a few.

With Odessa next in line to get a newly minted “Police”, your author raised concerns that go much deeper than those comments recently made over a hopefully bright future for the new “Police” in Kyiv.

Quite simply Odessa is not Kyiv.  The extraordinary lengths that were went to in Kyiv over the recruitment of the new “Police” under the noses of the President, Cabinet of Ministers and foreign diplomats to Ukraine was highly unlikely to be anything less than scrupulous.

Odessa has a fairly large but generally weak and unnoticed diplomatic corps.  There is no President, Cabinet of Ministers or immensely influential diplomatic community to keep a watchful and ever-focused eye over the recruitment process.  That there will be (and are) “interests” in Odessa keen on hijacking or perverting the process from the very start at the recruitment phase should come as no surprise.

However much political time, diplomatic energy, and money was invested in the Kyiv Police, it would be wisely doubled for Odessa if “interests” are to be resolutely rebuffed and the desired outcomes from the very moment of the recruitment process are to be realised at graduation (and beyond).  Thereafter a consistently watchful eye will have to remain on those “interests” until any new force and its structure are robust enough to self-recruit and mentor new recruits and management can withstand consistent attempts at manipulation.

Those that any new “Police” service deal with are then subject to the notoriously corrupt courts in Odessa - thus it is important to distinguish between good policing and justice actually being done.

The usual issues of FDI, tourism etc were raised, and simply put a few examples of cheaply resolved  inaction were raised - the low hanging fruit such as proof-checked English from the administration for professional purposes is absent, as well as any media information from the administration in well structured English.

How to attract foreign interest when most of the planet doesn’t read Ukrainian or Russian, and can barely understand the garbled English that the administration puts out - when it puts any out at all?

With the massive amount of big-board advertising space, why is there not a single map with English names of streets with a “you are here” marker for tourists wandering about lost?  It costs nothing but makes tourist life a little easier.

Anyway, to dwell of the long list of “easy fixes” for tourism and FDI attraction that are currently not being fixed distracts from the major issues as foreseen and listed above by your author for the next 6 - 9 months, and that were conveyed to the visiting diplomatic corps of the day.

All of these issues should be at the top of the “Watch List” for both Governor Saakashvili and those that would support him.  It is quite possible that reform opportunity will lost for a decade or more depending upon actions (or inaction) by the year end.

The reactions and comments by those on the other side of this conversation, unfortunately dear readers, are not about to be revealed.