Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The closure of the EU’s project to reconstruct 6 check points on Ukraine’s western border because of corruption caused a big resonance.
The main scandal is that Europe demands to return the spent money, which is about 20 million euros from nearly 30 million euros of EU donor help. As Europeans suspect, they were simply plundered by the Ukrainian authorities.
In August, 2017, “Strana” wrote about the fact that the EU winds down the project and wants a report on the expenses. Before making a final decision the European Union waited for the conclusion of the auditors.
And now, after the reception of the money was officially confirmed by the EU, the project is closed.
A 3 million euro ditch – a symbol of dense corruption in Ukraine
“Millions of euros from the EU were plundered without ceremony, and the checkpoints weren’t repaired. Thats why on the border of Ukraine with the European countries there are eternal traffic jams, and there is no infrastructure. The most shocking fact is that on one of the checkpoints in Volyn, ‘Ustylug-Zosin’, a ditch was dug, and 3 million euros was written off on this. After this scandal Ukraine may not be able to count on the help of the EU,” said a source in the European Commission to “Strana”.
Experts confirmed this information to “Strana”.
“The EU indeed winds down the project of modernisation of the border because of Ukraine’s non-fulfilment of its part of the program,” said the director of the Center for Baltic-Black Sea Studies Irina Vereshchuk, who for a long time was the mayor of the bordering Rava-Ruska. “The Polish side, for example, fulfilled its part of the project at the ‘Krakovets–Korczowa’ checkpoint long ago, while the Ukrainian side could only dig a ditch, which became the embodiment of the dense Ukrainian corruption, limitlessness, and full irresponsibility”.
According to Vereshchuk, the EU repeatedly addressed to Ukraine with the demand to observe the schedule of implementation of the project, and also to book a financial audit as is provided by the international procedures of receiving such means.
“The Ukrainian side in every possible way blocked such an audit, showed full institutional unavailability, and also inaction together with legal nihilism. How else can the actions of the Ukrainian side be called – breaking terms and rules, without satisfying the conditions of contracts?” continued the expert. “The EU repeatedly threatened with sanctions that are provided in such cases, however even here officials weren’t really worried, because they understood that it is the State that will bear responsibility and pay the penalties”.
“It’s not enough that now we will be obliged to sustain repetitional losses, because in such programs the reputation of the State is a very important factor, because we will still be obliged to return the spent European money, and, of course, we should forget about the expansion of customs crossings and their operational development to civilised standards,” summarised Vereshchuk.
The State Fiscal Service of Ukraine (SFS) is still in denial. They say that nothing is known about closing the project, and at the end of last year they reported to Europeans concerning the spent means and waited for the EU’s answer.
“It is premature and incorrect to speak about the termination of projects and the need to return money,” stated the SFS.
At the same time, as Elena Vasina, the journalist of the Reuters agency and author of an investigation into the closure of the border project, explained on her Facebook page, there is a missive from Brussels with confirmation of the information about the termination of financing and the demand to return the money.
Also, this information was checked by Reuters using several other sources. The Ukrainian representation of the EU, assumes Vasina, obviously isn’t aware of the decision of the central office.
And now the EU has officially recognised that the project is closed, and that the money should be returned.
The press secretary of the EU Maya Kosyanchich explained that the implementation of projects in which the EU had to transfer €29.2 million, was stopping.
“It is about six projects using European financing for the total amount of €29.2 million, the main beneficiary of which was the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine. Considering the delays with their realisation, our estimates, and the messages of EU member States, we came to the conclusion that the projects couldn’t be completed in time,” she noted in comment to “European truth”.
“Earlier it was an ‘improvement’, and now it became an ‘achievement'”
This news caused a heated discussion on social networks. Patriots and pro-government bots traditionally accused journalists of working for the “Kremlin”. Although the investigation was published in authoritative foreign media (and this, by the way, is not the only “betrayal” – lately western media often writes about corruption in different spheres of Ukraine – for example, in the energy industry and the Ministry of Defence).
Another part of social networks blames the Ukrainian authorities for being shameful in front of the EU. “Earlier it was an ‘improvement’, and now it became an ‘achievement’,” wrote the user Mikhail Bizilya.
“They jumped their way into a mess,” wrote the indignant Lvov resident Viktor Galchinsky.
“The project is being closed, and we will continue to stand in hour-long queues like goats,” stated an outraged Yury Pukalsky.
“Soon with these authorities, who steal remorselessly, we will be deprived of the visa-free regime. Europe isn’t blind after all,” argues Olga Yasinskaya.
“None of those who stand at the border and who transport things across the border and take something abroad want any reforms. Doctors don’t want reforms, because they can earn more than Suprun can give them. Teachers don’t want reforms, because even kindergartens live off extra tutoring. Concerning the police and courts, I even won’t say anything… I already wrote about ‘fatigue from Ukrainian diplomats’ in the West – fatigue from this country,” wrote the well-known Lvov tourist expert Igor Lilyo on Facebook.
“A tender was given to the firm of the father-in-law of Nasirov”
As “Strana” already wrote, the international checkpoint “Ustilug-Zosin” became the most scandalous EU cross-border project.
The closest way to reach the western border from Kiev is through Ustilug in Volyn. An updated border crossing point was planned to be opened in 2014, but the work was delayed.
Already at the end of 2012 €6 million was handed over within the framework of “Ukraine-Poland-Belarus” border cooperation for the repair and expansion of the European checkpoint.
“Large-scale reconstruction was planned, the first in 17 years. If now 2,000 people, 700 cars, and only 3 buses cross Ustilug, then after reconstruction there would be five lanes for both entrance and departure. Three times more people and cars could pass through Ustilug, and the queues that grew after the introduction of the visa-free regime would decrease. But nothing happened, although the deadline on reconstruction passed in December, 2016. Everything was constructed on the Polish side long ago. But our customs spent half of the EU’s money on digging two ditches along a checkpoint. I.e., €3 million was actually stolen. And as for reconstruction… On our side even the potholes on roads aren’t patched! It is said that the multimillion tender for the arrangement of a checkpoint was won three years ago by a firm close to the father-in-law of Nasirov – the former head of the SFS. By the way, the son of the chief of the ‘Ustilug’ customs checkpoint has an expensive car – a BMW X5, which he bragged about on social networks, supposedly his father allows him to drive it,” said the former employee of the Volyn customs to “Strana”.
According to the Cross-Border Cooperation Programme, the “Rava-Ruska” checkpoint should’ve been reconstructed and equipment bought for other checkpoints (“Krakovets”, “Shegyni”, and “Yagodyn”). The EU gave more than €2 million for this. And about €3 million more for computers and the development of IT technologies for checkpoints in the Lvov region and in Volyn.
As a result, nothing also happened here.
“We will return the money at what exchange rate – 11 or 33 Hryvnia to the Euro?”
Half a year ago the European Union threatened to terminate the program due to a lack of progress and the questionable tender.
Pavel Slovikovsky, the chairman of the joint secretariat of the “Poland-Belarus-Ukraine” Cross Border Cooperation Programme, demanded on behalf of the European Commission a report from the State Fiscal Service on the spent money. SFS officials promised to provide estimates and stated that, allegedly, they spent everything as was intended.
The SFS explains the scandal with the ditch as follows: allegedly, they spent not €3 million, but €48,000, and that the rest of money remained on the accounts.
According to the SFS, work was stopped because when at the end of 2013 the hole was dug in “Ustilug”, allegedly they suddenly came across an “object of historical value”, which was transferred for experts to study.
“Regarding this, in March, 2014, a turnkey contract was dissolved, therefore expenses on carrying out land work for the reconstruction of the ‘Ustilug’ checkpoint wasn’t carried out,” stated the SFS.
But, seemingly, their arguments didn’t convince experts of the European Union.
“Having received the first tranches in 2014, the money was plundered as usual, and nothing was built. Now it becomes clear that the reconstruction of the customs points and equipment with modern systems of combatting smuggling doesn’t fit into the concept of ‘reforming the SFS and customs”, wrote the journalist-investigator Aleksandr Dubinsky on Facebook.
“The fact that the money that we received from the EU will have to be shamefully returned is a fact. But two questions both me,” continued the journalist. “Will an investigation be carried out into a ditch for €3 million, and who in the SFS will bear responsibility for such ‘reforms’. At what exchange rate we will return millions of euros? 11 UAH to the Euro, like in January, 2014, or at 33 UAH to the Euro, like it is today?”.
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