Saakashvili Delivering as Odesa Governor

Fifty days after Mikheil Saakashvili’s appointment as Governor of the Odesa region and after much speculation that his appointment was risky, it is high time to acknowledge his successful first steps. Not only did the former Georgian President succeed in breaking the old rules, he also established unprecedented standards of transparent administrative management, demonstrated openness to the needs of local residents, and proposed innovative ideas for eliminating endemic corruption.

Saakashvili deserves even more credit when one considers the difficulty of the task: Odesa is one of the most corrupt regions in Ukraine. Controlled by local, Russian, and international mafia, Odesa and its port had served as a transit point for drug dealers, money launderers, and traders all intent on evading taxes. Saakashvili also has to work with Odesa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov—a local businessman with ties to criminal groups and a former Party of Regions Member of Parliament—and keep Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the country’s most powerful tycoon, in check.

For the last two decades, the central government didn’t deal with local corruption. No real investigations against the local mafiosi at the Odessa Regional Customs Office or the Odessa Border Control Directorate were launched. Despite evidence collected after the Orange Revolution, the Yushchenko government squandered its chance to prosecute guilty people. Ihor Kaletnik, who served as head of the Odesa Black Sea Regional Customs Office under former President Leonid Kuchma, re-emerged like a phoenix on the political horizon after Viktor Yanukovych was elected President in 2010. Promoted to the position of State Customs Service chief, Kaletnik loyally served the “Yanukovych family” until he too fled to Russia. Yet, some of his best friends are still in town, and they don’t have handcuffs on. . . .

One of Saakashvili’s first decisions was to make Yulya Marushevska—the civic activist who rose to prominence after her Youtube video “I am a Ukrainian”—his deputy and head of the new Odesa Investment Agency. He also invited Maria Gaidar, the daughter of former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, to serve as adviser for social reforms. Gaidar’s appointment is meant to demonstrate to Russian citizens that Ukraine is an open, democratic society and that it is eager to work with liberally minded neighbors.

Marushevska is boldly re-establishing law and order on Odesa’s beaches. Illegal land grabs and the nontransparent distribution of beach plots has been a long-standing problem. Marushevska opened investigations into the legality of land-sale decisions and pledged to remove numerous concrete walls that had been built to separate “private” beaches from the public eye. On July 20, Saakashvili announced that a beach previously controlled by an unnamed Kyiv oligarch has been made available to everyone.

Saakashvili plans to cut the 800-member staff of the Odesa Oblast State Administration by half. He also plans to replace all 26 heads of the local district administrations and announced an open call for candidates to apply. An independent commission comprised of international experts has interviewed 2,700 candidates for regional administrative posts and shortlisted thirty for final appointments.

His first, truly unprecedented move as Governor was to hold a strategic planning session on June 14 in partnership with the civic movement Nova Kraina (“The New Country”). More than 700 civic activists from across Ukraine came to Odesa to discuss regional reform. The tone of the session was respectful, which demonstrates the vibrancy of Ukraine’s civil society and Saakashvili’s eagerness to listen.

Days later, Saakashvili held a second meeting with civil society organizations, at the initiative of the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF, the local name of the Soros Foundation), an active promoter of reform in Ukraine. IRF and Saakashvili signed a partnership program to involve civil society in jointly monitoring local tenders, investigating corruption cases, and auditing local budgets.

Police reform is also on Saakashvili’s agenda. In partnership with Eka Zguladze, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Interior, Saakashvili has promised to launch a new police service in Odesa by the end of August 2015. Like Kyiv’s new police, young men and women with untainted reputations and uncompromising positions on corruption will staff the Odesa force.

Saakashvili also hopes that Ukraine’s Deputy Prosecutor General David Sakvarelidze will replace all local prosecutors and customs officers through a transparent, competitive process.

The newly appointed Chief of the Odesa Oblast Interior Department, former Deputy Minister of Interior of the Republic of Georgia Gia Lortkipanidze, started three weeks ago. He has already opened the first criminal cases against local policemen, who have been charged with taking bribes.

Saakaskvili hates red tape, often because it leaves room for small-scale corruption, and his government combatted it in Georgia, in part, by setting up one-stop administrative shops. He plans to do the same in Odesa by the end of 2015. The new center will guarantee the efficient delivery of everyday services such as preschool registration, business registration, and birth certificates.

But the most radical steps are yet to come. On July 19, Saakashvili announced that he had enough evidence to implicate Kolomoiskyi in tax evasion and money laundering. “That is why he [Kolomoiskyi] is so nervous. Because he knows it is impossible to buy or intimidate me… But it is high time for him to acknowledge a simple fact—he did some good things for Ukraine, now it’s time to calm down and start paying taxes to his country.” Saakashvili’s rhetoric, if supported by real action, will demonstrate his readiness to rein in the region’s oligarchs. At the same time, he cannot engage in selective justice and abstain from investigating corruption within the Odesa Municipal Administration. So far, Saakashvili hasn’t criticized Odesa’s notorious mayor, but he should take a clear position to demonstrate consistency.

Saakashvili may be ahead of his time. Sadly, some of his revolutionary ideas won’t see the light of day in Odesa because they are contingent on parliament passing some additional laws. If parliament doesn’t adopt these laws in the next three to four months, Saakashvili may ask Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to establish a “special zone” in Odesa, where some national laws won’t apply, enabling him to boldly experiment and create additional incentives to attract foreign investors. But if Poroshenko refuses, Saakashvili’s hands will be tied.

11 thoughts on “Saakashvili Delivering as Odesa Governor

  1. Рoман

    Can’t believe that there is no decent uncorrupted Ukrainian that can lead Odessa region. So, they have to hire a foreigner instead. This is shame. It’s obvious for open minded person that this is blatant power grab buy the cronies of western regime. Whatever Saakashvili is doing may look as a good thing but in reality it’s well promoted PR in addition to consolidation of power. Not many know that Saakashvili is on the Washington’s payroll with 200K annual salary. Do your research people.

    1. Roman

      Russian trolls work overtime to discredit this man. The moves he has already made are objectively positive.

  2. beauregard

    Did you volunteer?

    Or have you run for political office.

    Before you reproach others look in mirror.

    “Excellence is a choice. This reaching, this searching
    for something better, for the realization of a dream or
    ideal, is the pursuit of excellence.”

    The wording could also change the word excellence to achievement.
    However, nothing is achieved without first starting.

    “One of the penalties of not participating
    in politics is that you will be governed by
    your inferiors.” Plato

    “The quality of a man’s life is in
    direct proportion to his commitment
    to excellence, regardless of
    his chosen field of endeavor.”
    by Vince Lombardi, football coach

  3. PUTIN

    Eka Zguladze
    Gia Lortkipanidze
    Mikheil Saakashvili.

    Good old-fashioned Ukrainian names. /sarc/

    ‘One of the penalties of not participating in politics is that you will be governed by
    your INFERIORS. Plato.
    Truer words were never spoken. Vide – Saakashvili.

    Saakashvili is a criminal,pure and simple. But that is not a problem for
    President Waltzman[Poroshenko]

    1. Roman

      It’s hard to argue that what he is doing isn’t great for Ukraine. This is old fashioned Russian character assassination.

  4. PUTIN

    Re – Russian character assassination.

    Well, I am not actually Russian. I am Dutch- easy to check.
    My point is – Does the Ukraine not have enough indigenous talent to fill such positions?
    Do you have to rely on foreigners?
    I bear no ill will against ordinary, honest Ukrainians. I don’t like the ruling elite who
    have sold their country to the American Neocons [many of them dual-citizens if you
    know what I mean] and have sacrified the interests amd wellbeing of ordinary Ukrainians
    only to enrich themselves and maintain their political power.


  5. beauregard

    Ah! Poster titled Putin says he is Dutch…

    So this poster has relationship with Putin’s daughter?

    There are many talented Ukrainians just the situation
    is well suited for impartial outsider such as Saakashvili.

    As to dual citizens, ask how many of their ancestors were
    Ukrainian and you will find many. Some feel obligation to
    restore greatness of Ukrainians like Pylyp Orlyk.

    Many understand the evil of Putin and have read history
    of Putin’s KGB and now FSB. Grasp that Putin is evil and
    works for Beelzebub.

    Anyone using the name of Putin must also be evil and
    son of Beelzebub, yes?

    Many of the rulers referred to as having sold out to what
    he calls American Neocons really are trying to avoid
    domination by Beelzebub.

    Many of those Americans supporting Ukraine are also
    fighting domination by Beelzebub.

    It is great pity that poster using Putina as title is willing to
    be slave to Beelzebub.

    There is great difference between a culture that enshrined
    personal freedom as described by Pylyp Orlyk and being
    lackey to evil as embodied in Putin.

  6. PUTIN

    Well Mr. Beauregard,

    Anybody can use any name on the internet. I hope you do not believe believe
    that I have a relationship with Putin’s daughter. Surely it is irony?
    Ny the way you are structuring your English sentences you show some Slavicisms –
    like forgetting articles and using the genitive Putina.
    I have studied Polish language as an amateur. Ale dla nas jezyk polski jest trudny.
    So ot seems to me that your real name is not Beauregard either.
    Beau is French for beautiful and regard is from the French verb regarder – to watch.
    But to return to the antics of the Georgian factotum of mr. Poroshenko.
    He is surely not an IMPARTIAL outsider, he is the IMPERIAL outsider approved
    by the Americans [he himself is wanted in Sakartvelo]

    Met vriendelijke groeten uit Nederland


  7. PUTIN

    Addendum –

    With regard to ‘dual citizens’ this is commonly understood with those who abhor the
    Mainstream Media as ‘gods chosen people’ the Beni Israel. But don’t say this to
    often or you will be accused of antisemitism. If Mr.Poroshenko had used the name
    of his father -Waltzman- I doubt he would have become president of The Ukraine.
    Ukrainians enthusiastically supported the Germans in the eradication of the
    Ukrainian Jews. Stepan Bandera was no boyscout.

    Zo dat was het weer voor deze keer.

    Putin alias Pieter

  8. Bearegard

    It was said, “Stepan Bandera was no boyscout.”

    The propaganda says that he was anti Jewish. This was
    true when those Jews supported the Soviet Union.

    Bandera had to stop any who supported the Soviets. So
    history shows that many Jews supported the Bolsheviks
    which made them Ukraine’s enemy.

    Prior to WW II count how many Bolsheviks were Jewish.
    It was the numbers. But numbers notwithstanding some
    Jews sided with Ukrainians.

    Yes, on internet you can use any name, however, your moniker
    is not neutral rather you associate with evil.

    You might as well call yourself Beelzebub.

    1. Roman

      On Youtube there are some propaganda videos of Russian spetsnaz. There are comments with names like “Mike Brown” that read “Wow. I’m actually a former Navy SEAL, and I’m glad I never had to mess with these guys.”


      It’s a culture in which there is no same in lying. The shame goes to the sucker who believed. That’s why they’re so bad at cooperating. That’s why they can’t build a modern economy.


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