Legislative slight of hand
Ukraine’s ruling majority has once again made use of confrontation over one draft law to whip in others. On Tuesday, ahead both of parliamentary schedule and of planned protests, a law was passed in full enabling social benefits to be cut or axed for certain groups in society. That draft law had, not unsurprisingly, aroused vehement protest back in the autumn and was likely to do so again.
Another bill reported here has thus far failed to attract wide attention beyond environmental groups. This is to be regretted since Draft Law No. 10218 gives enormous scope for corruption and without major amendments could have catastrophic consequences for the country. There had been calls from environmental NGOs to reject the bill, and these appeared to have been heeded, with the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Policy also recommending on 11 April this year that the bill be dropped. This has not happened, and the draft law submitted by the President’s spokesperson in parliament, Yury Miroshnichenko would seem to have the support of those in power.
The voting on 5 June – World Environment Day – bears this out. There was near total support from the ruling Party of the Regions, backed by two of the three main parties in the ruling majority. The only exception was the Communist Party which simply failed to participate in the vote. “Consideration” of the legislative initiative and its adoption at first reading all took just 10 minutes.
In the present political situation, the block support from the Party of the Regions, as well as the fact that the bill is from the President’s representative give grounds for fearing that the bill could be pushed through without major change.
This would mean:
- dissolution of Environment Ministry departments at local level, with all their functions being redistributed between local State administrations and the Cabinet of Ministers. Monitoring of environmental protection, issue of special permits for use of natural resources, environmental impact assessments, protection of reserve land, etc will thus be carried out by people who at very least are not specialists. In most cases, however, a worse scenario can be anticipated, with corruption and short-term interests gaining a free hand. This was seen with the destruction of century old trees in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park where the local Environment Ministry Department came out on the side of the law and civic society against the actions of the Mayor and Council. .
- effective removal of the controlling powers of the Environment Inspectorate;
- unwarranted power vested with both the Cabinet of Ministers and local State Administrations.
- abolition of the National Commission on Ukraine’s Red Book with the Cabinet of Ministers and other executive bodies being left to consider proposals for adding animal and plant species to the Red Book.
Environmental NGOs stress that with Ukraine’s environment in a catastrophic state, proper coordination of environmental policy is vital at all levels. The structures presently in place within the Environment Ministry must be retained, with maximum effort made to increase its professional level, including through the employment of competent professionals.
A statement has been issued by environmental NGOs which points out that EU has agreed 35 million EUR Sector Budget Support assistance to Ukraine in implementing its State Environmental Policy Strategy and National Action Plan on Environmental Protection. Should parliament pass a draft law so wantonly destroying the structures now in place, the EU would have all grounds for refusing to continue providing assistance.
This would be yet another step backwards for Ukraine and benefit only those who in pursuing their own nearsighted interests are oblivious to the harm they cause Ukraine.