December 9, 2015 Print

Oleksandr Danyliuk, deputy head of the presidential administration of Ukraine and board member of Bendukidze Free Market Centre, speaks at the organization's launch.

Ukraine faces a crossroads. It can remain mired in the stagnant economy that has resulted from years of authoritarian rule, or it can continue down the path of reform — following its tentative few steps in that direction with a movement to shore up Ukrainian property rights, strengthen the rule of law, lower government spending, and open markets to international investment. A new organization, the Bendukidze Free Market Center, recently launched with a goal of building the intellectual foundation necessary for a true Ukrainian liberty movement.

“Ukraine is in serious peril,” said Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president for international programs. “If they don't get basic policies right and create the framework for a wealth-creating economy and a law-governed limited state, they will lose everything. It was an honor for me to be involved in the launch of the Bendukidze Free Market Center. They're providing evidence-based research, spearheading serious reforms, and explaining those reforms to the public.”

Yuliya Tychkivska, vice president for management education at the Kiev School of Economics and cofounder of Bendukidze Free Market Centre, speaks at the organization's launch.

During a panel discussion at Atlas Network’s 2015 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner, Bendukidze Free Market Center co-founder Yuliya Tychkivska explained that the pace of reform has been slow even when measures have clear support, because politicians have not taken ownership of the reform process. One of the other organization’s co-founders is Mikheil Saakashvili, a Ukrainian governor and former president of Georgia who was appointed by Ukraine’s president earlier in 2015 as head of the International Advisory Council on Reforms. Saakashvili is working with the Bendukidze Free Market Center to build what is known as the “Odessa reform package,” a comprehensive set of proposals to clear out the bureaucratic bottlenecks, red tape, and corruption that prevent markets from functioning and flourishing.

Watch “Bendukidze Returns” (in Russian):

“So three months ago, President Petro Poroshenko sent his friend (and Russia's bete noire) Mikheil Saakashvili to see if he could sort out the country's largest and most corrupt region, Odessa,” a Bloomberg View column explained. “Instead, the former Georgian president and his team of young reformers here are gunning to sort out the whole country. For the last six weeks, half of his time in Odessa, the man Saakashvili picked to run his reform program — former Microsoft executive Sasha Borovik — has been putting together a package of legislative changes designed to reproduce Georgia's essentially libertarian formula.”

Mikheil Saakashvili, governor of Ukraine's Odessa Oblast region and former president of Georgia, speaks at the launch of Bendukidze Free Market Center.

The package includes draft legislation and initiatives in several primary areas: civil service reform; reform of labor relations; simplified public service delivery; deep deregulation and liberalization of business; transparent privatization; a new tax and customs system; a cost-saving online platform for public procurement; and an economic freedom act would cap government spending, debt, and budget deficits. Together these proposals all aim to simplify government procedures, withdraw government from involvement in the economy, and strictly restrict public spending.

“Odessa reformers have already started implementation of the package, as far as possible at the regional level, within the area,” reported Atlas Network partner R-E-E-D in September (translated from Russian). “It has already begun reducing the state apparatus: from 816 to 406 employees this year, and in 2016 there will be only 250 employees. In October the Citizen Service Centre will work through public procurement portal ProZorro, and in January there will be a new area of customs clearance.”

Watch “Reducing the Burden of State,” at Free Generation Forum, organized primarily by R-E-E-D (in Russian):

In addition to praising all the groundbreaking work that the Bendukidze Free Market Center is currently undertaking, Palmer explained why the name of the organization is so significant. It’s named after a late champion of the Ukrainian liberty movement, Kakha Bendukidze, a businessman and free-market leader who also served in several appointed positions in the governments of both Ukraine and Georgia, devoted to fostering market reforms and political accountability.

“The great spirit inspiring the center is our late friend Kakha Bendukidze, who was a giant of the freedom movement and who transformed the Republic of Georgia and who was committed to helping Ukraine until his death in November 2014,” Palmer said. “I worked with him for years and can say that his achievements were enough for three successful lifetimes. Too few people outside of the former USSR know what Kakha achieved, but he was an inspiration. The founding president of the center, journalist Vladimir Fedorin, knew Kakha well and is carrying on his great project of reform for freedom. Kakha would be very proud.”