In today’s post, I am asking a question to which I do not know the answer. But I think it is important to at least ask this question, and try to figure it out.
By now everybody has probably heard of Poroshenko’s appointment to the post of Head of Odessa Customs Office. This occurred just yesterday. Out of 70 applicants for the job, the winner is the young (and very attractive) woman Julia Marushevska. She is the “It Girl”, the “I am a Ukrainian girl” girl, formerly hired by Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili to work under him as his personal advisor. [no snickers intended]. Everybody is talking about this girl and her qualifications, or lack of qualifications, for the job. And everybody is laughing, and making (probably accurate) insinuations about Julia’s relationship with Saakashvili.
Leaving Julia alone for now, I want to focus, rather, on the actual issue involved here. So basically, “what up” with Odessa customs office? What’s the problem, in other words? Even in the most corrupt system on the planet, there are still actual issues, and legitimate problems which need to be solved, and I for one would like to know what is going on here. My research indicates that there are two sides to this story: One one side, Saakashvili; and on other side, Yats and a guy named Roman Nasirov. I myself don’t take sides, because I don’t know anything about economics, or customs fees.
Odessa Customs Office
In Russian language, the controlling agency is called Государственная фискальная служба (ГФС) (“State Fiscal Service”). I’ll abbreviate it SFS. The Ukrainian customs office falls under this SFS agency. SFS is headed by a man named Roman Nasirov. The link shows Nasirov’s extensive work experience in the arena of taxes, tariffs and customs (i.e., revenue generation for the state). Within Ukrainian customs arena in general, the Odessa port is a HUGE money-maker. Technically, Nasirov was supposed to appoint his person as Head of Odessa Customs. But, reading between the lines, it seems like Saakashvili pulled a power play over Nasirov, and got his own candidate (=Julia) appointed to this golden-goose of a job.
Here is the chronology:
- At the beginning of June, not long after taking the job as Odessa Governor, Saakashvili announced a competitive selection for the job of Head of Odessa Port. When making this announcement, Saakashvili declared that the Customs Office was hopelessly corrupt. He asserted that Odessa was losing approximately one billion dollars annually, due to corruption and incompetence.
- SFS announced the job opening (for Odessa Port) a couple of months later, on 27 August.
- By 18 September we learn that Julia has applied for the job.
- On 29 September, Saakashvili launched a political attack against (Prime Minister) Yatsenuk, writing the following in his Facebook:
“A new wave of corruption, under the guise of reform. Once again, the SFS is attempting to carry out a pseudo-reform, instead of establishing fair rules of the game, and this even further worsens the conditions for business. Having ignored the hopes which importers had, for fair customs fees (цены растаможивания), the Prime Minister [Yatsenuk] signed a decree #724, according to which, all goods must now begin to pay fees, not according to the (factual) customs codex, but rather according to a previously set (by SFS) price.”
Facebook Fighting Match: Saakashvili vs. Nasirov
Saakashvili continues: “If, for example, an importer purchased details for his machine-building factory according to a real and transparent contract, for $100K but the Customs Office does not consider him to be ‘one of us’, and in SFS these details cost $500K then the importer will simply be faced with these facts.”
Saakashvili’s allegations were rejected by Nasirov, who appears to be aligned with Yatsenuk in this particular cat-fight. Nasirov retorted to Saakashvili as follows, on 1 October, in his own Facebook page “I read your cri du coeur about ‘fair prices at customs’, and in this regard I have a question for you: What is your actual goal here? Are you proposing absolutely equal prices on the whole territory of Ukraine? Because if you sincerely want to help business and fight against corruption at the customs office, then you need to know this: large shipments of Brioni suits are assessed at $5/kg. And are sold for $3000. And aluminum radiators are assessed at a lower price than the cost of aluminum on the market. Perhaps we should conduct an open session of the Cabinet of Ministers and find the optimal solution for this problem. If we are to be subject to your emotions, then we will never find a way to build an Autobahn into Odessa.” Nasirov continued his phillipic in this angry tone: “Or are you [Saakashvili] just trolling this decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, in order to appoint some other Gruzian, or possibly another one of your ‘Deputy Governors’, to the post of Odessa Customs?”
Well, Nasirov was wrong about one thing: It wasn’t a Gruzian who got the job. It was a Ukrainian girl. Even more, it was THE Ukrainian girl!