BRAMA, Oct 18, 2005, 11:00 am ET|
The cost of humanitarian aid to Ukraine is the aid itself
In today's story on Brama.com (see The case of missing medicine), a nurse describes how a carton of medicine meant to help children and the elderly in Zhytomyr Oblast was confiscated by customs officials at Kyiv's Boryspil Airport after attempting to extort a tax for the goods.
Customs officials who exact payment from humanitarian aid missions for the right to operate in Ukraine are jacking up the price of international assistance. Foreign organizations try to measure the benefits of their contributions and may curb the amount of aid they funnel in Ukraine's direction if their philanthropic efforts are undermined. Thus, the cost of humanitarian aid to Ukraine may well be the aid itself.
Time and again, President Yushchenko has stated his commitment to stamping out rampant corruption in his country. There is no doubt that he means what he says. However, indications are that his plan takes a top down approach, starting from the oligarchic clan system that has Ukraine in its grip and is largely at the root of corrupt behavior. No one would argue that this is a good idea. But it may not be enough. Its effects may take too long to trickle down to the Ukrainian people. Similarly, long-range plans for broadly improving living standards, thus reducing the opportunities for corruption, may come too late to produce the kind of fundamental change that is needed in the country. The fight against corruption must be tackled at many levels at once in order to yield positive results in the shorter term.
The Ukrainian people should understand that it is not alright to pay off a schoolteacher to obtain a grade that the student earned anyway. Women should not feel compelled to sell themselves through marriage bureaus and put themselves in position to be trafficked into sexual slavery. The public should be made aware that it is a punishable criminal offense when an official uses pressure tactics to exact a bribe. Indeed, officials should be made to understand that bribery is not a victimless crime.
Ukraine can explore other avenues to eradicate corrupt behavior. Grassroots public information campaigns are one way to reach the general public. Easily accessible and complete information on official websites is another.
The U.S. has been applauded for helping Ukraine set itself on the path to democracy during the Orange Revolution. Now is the time for U.S. assistance in providing funding for public information campaigns aimed at re-educating the Ukrainian people. Simple informative handouts on international flights and signs at border crossings and schools could go along way towards educating the public about their basic rights.
We urge the government of Ukraine to encourage local non-governmental organizations to appeal for funding from the U.S. for intensive advertising campaigns in all forms of media in order to get the message across to the Ukrainian people sooner rather than later. At the same time, we hope that the U.S. and other countries, encouraged by the progress made in Ukraine in the year following the Orange Revolution, will be forthcoming with the much needed support.
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