Black Sea Port Corruption?


The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has stopped funding a flagship customs reform project in Ukraine's Odessa region after critics' claims that government action against bribe-taking at its Black Sea ports has lost momentum, reported Reuters.

USAID and other institutions have supported Kiev's Western-backed government, which took power after the 2014 Maidan street protests, to tackle corruption and improve an economy that has been heavily impacted by the ongoing separatist war.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president that took control as Governor of Odessa, has accused President Petro Poroshenko and the government of sabotaging reforms, including those effecting customs.

But Poroshenko's office has since claimed that Saakashvili is to blame for the failings. He resigned from his role as governor last November (2016) citing corrupt officials and a lack of political will for reform in the country’s leadership. 

A USAID official, who did not want to be named, told Reuters that Odessa had some early successes in introducing a single window clearance system at the customs and that feedback from businesses and regional officials had been positive.

“As the situation in Odessa changed and it became apparent that there was no clear way forward for continuing our partnership with Odessa Customs, the programme was concluded.

“USAID is in the process of reclaiming the computers that have not been used and will redistribute them to other USAID projects and partners in support of Ukraine's reform process.”

Yulia Marushevska, a Ukrainian activist with no prior experience in civil service, was appointed to head Odessa customs in 2015 but left in November last year (2016) claiming that there was no political support for her reforms.

It was revealed to Reuters that since Marushevska left her position an official investigation has been launched by her former boss Roman Nasirov, the head of the Fiscal Service, as he suspects that she deliberately undervalued cargo. 

Marushevska claims the allegations are politically motivated and has told Reuters that officials wanting to maintain the situation blocked her changes, including attempts to fire corrupt officials and build a new customs terminal operating with computers provided by USAID.

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