UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT BREAKS FOR VACATION

07.07.12


KYIV POST. Ukraine's parliament closed its session July 6, not before passing a divisive language law and a state procurement law that critics say will fuel corruption. While lawmakers hinted they may call an emergency session later this summer, they are now not scheduled to reconvene until September -- just ahead of the Oct. 28 election.

When business ended, only about a quarter of the 450 lawmakers -- mostly from the pro-presidential factions -- were still present at their workplace.

The opposition left the parliament in protest to adoption of the controversial language law, which is aimed at upgrading the status of the Russian language regionally without making it a second state language. Critics say the pro-presidential Party of Regions bypassed regulations in securing the 248 votes for passage.

It also seems that the majority in the parliament would have to elect a new speaker if they want the language law to be signed by the president and take effect before elections. The majority refused even to consider the resignation of speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. 

The  speaker's signature is required to pass the language and others law on to the president for signature or veto.

It is also clear that pro-presidential deputies are to introduce a simplified procedure for  electing a new speaker, if they fail to convince Lytvyn to stay.

Lytvyn in a recent televised interview made it clear that he will not sign the language bill.

Although the parliament closed it session until September, deputies do not rule out that they would reconvene for an emergency session at the end of the month in order to elect a new speaker. If lawmakers fail to elect a new speaker, the legislation process will be stalled until the new parliament takes over after the elections.

“We will have to conduct an emergency session on a number of economic issues. Then we consider staffing issues, if they remain. This [emergency session] may take place either at the end of July or in the beginning of August. I do not rule out that the optimal date is July 31,” Oleksandr Yefremov, Party of Regions' faction head, told reporters on July 6.

The current session of the parliament, which started in February,  adopted some major laws. Apart from the language law, deputies adopted new legislation on state procurement and smoking. Members of the parliament seemed to have adopted the most controversial legislation at the end.

Recently lawmakers changed the law on state procurement, allowing state-owned companies to bypass tender procedures in purchasing goods and services. Critics say this will fuel corruption as public money will be allowed to be spent uncompetitively and without proper scrutiny.

Ahead of the Oct. 28 elections, lawmakers also approved installation of two video cameras in each of Ukraine's 33,000 polling stations at a cost of Hr 1 billion. They say the measure is designed to curb election fraud, but critics doubt the cameras will help ensure an honest vote.

The parliament passed the Customs Code on March 13, after the code was vetoed by the president in January and sent back for revision. The new code increased the value of goods that are allowed in the country without taxation. Now goods worth up to 500 euros are allowed via seaports, those up to 1,000 euros through airports and those up to 300 euros can be sent in through postal delivery services.

On March 22, the highly praised new law on non-governmental civic organizations was finally passed.
The law significantly simplifies the registration procedure for NGOs. As of January 2013, not only citizens of Ukraine but foreigners will be able to register an NGO. This will take up to seven days and will be free of charge. NGOs will also have more opportunities for commercial activities.

Another praised law was passed on March 23 in a first reading when Rada lowered taxes for IT companies. Lawmaker said they hoped the move will help bring the IT industry out of the shadows.
Later in April deputies adopted changes on the old 1960 Soviet Criminal Code, liberalizing many procedures, including limiting the use of pre-trial detention, limiting prosecutors' rights and giving more rights to the defendants. It also introduced the notions of bail, jury and house arrest, which have not been part of Ukraine's criminal legislation before.

A number of clauses in the criminal code were decriminalized, changing the establishment for them from imprisonment to fines for economic crimes. Yet, deputies in numerous instances refused to decriminalize the case on which ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years of jail, which, if decriminalized, would set her free.

Late last May, the parliament bowed to public demands, banning smoking in all public places. Starting from Jan. 1, 2013 fines for smoking in public places will range from Hr 1,000-10,000.

Kyiv Post staff writers Yuriy Onyshkiv and Svitlana Tuchynska can be reached at onyshkiv@kyivpost.com and tuchynska@kyivpost.com



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