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Kiev has implemented social welfare programmes unique for Ukraine

When you read the propaganda and advertising materials of political parties and blocs, the amount of promises of election candidates is overwhelming. Social programmes are their favourite topic. But are these promises feasible and what promises have already been implemented?

Given that the social policy is what the current Kiev mayor and Leonid Chernovetskiy Bloc focus on, FAKTY decided to ask, What has been done in this field so far?

Kiev residents do not have to live for the city – instead, Kiev authorities should provide high living standards for the people of Kiev”

 

During the two years you have been Kiev mayor, you and city council members from Leonid Chernovetskiy Bloc have been proposing various social initiatives. Was that your strategy or did you simply have to respond to challenges as they arose?

– Indeed, all decisions of the City Council to provide monthly targeted financial allowances to pensioners, or raise salaries for doctors and teachers, were proposed by members of Leonid Chernovetskiy Bloc. I always keep saying and I will say it again – Kiev residents do not have to live for the city – instead, Kiev authorities should provide high living standards for the people of Kiev.

Retirees, who have sacrificed their youth, energy and health for their country, and public sector workers, whose work is essential for the normal life of the society, never said they wanted to live in one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Young people of Kiev haven’t done anything to deserve high housing prices inflated by developers. Middle-aged Kiev residents haven’t done anything to deserve living in this difficult time, supporting their elderly parents with their ridiculously small pensions and raising children. Therefore, the city authorities should take responsibility for all the people in need of support. We have to compensate them for the inconvenience associated with Kiev’s capital status by offering them social allowances from the city budget. Today, thanks to our efforts, Kiev is the only city in Ukraine, where over 600,000 retirees receive monthly social allowances on top of their pensions, and where teachers and doctors are also eligible for monthly municipal allowances.

Our hardline stance to enhance the social security of Kiev residents and introduce additional social guarantees for them as residents of the capital will not change. But our social policy is not limited to this: thinking that it is only about social allowances would be oversimplification. I am convinced that all the issues of the city development, including the allocation of budget funds to finance their resolution, have to be given social significance. In reality, it means that we are constantly working to improve the level of social welfare for Kiev residents. Municipal allowances on top of pensions will be gradually increased to 1,000 hryvnias per person per month. Monthly allowances from the city budget to teachers and doctors – regardless of their medical institution’s subordination – will reach 100 percent of their base salary. Similar allowances will be introduced for all public sector employees and people working in Kiev’s utilities.

– Do you have enough funding sources to implement such ambitious plans?

– Kiev has implemented social welfare programmes that you can’t find elsewhere in Ukraine. Moreover, higher welfare benefits now have a strong financial base. We create all the conditions for the city to develop and make money, making sure that corrupt officials cannot get hold of this money. The additional funds we get thanks to this are spent by the city authorities to address the issues that the people of Kiev consider the most important and urgent in their requests.

One vivid example of this is the budgets of 2007 and 2008 that were the most socially oriented since Ukraine became independent. In just two years, we have increased budget revenues five-fold from five to 25 billion hryvnias, taking a significant portion of the money out of the shadow. This not only allowed us to proportionally increase the funding of social programmes. We paid attention to all the key areas of the city life.

Like never before, huge funds are invested in the construction of new metro stations, new schools, development of ground municipal transport, record-breaking sums are invested the construction of public housing. Budget spending on metro development has tripled, the budget for buying new buses, trolley buses and metro cars has increased by 29 (!) times. Budget spending on Kiev’s housing and utility services has increased by almost three times compared with 2006, healthcare – twice, education – 2.4 times. Every citywide development programme has a social component!

Special attention is paid to the metro. For such a huge metropolis as Kiev, metro is the main form of transport”

 

– How does this social component look like, say, in Kiev’s municipal transport?

– Speaking of the transport policy, which is based on the programme of Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc, it is socially oriented because it gives the central focus to the interests of Kiev residents. The comfort of the people of Kiev is paramount the transport reform. I believe that developing Kiev’s municipal transport should be our major priority – transport that is more comfortable and safe. And affordable – Kiev has the lowest public transport fares! This is exactly why we are actively purchasing new modern buses and trolleybuses and reviving the legendary Kiev tram. Based on the public’s feedback, the routes of buses and trolleybuses are revised, the usual locations of bus stops are restored.

Naturally, special attention is paid to the metro. For such a huge metropolis as Kiev, metro is the main form of transport, which is indispensable to moving around the city without hassle. We will speed up the construction of new stations in all major districts, despite Kiev’s complex geology (ground water, elevation changes). New metro station will appear in all districts of Kiev.

To make the lives of Kiev residents easier, we need to complete the metro line to Troieschyna and Teremki, and extend metro lines to Vinogradar. To do this, we will build 17 new stations by 2012. All the three stations in the direction from Lybidska to Teremki (Demiivska, Vasylkivska and Holosiivska) are expected to open later this year. Strategically, I keep thinking of building a circular metro line, and the meetings with the people of Kiev in the City Hall have showed that the public likes this idea.

As for the metro line to Troieschyna, we have increased funding for the construction of Podolsko-Voskresensky overpass, I have taken this project under my personal control, and construction is moving rapidly. The new overpass will be open to vehicles already in 2009. By 2011 or earlier, it will be used by metro trains, and three new stations – Podolskaya, as well as Raduzhnaya and Miloslavskaya at Troieschyna – will open for passengers.

To make life easier for motorists, we focus on better traffic organisation and congestion control. Under the city programme One Parking Space, we expect to build 74 overground and underground parking facilities soon, which will help to clean the streets from incorrectly parked cars that impede pedestrians. Whereas the programme of construction and reconstruction of road traffic facilities up to 2011, which includes construction activities at 80 sites (construction of multi-level interchanges and reconstruction of the existing ones) will significantly reduce the number of traffic jams in the city. Additionally, we have started the implementation of smart urban transport control system. This system will tell us the actual number of people using specific routes. Smart traffic lights will make traffic more consistent and convenient for people.

 

– What about housing and utility infrastructure?

– The same principle applies here: taking into consideration the interests, views and concerns of Kiev residents to the maximum possible extent. We have already compiled profiles of all houses of the city with information about their technical condition. We have taken into account all requests coming from Kiev residents through the Call-Centre and the public reception offices of Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc in every district. In 2008 alone, 700 million hryvnias were budgeted for the reconstruction and renovation of houses, plus 50 million hryvnias for improving the yards. We have replaced more than 1,200 elevators, fully renovated 120 houses, repaired staircases and roofs in more than 600 houses. Over the next two years, we will repair all the houses in Kiev, replace all faulty elevators and clean off the mess in the yards – a special mayor’s programme has been developed for that.

Utility rates are a separate issue. Today, they are the lowest in Ukraine. Low-income families receive compensations to pay their utility bills. Discount rates apply to houses without some amenities. Compared with the other cities, the people of Kiev feel much more confident about the supply of heat and water during the cold season! But, unfortunately, not everything depends on the mayor and the City Council.

The price of natural gas is a nationwide problem that has to be addressed on the government level. But as long as I’m the mayor, I will not raise the rates.

We must provide social housing to Kiev doctors, teachers, social workers, workers of public sector institutions and the city utilities”

 

– What is the situation in other areas of the city life?

– I think it will be a very long overview. So I’ll just add a few touches to the portrait of my team, Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc. Over the last two years, we have increased the amount of social housing by almost three times. Apartments are now granted openly and honestly. Finally, we have managed to bring to life the idea of​ increasing the city’s quota in new buildings. From now on, every developer must give 10 percent of apartments to Kiev, or 20 percent for housing in downtown areas. This will make apartment waiting lists move faster. I strongly believe that among those people in the apartment waiting lists, we have to provide social housing for all people who have the most important jobs – all Kiev doctors, teachers, social workers, employees of public sector institutions and the city utilities, – who are essential for the normal life of the society.

In addition, municipal benefits for young Kiev residents to help them get a mortgage also facilitate to solve the city’s housing problems. As part of the “Programme of financial and credit support for young families and single young people to assist construction (reconstruction) of housing in the city of Kiev”, the city partly compensates the principle and the interest – the more children a young family has, the higher the compensation. Speaking about young people, there is another important point. To promote a healthy lifestyle among the younger generation, we are actively restoring sports and health infrastructure of the city. To do this, we have budgeted five times more money than before. Besides that, 50 million hryvnias will be spent for repair and reconstruction of playgrounds. During the year, 3,500 sports playgrounds and all 500 school stadiums will be renovated and redecorated. Schools will open free sports clubs that will be financed from the city budget, teachers will receive a municipal monthly bonus equal to their base salary. In preparation for the UEFA Euro 2012, 32 stadiums will appear in Kiev with seven Olympic Training Centres already opened!

Overall, I am very pleased that all the efforts of our Bloc are aimed at providing monthly targeted financial aid to Kiev retirees, higher salaries to employees of public sector organisations, reliable and comfortable public transport and enough schools, kindergartens and sports facilities for children.

 

Does the government support your social initiatives?

– I have reasons to believe that the so-called “social” promises of the current government are not sincere. What makes me think so is the fact that under the Law of Ukraine “On the State Budget for 2008″, the BYT have effectively cancelled a huge number of benefits to pensioners, students and Chernobyl veterans. But then, apparently in view of the early elections in Kiev, these decisions were temporarily suspended. In fact, starting from May 1, eight days before the Victory Day and a few days after the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, veterans of the Great Patriotic War and Chernobyl veterans were to be deprived of their right to government-paid sanatorium treatment. Besides, the allowances that veterans get on the Victory Day were supposed to be cut significantly!

But the most cynical thing is making eligibility for benefits dependant on the family income of the person in question. It means that if the Cabinet of Ministers puts its plan into action, a person won’t be eligible for welfare benefits unless the income per family member is below the minimum cost of living (890 hryvnias in 2008). With this scenario, public transport for many pensioners and the disabled will no longer be fare-free. I am strongly against making eligibility for benefits dependant on the income level per family member. People are different and have different family relationships. This approach is particularly inhumane when it comes to pensioners and disabled people – people who more than anyone else need the support and care of not only their families, but of the state.

As for the government support of social initiatives suggested by Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc… Of course, we would very much like to see our social initiatives supported by the Cabinet of Ministers and Kiev experience used for the benefit of Ukraine. I am constantly asking the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine to raise pensions of Kiev retirees, salaries of doctors and teachers, but with no success so far. On the contrary, in early April, the State Treasury subordinated to the Cabinet of Ministers stopped transferring all municipal allowances. Apparently, given that the elections are approaching, we may have to face more problems of this kind… It is very strange to see the Prime Minister, who controls all the resources of the country, running for the City Council instead of launching large-scale social programs of national importance. For the last few years, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc has been one of the major factions in the Verkhovna Rada. Moreover, it’s not the first time that Yulia Tymoshenko is the head of the government. One would think that the goals should be clear – just focus on your work. Therefore, I can’t understand what stops the government from implementing Kiev BYT’s programme across Ukraine. There is no clear answer to this. Moreover, the BYT faction never voted for our social initiatives – neither in 2006, nor in 2007. Apparently, the agenda of the candidates who represent this political force and try to get to the City Council are completely different.

But I will still keep trying to get through to the Cabinet of Ministers – the current one or the one that will replace it – until they understand how hard it is for older people, who gave their best years, health and energy to the state, to live in one of Europe’s most expensive cities! That if the country does not appreciate the work of doctors and teachers, people who are responsible for the health of the people, then this country’s future is bleak.

 

– Are there any guarantees that Kiev’s socially oriented course will continue after the elections?

– Unfortunately, I’m not sure about that. Let me explain why. I can only answer for myself. The people of Kiev know what Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc has accomplished over the last two years. Social support of Kiev residents has always been and will be a major priority for Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc. Speaking about our socially oriented obligations, we have fulfilled them to the maximum extent possible and have a five years’ amount of work in just two years. This course will not change if our faction in the Kiev City Council is strong enough to support me as the mayor. It is hard to say how other political forces will act after they get to the City Council. But the fact that none of our opponents voted for social initiatives of Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc makes me feel pessimistic. In any case, I really want to believe that all those changes for the better, which we have achieved during these short two years, will continue. As one English philosopher said, “A point which yesterday was invisible is its goal today, and will be its starting point tomorrow.”

Therefore, if the people of Kiev show they trust me and candidates to the City Council from Leonid Chernovetskiy’s Bloc, then we will continue the reforms and start with a solid foundation that we lacked back in 2006. Our socially oriented course will remain unchanged, but we will increase the scale of reforms and cover more areas of the city life.

 

May 13, 2008
Valery Derkach for ‘Facts’

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