Structure and sustainability - A Saakashvili (and Ukraine) problem

As the arrival of Mr Saakashvili has turned both domestic and international eyes toward Odessa, and the truly gargantuan task he has taken on in reforming the Oblast - very much as a microcosm of Ukraine in many ways (although every Oblast presents unique yet entrenched issues too), whatever appears in this entry, can by and large, be seen as a wider issue for the nation.

Indeed, the arrival of the new “Police” in late August/early September will have the same structural and political issues as that of Kyiv, and of that which will appear in Lviv, Kharkiv and other large metropolitan centres in due course.

In short, whilst corruption within the ranks will radically decrease, the political interference in policing, an abundantly clear lack of quality delivering policing policy throughout the service, the issue of policing structure and the sustainability of any quality structure when it arrives, are a significant elephant in the room currently in the media shadow of “visible anti-corruption measures” - perhaps expectedly, but that won’t last.  The issue of quality policing, policing policy and policing structure will undoubtedly raise its head once corruption within the ranks is seen to drop and quality rather than corruption rules the public opinion regarding policing.

Although it will be the first daily visible reformation manifestation in Odessa as seen by its constituents, it will not be seen as a “Saakashvili reform” - and quite rightly (unless it was he that instigated the entire project for Ukraine which seems doubtful.  President Poroshenko would not require his advice about the necessity of copying the Georgia initiative to shift public perceptions).

To be blunt, the creation of a new “Police” is a reform created by, emanating from, and driven by the “centre” in Kyiv rather than anything Governor Saakashvili can take any credit for in the eyes of his local constituents.

Reform in Odessa that will be identified with Governor Saakashvili, will take the form of those issues that he can personally change and install, or champion so loudly that the centre in Kyiv agrees to support for fear of looking glacial with regard to reform.

The one-stop-shop for business, although not a new concept whatsoever, when it manifests itself, will be seen as a Saakashvili reform.  The proposed new customs systems at the Odessa ports due to be implemented on 1st November (which will, apparently, incorporate some points raised in this entry) will be seen as a Saakashvili reform, for he has been the public driver from day one of taking office.

The opening up of Odessa airport to a more “open skies” for commercial carriers, again, will be seen as his reform, if the international carriers can be convinced to come and demand drives down prices.

The slashing of 27 to 15 Oblast Administration departments, much needed as many exist but do nothing/add no value - indeed only extract from the budget - is a very wise move.  As a regional governor with a reputation for reform/modernisation (albeit not much of a reputation for democracy), turning Odessa Oblast Administration into the slickest, leanest, most productive, responsive, and graft-less of administrations across the nation is no doubt a priority.

Indeed, structure is one of the major issues that has to be addressed in Odessa.  Structure within the Oblast Administration, regional institutions of State, civil service, courts and every other form of public administration that exists.

Unfortunately for Governor Saakashvili, there are only so many structural issues he can lawfully address within his powers as Governor.  How bolstered they will actually become when “decentralisation” powers reach his office remains to be seen.  Whatever the case, those powers will not be retroactively applied for decisions and actions made now.

As written in an entry not too long ago, the legality of some of the governor’s action is somewhat questionable - “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.”

Thus the issue of structure is inevitably tied to sustainability and vice versa.  They in turn are tied to the consolidation of reform in a post-Saakashvili Odessa and/or a post-Poroshenko Ukraine.  It is a long and hard road to create sustainable structures robust enough to withstand unnecessary interference, yet flexible enough to adapt to the demands of those they serve without bowing to unhealthy political expediency and/or pressure.


It is a far easier thing to dismantle structures (or make them bloated, overly bureaucratic and ineffectual) under new management if they have not been well built and protected legislatively through well thought out legislation and effective policy and robust internal procedures.

That Odessa will have a far less corruptible “Police” is highly likely.  That it will have a new customs system that is also far less corruptible is equally as likely.  A new road to Reni will be built and cannot be unbuilt.  A slashed, lean, well run, hopefully responsive and radically more honest Oblast Administration will occur under the Saakashvili tenure (however long that proves to be).  A one-stop-shop there will be.  More public sackings and dressing downs will occur.  A lot of low hanging easily achievable, visible, low-hanging fruit there remains as and when the Saakashvili team get around to it (or are nudged in the right direction).

All legacy issues - and all legacy issues that can be reversed, perverted, manipulated (or in the case of the new road, left without maintenance) under any future new management.  Alternatively those legacy issues can of course be enhanced, particularly so in the wake of an eventual Saakashvili departure, the politics of Odessa may eventually turn away from “personality politics” for good, valuing sound policy (plus policy implementation) and quality administration instead.

Thus, perhaps the best possible legacy will be one of structure and sustainability thereof - post personality.

Now anybody that has recently visited the Governor’s staff will not fail to have noticed it is staffed with an incredibly high percentage of ladies who are not in any way offensive to the male eye.  A marked change from previous Governor’s staff.  Indeed, it almost gives the impression of a harem whose corridors are stalked by a charismatic alpha male.  That is not to say the staff are in any way incompetent or less than capable of their task - it is simply a perception that many will have that have visited Governors past and present in Odessa.

However, currently and perhaps necessarily the Governors administration is cleared staffed by “Yes, can do/will do” people who are quite prepared to follow a policy of meeting ends regardless of the means, rather than creating legitimate means to reach sustainable ends.  As previously stated, actions are occurring in pursuit of reform processes based upon an underlying and unspoken premise to keep going at great speed and allow the rule of law to catch up - if and when it can.

A sustainable structure is based upon a far more “yes if”, and occasionally “no because”, when keeping its appointed/elected leadership within legal and ethical norms in their pursuit of policy and/or its implementation.

Of the many necessary components of a sustainable structure, there seems more than an absence of employee understanding of future sustainability and their current and future role within.

When Winston Churchill slammed his fist on the table - General Alanbrooke slammed his fist on the table in reply.  Governor Saakashvili seems to be lacking a General Alanbrooke.

Whilst it is right that the Governor leads the charge with regard to reform and structural change, as an “ideas man” he requires a “structures man” who is capable of project managing numerous project managers and also influencing the “ideas man”.  Without a General Alanbrooke figure to bang the table back at Governor Saakashvili, the long term and important projects will undoubtedly be interfered with unnecessarily, and project/policy delivery will suffer as a result - particularly as the low-hanging fruit disappears and the temptation to “meddle” grows.

New structures will not have the robust sustainability they should have once he moves on, and as a result reforms and administrative gains can very well be quickly rolled back.

Whilst we sit back and watch what appears to be a highly publicised “wack-a-corrupt official/wack-a-mole”, it is to be hoped that somewhere in the Oblast Administration, the never seen boiler room staff are working on a strategy to make any new Oblast administrative structure, and long term currently planned projects, internally sustainable far beyond the tenure of the current incumbent.

It is also to be hoped that somewhere else in the Oblast boiler room, there is equal effort being put in to dismantling the so far entirely untouched structures - those of the local elites and also organised crime.  Publicly flogging a corrupt official now and again does nothing for dismantling those structures when all is said and done.

Quick and highly visible reforms will be entirely pointless if the structures that support them are not sustainable.  Long term reform without robust structures will remain unattainable.

Structures and sustainability - priorities for Odessa and Ukraine, albeit not particularly headline-grabbing.