Mikheil Saakashvili has once again returned to the forefront of Ukrainian politics.
A former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region, who’d been a part of heated conflict with Ukraine’s fifth president, returned to Ukrainian headlines with rumours that he’d be joining current president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team as a deputy minister for reform.
But, after that fell through due to the president’s inability to muster up the votes in the parliament, the government has now announced that Saakashvili will instead be serving on a little-known government body, the National Reform Council.
What it is and what it does – further in our report.
The What and Why of the National Reform Council
The National Reform Council is a consultative-advisory body that serves under the president of Ukraine, formed by order of fifth president Petro Poroshenko in August 2014.
The office of the president’s website explains that the council was created in order to “implement approved government reform policies in Ukraine” as well as to encourage cooperation in the reform process between government bodies, civil society, and the international community.
The National Council is supposed to work on strategic planning, policy position consensus, and reform monitoring.
What the NRC Used to Do
The Council has had 28 sessions since December 2014, and they considered nearly everything, from law enforcement reform to state enterprise management and judicial, medical, and anticorruption reforms, as well as decentralization, deregulation, privatization, energy efficiency, and more.
The last session of the Council, on March 2, 2018, discussed currency regulations. The Council’s Facebook page has not been updated since July 2018.
Dmytro Shymkyv, a deputy chief-of-staff in Poroshenko’s administration was the secretary of the council in 2014-2018, and had noted that the council had “become an instrument of assisting progress in change implementation”, and spoke about the importance of keeping the body functional:
I’m positive that one of the important tasks is to preserve the National Reform Council as a living organism, with fiery discussions, reasoned reports, and concrete decisions.
What’s the Council’s Membership?
The NRC went to radio silence under the administration of Petro Poroshenko. When the Zelenskyy administration settled in, they were in no rush to breathe new life into the now-defunct council. It’s not entirely clear what the membership is now, or even who could be a part of it going forward (aside from Saakashvili.) The president has authority over the membership list.
In the latest-known composition of the council, the chairman of the council as a whole was the president at the time, Petro Poroshenko, while the deputy chairman was the president’s chief-of-staff, Boris Lozhkin. Other members included then-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, National Security and Defense Council secretary Aleksandr Turchinov, deputy chief-of-staffs Oleksiy Filatov and Dmytro Shymkyv, Finance Minister Nataliya Yaresko, Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko, and Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavičius.
Additionally, then-Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Groysman, National Bank head Valeria Gontareva, and a number of Parliamentary committee heads were also in attendance during the Council’s sessions.
Ukraine’s fifth president, Petro Poroshenko (second from the left), former PM Volodymyr Groysman (third from the left), and other members of the National Reform Council during a session in Kyiv, Ukraine. November 10, 2017. Photo: Mikhailo Markiv / UNIAN
The NRC also counted among its number acting director of the European Business Association, Anna Derevyanko, reform specialist Dmytro Kotlyar, founder of the “Professional Government” NGO Daniil Pasko, co-founder of the “New Nation” NGO, Valeriy Pekar, who often wrote about the NRC’s sessions in his blog.
The NRC would also invite ministers, MPs, party leaders, and civil society and business representatives to sessions to discuss relevant topics.
What Saakashvili Will Be Doing There
An obvious signal of Saakashvili’s appointment is the Zelenskyy administration’s desire to "reanimate" the defunct NRC. But his actual responsibilities in his new role are so far unknown, and he hasn’t yet mentioned a date that he would start working. Saakashvili had earlier said that Zelenskyy wanted him to assist in Ukraine’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, though it isn’t clear if that would be included in his role as a member of the NRC. Saakashvili has promised to help Ukraine’s small and medium businesses if he is tapped to negotiate, saying, “I’m ready to present a whole package of additional laws to make the lives of small and medium businesses better. To get rid of bureaucracy and parasites who simply feed off Ukrainian business.”
Saakashvili is no stranger to conflict and headlines, and his feud with Poroshenko led to him being stripped of Ukrainian citizenship and thrown out of the country (before breaking back across the border with the help of supporters.) And he’s made plenty of enemies in the current administration as well – with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov at the forefront. Avakov, who held the same post under Poroshenko, came into conflict with Saakashvili at an NRC session when the latter was still governor of the Odesa region. During a 2015 session on reforming state property management, Saakashvili made comments about corruption being "led" by the Cabinet of Minister, which incensed the interior minister. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk also involved himself in this argument, calling Saakashvili a “guest performer” and advised him to “leave the country.” Poroshenko cut that session short.
/By Liza Siviets and Pavlo Kalashnyk
/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski