Editor’s Note: The following are President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks in the Verkhovna Rada on March 4, before lawmakers replaced the prime minister and most of the Cabinet. The speech was translated by Zelensky’s office and edited for clarity and length by the Kyiv Post.
Dear people’s deputies! Fellow Ukrainians!
I am confident that any government takes a step into the abyss when it loses three main things: memory, hearing and sight. That is, when the government forgets its promises, it ceases to hear people and sees no need for change.
It is not about us. The proof of that is that we are here today. Everyone is well aware of the main issue — the work of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.
‘Not enough’ progress
Let us be objective — this government has accomplishments. The decrease in inflation, reduction of the National Bank of Ukraine’s base rate, fight against the shadow markets, including gambling and illegal gas stations. The beginning of the privatization of state-owned enterprises that have been looted all these years. The loans to small and medium businesses. The reduction of the role of the state in the economy.
But the truth is that it is not enough for Ukrainians today.
Yes, this is the first government where there is no corruption on the top level. But it’s not enough to not steal.
It is a government of new faces, but faces are not enough. We need new brains and new hearts.
This government knows what to do. But to know is not enough — it is necessary to work a lot, it is necessary to do.
And we must not fear the truth, we must admit mistakes. Because on the day we dive into the warm bath of illusions, the whole country will sink.
We have constantly heard about the economic leap, but there is an impression that the economy has been gaining pace, stumbled and now risks to fall flat on its face.
Need money, not ‘likes’
In two months of the new year, non-compliance of the state budget is nearly Hr 16 billion. We have to tell the truth. Hr 13 billion of them are a failure in customs revenue. Businesses hopelessly signal that smuggling has not completely disappeared. We were told about a decisive and uncompromising fight against smuggling. But now it looks like smuggling has knocked out the customs service in this fight. This needs to be changed. It is essential. Customs must be collecting money for the state treasury, not “likes” on Facebook. We need to be telling the truth.
Another painful issue is the fall of industry by 5%. It has lasted for the fourth consecutive month in many sectors. Unfortunately, the government has not provided tools stimulating domestic production and new production capacity. The industrial glory of Ukraine is gradually becoming a matter of the past. We risk that speaking about our industrial potential people will soon say: “That was a long time ago, and wasn’t even true.”
Lower utility bills
The next issue is utility bills. We signed a contract for gas transit. We entered the winter with record reserves in storage facilities, reduced the gas price for the population. Today it is 35% lower than last year, the lowest in the last four years. But people became confused by the chaos with payments in January and February. Somewhere they became smaller. Somewhere — no. Some people were charged a fee for gas delivery several months in advance. Somewhere those who do not use gas at all were charged.
The government, I think, has, in fact, failed the most important thing — the information campaign and communication, the work with local authorities so that people in all regions can feel a reduction in the heating bill.
And this is not the only thing that needs to be reduced. The concept of ministers’ salaries has been revised, it is true. Payments were reduced. But there are questions about the salaries and bonuses of many supervisory board members. We understand that there are laws of the market, we do not suggest paying a “minimum” wage in a populist manner. But, excuse me, when over 10 million people live on the poverty line, there can be no such payments to people who, being members of supervisory boards, come to Ukraine two or three times a year. Today, it has actually become more profitable to “supervise” than to work in Ukraine. And with all due respect to international partners…today our citizens in the supervisory boards of our enterprises feel like a national minority.
We do not question the transparency or efficiency of foreigners’ work and their contribution to the fight against corruption. It’s just a matter of fairness and our sense of agency.
Our next pain is the situation with the miners and the coal industry… Once again I emphasize that closing a mine does not mean closing the issue. Therefore, first — training and retraining of people, creating new jobs, providing at least a similar salary, and only then can we raise the issue of closing an unprofitable mine. Only in such order.
And please tell me, how can we be importing foreign electricity and coal when our miners are not protected by the state? These are thousands of miners and their families.
Even more distressing numbers are ahead. That’s over 11 million retirees. Unfortunately, there is no real communication of the plan for raising their pensions… A big number of retirees receive less than Hr 2,000. The indexation of pensions has not been carried out. The program of increasing pensions for people who are 80 years old has not yet been implemented. And we struggle so much for it and talk about it so much. The Pension Fund remains a huge inefficient machine that consumes Hr 5 billion only for its functioning.
The situation is similar in the healthcare sector. And it’s true. I understand that it is very difficult for the Ministry of Health leadership to deal with the fragments of the medical system they inherited. It is difficult to heal a patient who has been given placebos and chamomile tea for many years instead of normal treatment.
And I thank (Health Minister Zoryana) Skaletska for staying with people in Novi Sanzhary. I thank her for her courage. But in our medical sector, courage cannot be a one-time action. One must have the courage to admit that many are not ready for the second phase of medical reform to be held on April 1. It’s true.
Almost every day we have protests in various medical institutions. People are afraid of closing hospitals, doctors are afraid of dismissals, local authorities are sometimes not ready to assume responsibility, there is not enough funding and so on. There are big questions about tariffs, medical equipment and a very big question about staffing. So, the main question is: Why are we in a hurry?…
Why no rule of law?
…Today we will hear the long-awaited report of all law enforcement agencies of Ukraine. You know that the president does not influence their work. (Editor’s Note: Reacting to these words, lawmakers from ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party booed Zelensky. Poroshenko is under investigation in several abuse of office cases.) Unfortunately for you, the ones who are booing.
But I would like to give them two gifts. The first is a calendar. It should remind you that spring has come. (Editor’s Note: It’s a reference to Zelensky’s campaign slogan that promised convictions in spring and originally referred to the spring of 2019, when the presidential election took place).
The second is the Criminal Code of Ukraine. There is a suspicion that someone does not have it. I hope it becomes your desk companion. At our meeting in summer, law enforcement officials said unanimously: “We have everything. Only political will is needed.” I gave it to you. Take it. You received it. You said: “Telephone law must be abolished”. We abolished it. Nobody tells you the names of those you have to prosecute (Editor’s Note: This brought more booing from Poroshenko’s party, which prompted Zelensky to joke: “Yes, except for your names.”) or whom you cannot touch. How more can I not interfere with your work, so that it finally yields the result that both Ukrainian citizens and our international partners expect?
State Bureau of Investigation, Security Service of Ukraine, Specialized AntiCorruption Prosecutor’s Office, National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Ministry of the Interior, Prosecutor General’s Office. We already have six bodies in place to ensure order and justice… We have carried out a number of reforms, launched the AntiCorruption Court, rebooted the National Agency for Preventing Corruption, restored responsibility for illegal enrichment — I am grateful to the Verkhovna Rada, the Servant of the People party, to all the deputies who voted for it, adopted the law on corruption whistleblowers. For how long should Ukrainian society expect the results in the most resonant cases? We promised citizens a victory over corruption. Now it’s not even a draw.
Fellow Ukrainians! I ran for president having no political experience. But I had, and have faith and the will to implement the changes required…Yes, we make mistakes, many mistakes. But we are ready to acknowledge and correct them.
I would like to address our international partners separately. We appreciate and thank you for your continued support. And our course remains the same. And for us the priorities are unchanged. And we all want and do everything every day to end the war in Donbas and return all our territories. Because this is our country.
We will continue to follow the path of reforms in all spheres. The course of Ukraine is not a mistake. But some mistakes were made while following this course. It happens.
I am not ashamed of our government. But we would like to be proud of it. This government has done more than all other governments combined. But this is rather a minus for the previous governments, not a plus for our government.
Today, in the domestic political field, it is too tight for the existing problems and the current government. They can no longer exist together. That’s my opinion. So, one of them must leave.
Dear people’s deputies! Yesterday, a letter by Oleksiy Honcharuk was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine with a request to accept his resignation. I call on the people’s deputies of Ukraine to judge this statement with their personal vote. Thank you!