Ukraine’s parliament replaces ministers of health and finance only 4 weeks after their appointment

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal and Head of Parliament Dmytro Razumkov talking before the voting. They and all people's deputies came to the Parliament in masks due to corona virus.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal and Head of Parliament Dmytro Razumkov talking before the voting. They and all people's deputies came to the Parliament in masks due to corona virus. 

Politics

The new Ukrainian government under Denys Shmyhal has been working for less than a month. Today, 30 March, Ukraine’s parliament dismissed Minister of Health Illia Yemets and Minister of Finance Ihor Umanskyi. The parliament also appointed new ministers to the vacant positions, although it barely collected enough votes for these appointments at the second attempt.

The reason for the swift dismissals is unclear. According to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, it was “because of some reasons connected to various factors,” while prime minister Denys Shmyhal said the former ministers were “professionals capable of implementing long-term reforms. But now the country needs quick actions.”

There are questions regarding the work of these ministers. For example, regarding the financial ministry, recently proposed budget cuts due to coronavirus and economic crisis have left Ukrainian culture and education without any funds for development except for salaries. At the same time, the ministry of internal affairs with huge salaries suffered no cuts at all. Regarding the ministry of health, the poor condition of medical equipment, lack of masks and machines for artificial ventilation to combat coronavirus was evident throughout Ukraine, and there has been little improvement over the last month.

However, so quick a dismissal in the time of crisis proves the absence of long-term professional HR policy in Zelenskyy’s team. It also proves further that the replacement of Honcharuk’s government by Shmyhal’s a month ago was a mistake. This replacement was met with caution in Ukraine as the new ministers had almost no advantages over their predecessors, but at the same time had more ties to oligarchs.

New ministers

New candidates for the vacant positions in the government had a meeting with people’s deputies on Sunday.

During this meeting, Serhiy Marchenko was presented as the candidate for the position of financial minister. In 2018-2019 he worked as the deputy head of Petro Poroshenko’s presidential administration, previously as the Deputy Minister of Finance. There are no suspicious aspects in his biography available so far.

Yet it is novel that Zelenskyy’s team appoints former high officials from Petro Poroshenko’s administration. Serhiy Marchenko is an unexpected figure in this regard.

The candidate for the health ministry is a more dubious figure. Maksym Stepanov worked as the head of the state administration of Odesa Oblast in 2016-2019, also appointed by Poroshenko. He was dismissed from his office “for ineffective spending… for the fall of Odesa oblast in the development rate…” in the last days of Poroshenko’s presidency during the pre-election campaign.

Maksym Stepanov was reportedly linked to oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi via business leader Ihor Palytsia.

On 30 March, while Parliament was voting on the appointment of Maksym Stepanov, a petition for the reappointment of Uliana Suprun had gathered enough signatures. Suprun headed the health ministry in 2016-2019 and started reforming the Ukrainian medical system. Activists claim that she is the best professional in her sphere and should be restored to office to tackle the coronavirus crisis. However, there has been no answer to the petition yet.

Extraordinary Plenary Meeting of the Verkhovna Rada. Kyiv, 30 March 2019. Screenshot: Youtube/RadaTVchannel

At first, parliament failed to appoint new ministers due to a lack of votes. However, a new session was started, which then saw more deputies voting. Maksym Stepanov was appointed as the new Minister of Health due to additional votes from the Opposition Platform. The appointment of Serhiy Marchenko gathered more votes from the Servant of the People and Holos factions.

Between these two sessions, MP from the Holos Inna Sovsun emphasized that it was very important to appoint ministers today since the country couldn’t conduct talks with the IMF, handle the coronavirus and the economic crisis with these positions being vacant:

It is impossible to fight the epidemic effectively without the Minister of Health… The Minister of Finance must be appointed. It should be understood that we now need to negotiate with the IMF. Without an official Minister of Finance, this will not be possible. Therefore, a decision on the Minister of Finance should be made. Moreover, the candidature that was proposed, Serhiy Marchenko, is one that the Holos Party supports.

While two ministers have already been changed in Shmyhal’s government, the position of the minister for energy and environment still remains vacant.

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Edited by: Michael Garrood

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